Mt Adams, South Spur, October 1st, 2015
10/1/2015-10/2/2015. 24 Hours on the mountain
Route: South Spur
Weather: High of 70, low of 30, Clear skies and no wind, except on the summit where there were 20mph wind gusts.
Essential Gear: Crampons, ice axe, water, food
With a few days off and in need of a good adventure, I planned a quick overnight climb of Mt Adams. Thursday, October 1st, I called the ranger station to ask about the climbing conditions and to make sure all the roads and trails were open again after being closed for the summer fires. The ranger said everything is open and the mountain was in good condition, but very dry. There had been a few inches of snow high up on the mountain in late September, but it melted off before my climb.
After dropping a friend off at the Portland airport around 1pm, I hit the road to Mt Adams. With the stop at the Ranger Station, it was 4pm when I was lacing up my boots at the Cold Springs Campground. My intentions were to hike up to Lunch Counter and set up camp for the night, but with my late start I knew that would be a stretch.
The South Climb Trail #183 starts out as a nice wide trail winding through a section of burnt out trees and gradually gaining elevation on the way up to the Round the Mountain Trail junction. The hiking was easy here but the warm temperatures were already making me regret wearing my Verto S4k mountaineering boots. A much lighter hiking boot or shoe would have been perfect here.
Before long the trail turned up and I began picking my way along a rocky trail marked by large posts. As the trail leveled out under the Crescent Glacier, I was greeted by my first mountain goat of the trip. He was eating small patches of grass next to the glacier runoff and didn’t seem at all interested in me. I dropped my pack next to a large rock and took a seat so I could do some preventative maintenance on the hot spots forming on my heels from the insulated Gore-Tex boots. For the next 15 or 20 minutes I sat with my boots off and enjoyed the mountain solitude.
When I continued on, I followed the trail traversing over and up to the ridge. A couple minutes later I rounded a corner and ran into another large mountain goat. This guy was sitting on the top of a ridge at a sweet overlook right next to the trail. Luckily I still had my camera out so I immediately lifted it to my eye and fired off a few shots as we stared at each other from an uncomfortably close distance. He stood up and slowly walked off the trail and down the hillside into the cover of some thick trees, leaving the trail open for me to pass.
With the sun slowly setting over my left shoulder and the Crescent Glacier off to my right, I slowly made my way up along the ridgeline trail. As the light faded it got harder and harder to pick out the trail among the rocks, so I eventually found myself boulder hopping and picking my way up where I thought the trail would be. Somewhere around 8500’ feet I arrived at a little plateau with several large built up wind shelters. It looked like a great place to bivy for the night but I was still much lower on the mountain than I had hoped. While deciding whether to continue up through the lava rock maze in the dark or to just stop here for the night, I sat and enjoyed the final moments of the sunset. Feeling no pressure to rush up the mountain, I took plenty of time to soak up the beauty of this mountain and make my plans for the evening.
Eventually, under the cover of a completely black sky, I continued up the mountain. The going was rough, literally. I scrambled up, over, and around rocks for about an hour with no sign of a trail, using only a compass to keep me on course. When I reached another wind shelter in the rocks next to the snowfields above Crescent Glacier, I called it a night. I would cross over to the right side of the snowfields and make my way up to Lunch Counter after a few hours of sleep.
The weather probably in the low 40s, crystal clear skies, and absolutely no winds, so I was happy to spread out my sleeping bag under the stars. As I cooked my couscous dinner I looked down off my perch on Mt Adams towards distant glowing lights of Hood River and The Dalles.
To occupy my time, I set up my tripod and took a few photos. Because the sky was so clear and the moon had not yet risen, I was able to get some great Milky Way shots. The foreground was boring and didn’t give much sense of location, so I figured out how to place myself in the shot. It took a little tinkering with my headlamp and several minutes of trial and error to dial everything in, but the end results were awesome! After getting the shots I wanted, I packed up my camera gear and crawled into my sleeping bag for the night.
