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Mt. Adams

Summitted Mount Adams (12,276') on Sunday. (GPS Track and Profile.)

The adventure started at 4 AM Saturday when J, R, K, and I met up with M at his place, and drove the 5 hours down to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest Mt. Adams Wilderness. The Forest Service road leading to the trailhead was still snowed in prior to the trailhead, so we hiked it in from a little over 2 miles before the trailhead proper (on the GPS track this is marked as "CARPARK"). This also added about 800 extra vertical feet. In actuality, only a small section of road had snow on it, but we didn't want to risk bottoming out the Volvo and we didn't know how much snow would be on the road further on, so we played it safe and just hiked it in. My feet would deeply regret this decision about 32 hours later.

Once we hit the proper trailhead at about 5500', the snow coverage started in earnest, and the rest of the climb was through snow. We were carrying full packs this time, with camping gear. My pack was over 50 lbs, and included long underwear, fleece, jacket, waterproof shell, snow pants, 3 liters of water, ski gloves, cap, snow cap, gaiters, first aid kit, sunscreen, lighter, sleeping bag, tent, GPS, 2 pairs of socks, avalanche shovel, trekking poles, headlamp, compass, food, glasses, goggles, sunglasses, knife, and extra batteries. I also carried 2 sets of crampons and 2 ice axes (since J's pack didn't have a method of securing these items). Because of this, you can probably understand why I chose not to bring two pairs of boots, instead opting to just wear the plastic mountaineering boots all the way up and down.

Most of the route was pretty well defined, having been fairly well traveled by a number of people in the previous few days and weeks. There was a good established boot path all the way. What I find interesting is that our route did not seem to coincide with the trail marked on the TOPO! map for the first part of the hike. In fact, we were completely to the east of what is marked as Crescent Glacier on the map, whereas the trail clearly stays west of it. Strangely enough, we found no glacier there, but what appeared to be a moraine. In any case, this climb up to the "Lunch Counter" was rather scenic, with the great mountain looming in front of us, but also a lot of beautiful alpine vegetation and snowfields. We passed through some sections of dead forest, which were a haunting reminder of Mt. Saint Helens' eruption more than 25 years ago. Especially at that elevation (about 7000'-8000') the forest takes decades, even centuries, to recover from a catastrophic event. It really made me appreciate the fragility of the vegetation up there.

At the end of the long day, we set up camp at one of the first campsites we came to at the Lunch Counter. We were all pretty tired from the long drive and long hike. It was about 8 PM. Just a quick trip to a small stream of meltwater to purify our supply for the next day's summit push, a small dinner of a ham sandwich, and a very short amount of time appreciating the dusk, and then it was off to bed for some restless sleep. The wind came in pretty strong at a few times during the night, and we weren't in the most protected spot there, so I appreciated having the security of our newly acquired North Face tents.

Strangely enough, I dreamt of soccer... in select Spanish terms that I've learned from the last couple of weeks of watching Univision. And at 3:30 in the morning, we woke up and started up for the final summit push with headlamps on. The headlamps didn't stay on very long, though, since the the dawn's early light made it bright enough to go without them within an hour of our start. That's the nice thing about the summer solstice, though I was secretly disappointed that we were putting away the cool headlamps so soon. Hah. It took us about 7 hours to make the summit, which was unexpectedly slow, but it didn't seem that slow while we were on the mountain. I was surprised at the way time kind of expanded.

We made Piker's Peak in good time, but the last 600 feet to the true summit seemed to take forever. In fact, we made it up to where a bunch of people had gathered, and we assumed was the summit (AD), but after consulting the map and GPS, determined that we needed to walk another 500 feet or so (horizontally, thank goodness) to get the couple of feet in vertical elevation that was the true, true summit (ADAMSUMM on the track). In any case, we weren't about to have come more than 7000 feet and almost 10 miles to fall 5 feet short!

At this point, we took a little time to appreciate our first major summit. I cracked open a Schweppe's Bitter Lemon that I'd brought all the way from the London Heathrow Red Carpet Club. Hahaha. It was a remarkably clear day, and we could see all the way down to Crater Lake in southern Oregon, all the way up past Mt. Rainier to Mt. Baker, in northern Washington. That's something like a 500 mile panorama. It was a strange feeling to be on top. I think I was more relieved and somewhat concerned about how we were going to get down off the mountain, given the lateness. We had been planning to make the summit by 9 or 10. I think people experience the summit in different ways, but I didn't feel particularly excited about it... just kind of content.

It was very late, so we sped up the descent a little by glissading most of the distance down to the Lunch Counter. We made it back in only one hour. Yeah, 7 hours up, 1 down. Sigh. Now let me just say how confusing the Lunch Counter can be... M, R, and I had a lot of trouble finding the tents until I whipped out the GPS. The place is kind of a maze, and I'm surprised that none of the trip reports we'd read mentioned anything about really keeping track of where you're going in there. I'm just glad we had the GPS to make things a little easier, but K and J (who trailed behind at a stream of meltwater to purify a new supply of water for the descent) were lost for probably a good hour before some yelling and waving eventually allowed them to find their way.

However, from there, the descent pretty much descended into misery... we plunge stepped down to the treeline, and then hiked back to the trailhead. Just plain tiring. We were getting pretty miserable with dehydration and sunburn at this point, not to mention just fatigue. (Next time, I'm going with SPF 50... clearly 30 is not sufficient for the kind of exposure you get on snowfields with no clouds.) The GPS again came in handy as we searched for which among many bootpaths actually took us back to the proper trailhead. When we finally made it back to the trailhead, the real misery for my feet began... plastic boots are great on snow, but coming down on dirt and rock was just painful on my already tired feet. When we finally made it back to the car I couldn't get those things off fast enough!

From there, it was a run to the border for our celebratory meal (hey, it was almost 9 PM and nothing else was open) and then 5 hours of driving back home... I don't know how R did it... but he somehow stayed awake. We got back almost exactly 46 hours from when we left.

What a trip. This was an important milestone in the quest for Mt. Rainier... the format is very similar to what we'll be doing in 6 weeks: a two day format, with the second day a grueling push for the top starting in the wee hours, followed by a long descent.

Oh, and I don't have pictures to show. Argh! The camera just seemed like too much weight to add to an already very heavy pack. However... feel free to peruse J's pix.


I bet your feet (along with the rest of you) would have been unhappier if the Volvo got stuck in snow!