Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Climbing Mt. Adams South Side: A Most Satisfying Slog

Although many many moons have passed since I summited Mt. Adams (aka Klickitat) in south-central Washington, it remains a peak experience of my life.
Lots of memories of that invigorating and challenging hike/climb on a brilliant August weekend are still fresh. I was at my peak fitness before chronic Achilles tendinitis set in. (My friends called me Motor Mouse back then.)

Predawn on a warm summer morning, we left Hood River and drove north across the Columbia River, through Trout Lake, and up bumpy Forest Service roads to the trailhead, which back then wasn't too well marked or crowded.

I remember a slog up through forest, then emerging onto the exposed flanks of the volcano. I'm sure we had to slather on sunscreen as we neared granular, late summer corn snow while trudging upwards toward the Lunch Counter, our destination for the night.

[Apologies for the image quality of the subsequent photos; they are scanned from old prints, pre-digital 1990s.]

Motor Mouse with Matt's old skinny tele skis, Adams behind.

At about 9,500 feet, the Lunch Counter is a ridge on the route up the South Climb where most stop for lunch or pitch tents and sleep while acclimating to the altitude. 

It was only about noon when we arrived and dumped our heavy packs at the Lunch Counter. I remember trying to nap, reading, chatting up other climbers, eating, watching a Chinook helicopter fly nearby--clearly on a search and rescue. And watching the spectacular, 360 sunset. (My mom saw on the news that a climber had died on Adams and knew I was on the mountain. She had several hours of anxiety until she heard from me.)

Our tent, Mt. Hood (Wy'East) on the southern horizon
Mt. St. Helens in the dusky distance

Did I mention that Adams, at about 12,280 feet in elevation, is the second-highest peak in Washington and the third highest Cascade volcano after (1) Mt. Rainier and (2) Mt. Shasta? So getting to the summit is no small feat.

It's a sorta big feat, which requires being in pretty decent shape. Although as we got to the Lunch Counter, we saw a father with two little girls wearing light windbreakers, shorts, and Keds sneakers descending from above. Yikes!

Climbing partner Matt chillin' at the Lunch Counter
After sleeping fitfully for a few hours, Matt roused me at midnight to get ready for our ascent under a bright moon. Ice axe in hands, crampons on boots, and headlamps on, we headed up the steep 3,000-foot south face (a snowfield, no glacier here) in the middle-of-the-night chill.

Halfway up the well-defined path in the snow, we cruised past a solo climber, and just below the summit passed another solo man. First on the summit that day! Yeah, I was in great shape. I don't remember even being tired.

As the sky started to glow reddish-orange before sunrise, we were lucky to witness one of those sights that make you smile in wonder at the beauty of this world:  A brilliant shooting star streaked low across the horizon, seemingly below where we stood on high on the mountain. Was that for real?

Beneath a sky as spectacular as the sunset the night before, we watched the sunrise from the snow-encrusted summit. I recall a sense of immense space all around, below us, with incredible views of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, and Hood to our south. If only I had the camera then that I have today.

Adams summit sunrise.
Then the other climber up there offered to snap a summit shot of us. Ha, I was surprised by the kiss, a sweet celebratory gesture. (We weren't dating, still lifelong friends.)

Summit celebration
I think we lingered a little while after sunrise on the summit, but it was still pretty cold as we began our descent. We stopped for a few panorama shots above the south face to show a sense of the mountain dropping away below.

Chilly me
Unfortunately for Matt it was a rough ski down over frozen suncups, while I glissaded the long south face. I can't remember who got down first.

I do remember a long trudge out, but we got back to Trout Lake for an afternoon lunch at a gas station-burger joint. I think it was about the best cheeseburger I've ever had. I also think it mightn't have tasted as good if I hadn't just climbed a 12,000+ foot volcano that morning.

Looking back from Trout Lake to the summit where we stood early the same morning.
Will I ever climb Adams again? Probably not. Aging knees and that pesky Achilles tendon have slowed me down. 

I do have my sights on climbing Mt. St. Helens again this fall. We'll see.  But I find it so satisfying to look at Mt. Adams from different perspectives and know I walked up to the top and back.

Adams from 20,000-ish feet. I stood on top of that once!
How about you? Have you climbed Mt. Adams or other Cascade volcanoes? Would love to hear about it in a comment below.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

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When You Go
 You know, it has been a couple decades since I did this climb, so I'm going to leave the descriptions and particulars to others. Check out the WTA climb description here. Summit Post has a better description here. As of mid-August, the climb was closed due to forest fires near the access.


JoJo said...

I don't climb. I had a mountain climbing friend who would get so angry when I teased that I bagged a Fourteener when I drove to the summit of Pike's Peak in Colorado. I've driven to Sunrise on Mt Rainier, and got almost to the Johnson Observatory at Saint Helens. I didn't want to push my car on the last 17 miles of switchbacks when I was facing an upcoming cross country trip.

Lainey Piland said...

I got goosebumps reading this! Sounds like an incredible, otherworldly experience climbing the mountain in the early morning dark and watching the sun rise. I love your photos looking up at the mountain afterward - I had that "wow, we were all the way up there!" feeling after hiking up the modest 1800ft high Cedar Butte. I can only imagine the sense of awe looking up at a 12,000+ ft peak and thinking the same thing!

jill said...

Ha JoJo I think that's amusing what you teased about bagging a Fourteener! I bagged a Fourteener in Colorado, although I walked up, when I was 16 - Mt. Princeton. Sunrise offers a pretty spectacular up-close view of Rainier!

Hey Lainey, ah thanks! I grumbled at the time when Matt made me get up and climb through the night, but so glad we did for the sunrise. As we were descending, lots more were coming up. Truly an awesome adventure! Hey, don't knock Cedar Butte! I've been up there a few times, a good grind.

matchoo said...

Huh? Tell it again . Love it! The sunset that evening reaching far overhead, still lingers. The sunrise... no words.

Ur such a dish Jill

Laura said...

Thank you so much for sharing this, Jill! Your writing is always so inspirational. I've only summited a few peaks, the most memorable being Mt Lassen in California when I was 6. I have a lot of fond childhood memories of that place.

I keep adding new peaks to the list of places I'd like to visit, but with both my dad and Andy being fishermen, I've hiked to a lot more lakes than peaks. My fear of actual climbing is also a major factor. I really should make the time for at least one peak soon though. St Helens seems like a great climb, and one I've never done. I can't wait for your post about that trip to further inspire me!

jill said...

Hey Laura, thanks for the feedback! Flatters me to have my posts be inspiring to others. That was an epic day. Alas St. Helens won't be happening this fall, maybe next year. I don't like exposure either, and Adams and St. Helens aren't too bad or too steep. That's impressive you've done Lassen, at such a tender age no less!