Right around 5:00 am I awoke to what sounded like a gunshot and several voices in the distance. Startled, I sat up and looked out over the snow field to see what was going on. The “snow” in the snow field has been exposed and stuck in a melting and freezing cycle for months without any significant fresh snow, so this time of year it is basically all ice. Three climbers were working their way up the middle of the ice and maybe due to their weight, the temperature fluctuations over night, the pressure of gravity, or who knows what else, the ice was fracturing and setting off terrifying, loud cracks. They worked their way over to the side, closer to the rocks, and continued up the mountain.
After packing up my gear, I donned my crampons and carefully stepped out onto the ice. It was much easier moving across this hard surface than it was the volcanic rocks several hours before, but I was a little hesitant to venture out towards the middle of the cracking ice. After cautiously crossing the snowfield, I made my way up to Lunch Counter. There was a good amount of water runoff here where the snow fields butt up against the rocks, so I took advantage of this to refill all my water bottles before pushing up to the summit.
Above Lunch Counter the snow was very hard, icy, and steep. The tips of my crampons were punching in enough that I felt secure, but there was no room for a slip here or it would be a long ride before coming to a stop on the rocks below. I traversed over to Suksdorf Ridge to see if that would be a better route, but it was really loose rock and just as steep, so I felt a little better taking my time and carefully climbing the icy snowfield all the way up to the 11,657’ summit of Piker’s Peak, the false summit of Mt Adams. As I approached the top of Piker’s Peak, I passed the three other climbers on the mountain on their way back down from the summit. All three were wearing microspikes instead of crampons. Not something I would have been very comfortable wearing, but they seemed to be doing just fine.
As I walked across the top of Piker’s Peak the actual summit came into view. The final climb looked a little intimidating. I took a brief break to eat a Cliff Bar and drink a little water. My legs were feeling the burn from hauling my huge pack and camera gear up the mountain and, for some reason, I was starting to feel a little off from the altitude. For a moment I contemplated turning, but those thoughts didn’t last long. The weather was great and the path to the summit was almost completely free of snow and ice from here on up. I decided to push the tired legs a little harder and get to the summit so I wouldn’t regret a lazy decision.
It didn’t take long to cross over and start the final climb up to the summit. The temperature had dropped noticeably and the wind was starting to howl. I focused on my breathing and carefully placing one foot in front of the other and then I was at the summit. It was 10:30 am.
I had heard that there was a shack on the summit and was wondering if I would be able to step inside to boil some water and take a quick break. It turns out the shack is in terrible shape with with roof and walls caving in and the inside completely full of snow. My head was starting to hurt and I was feeling dehydrated, so I propped my camera up on a rock and took a few summit photos and start descending as soon as possible. After a short 5 minutes I was slowly dropping off the steep summit slopes.
Back at Piker’s Peak, I found the trail and began following it around to the steep snowfield descent. After a minute or two I got to the place where I believed I should be heading straight down to Lunch Counter but instead I was staring down a steep south west facing rocky chute. Something went wrong. This was the point where I remembered the Mt Adams Ranger telling me that, in order not to get lost, climbers need to head south off the top of Piker’s Peak and not follow the natural downward Southwestern flow from the summit. Luckily I caught my mistake before it was too late. Once back on the right path the descent was easy and straightforward.
Backpack: Cobra 60, The North Face
Sleeping Bag: Dark Star, 0 degree synthetic, The North Face
Stove: MSR Pocket Rocket Cookset: GSI Halulite Minimalist Jacket: Thermoball Hoodie, The North Face
Pants: Verto Pants, The North Face
Boots: Verto S4K, The North Face
Crampons: Compact Strap Crampons, Black Diamond
Ice Axe: G1, Grivel
Camera: D7000, Nikon
Lenses: 18-135mm f3.5, 70-300 f3.5, 50mm
Tripod: RoadTrip Aluminum Travel Tripod, MeFOTO