Mt. Adams

Oh boy.

Oh boy oh boy oh boy.

After a season of hiking to prepare for Mt. Adams, this was certainly an adventure. And it will be something I will try when I’m no longer the size I am today.

So the Wikipedia facts:

Location Yakima County / Skamania County,Washington, U.S.
Range Cascade Range
Coordinates 46°12′09″N 121°29′27″WCoordinates: 46°12′09″N 121°29′27″W[1]

Mount Adams is a potentially active stratovolcano in the Cascade Range. It is the second-highest mountain in the U.S. state of Washington, trailing only Mount Rainier. Adams is a member of the Cascade Volcanic Arc, and is one of the arc’s largest volcanoes, located in a remote wilderness approximately 34 miles (55 km) east of Mount St. Helens. The Mount Adams Wilderness comprises the upper and western part of the volcano’s cone. The eastern side of the mountain is part of the Yakama Nation.

Mt. Adams is 12,281′ tall. It’s #2 in the state behind Mt. Rainier. It’s that mountain you see on I-84 when driving past Yakima to Tri-Cities.

Fat Man Advice

Don’t do it. Going up isn’t a huge problem. Coming down is. You could walk down, traversing the snow in the afternoon. But if you’re coming down with the sun out, the snow softens and becomes quite slippery. If you have good upper-body strength- meaning you can bench your own weight and do pull-ups- then you’ll be okay. Me, with a weaker upper-body, did not do okay. I glissaded down. I was a runaway toboggan, armed with only my ice axe for a brake. Didn’t really work too well. I came out of it unscathed, but not unshaken. There was a point where I couldn’t stop; the incline was too steep and my strength abandoned me. I almost lost my ice axe, were it not for the tether. That would have been real bad. I got lucky, and have vowed not to return to Mt. Adams until I have vastly improved my upper-body strength.

The Hike

It’s not a hike; it’s a climb. And it’s multiple days. When I went, I was with some of my wife’s family, which included two kids. So we took it slow going up.

Usually climbers go to the mountain and hike to the camping area known as the Lunch Counter. Ample camps spots are found, and it sits at around 9,000′. Then the next day you get up early and summit, come down, pack up, and head down to your vehicle. We had a late arrival time (around 5:30-6pm), so we didn’t get near the Lunch Counter. We camped at around 6,000′ feet, between two creeks, at a sheltered spot used by the Forest Service.

I woke up about 3:30am for a bathroom break and decided while I was out freezing, I might as well take some pictures of the night sky. From our vantage spot, you could see the lights of Portland, OR, and the windfarm in Goldendale, WA.

In the morning, we ate breakfast and started to pack up camp. On the trail about 10am, we hiked. And hiked. We passed a platoon of soldiers coming down the mountain. They did not look tired or fatigued. My hope of making the summit remained. As we kept weaving through rocky terrain, once above the treeline, the weather moved in. Cold wind and rain. Not fun to hike in. And there was no certainty of how much and how hard it would rain. We hiked a little further, which put us at cloud level, and just out of reach of the weather coming in. We setup camp and rested. I stayed in the tent, trying to catch some sleep. Went out to take some pictures, and tried to get used to being at 8,000′.

After dinner, we forced ourselves to sleep, knowing we had to get up in the wee hours of the morning.

3am came. Struggled to get ready, and stay warm. Not that easy in a small hiking tent for two. Went outside and waited for the group to get ready. By the time we were underway, it was almost 4am. Hiking in the dark on a snowfield is awesome. Especially when the moon is out and you can see the sun backlighting it in the sky.

By 6am, we made it to the top of the Lunch Counter. From here, it’s all uphill. In snow. We stopped at 8am at a rockfield for a little break. I was destroyed. I couldn’t get enough air. I had to take slow steps. I probably looked like I was trying to climb Everest, without the puffy clothes. My wife and two of our party continued upward. I sat there.

I got up, climbed about 100′, and sat down again.

I got up, climbed some more, traversing across a large snowfield to another rockfield. Then I just kept climbing up. And up.

Then I got to the spot where it gets really narrow, and you can see a deep glissade chute. I was done. I sat on the rocks and rested, waiting for my party to return. I took some pictures of the mountain below me. And a shot of my watch with the altitude of 10,640′ (however, it’s not wholly accurate, I think I was closer to 10,800′).

Coming Down

I had been looking forward to glissading down the mountain, since it’d save about 2 hours of climbing down. It was great, until 10 seconds in when I realized it takes forever to stop because of my weight, lack of strength, and steepness of the glissade chute. It took me about 30 minutes to get down almost 2000′ in vertical elevation. Then I gathered myself up, and we crossed the rockfields and snowfields to get to our camp.

At camp, we packed up and re-organized. Then we began our second decent of the day. We glissaded on some of the snowfields, but it wasn’t steep enough to continue without pushing yourself. We hustled down, despite our exhaustion and heavy packs, and made it to the cars about 5pm.

The Gear

Being at least a two-day adventure, you’ll need the standard equipment (Fat Man Gear):

1. Hiking backpack (Osprey Atmos 65)

2. Lightweight tent (1 or 2 person) (Kelty Salida 2)

3. Lightweight sleeping bag (20-degree at least) and sleeping pad (Kelty Cosmic 20 Down and Big Agnes 2.5″ pad)

4. Food, first aid kit, trekking poles (Dehydrated pad thai, mac & cheese, scrambled eggs, PB&Honey, Peanut M&Ms, assorted Clif bars)

5. Water. Lots of water, at least 3L. I took 4L. And ran out early on the way down. (Platypus 2L soft bottles)

6. Good boots. (Vasque Wasatch GTX) Find the lightest weight, stiffest, heavy duty hiking boots you can find. Because they need to be stiff enough for…

7. Crampons. I rented mine from REI. It’d probably be cheaper to buy off eBay or Craigslist.

8. Headlamp (Black Diamond Spot)

9. Gloves, and clothing layers. You start in the early morning, when it’s 40 degrees, and end up in the bright sun (hopefully) at 60-70 degrees. And it just gets hotter as you come down in elevation. (Marmot PreCip jacket, Salomon zip “sweatshirt”, The North Face quick-dry t-shirt, Kuhl Raptr shorts.)

Tidbits & Things You May Not Know

You have to check in at the Ranger station in Trout Lake. Pay your permit fee of $15 and get your poo bag (or two, or three). Yes, poo bags. Over 6,000′, you cannot bury waste, it does not decompose. I highly suggest you take care of business before you begin your climb, and as long as you are under 6,000′. If you don’t, you’re hauling it back with you. I have a great drunk story from this adventure. We’ll just leave it at that.

Permits aren’t needed if you’re staying below 7,000′. So if you just want to check out the terrain, do an overnighter and get spectacular photos, no need for a permit.

If you can’t self-arrest yourself, do not attempt. Know your limitations. In this case, pride literally will come before the fall.

At upper altitudes, you’ll get sick and/or queasy. I felt like I needed to throw up. That’s just part of the experience, folks.

Pack as light as you can. My pack was 40+ pounds. And I didn’t lose much weight on the hike; I still was about 35 pounds back at the trailhead.

Be strict about what food you’re going to eat. My wife had probably 5 pounds of food she didn’t eat, it was there in case she wanted it. Pack only what you’re going to eat, not what you might eat.

If you’re a sweater, bring extra clothes. I sweat through the “dri-fit” clothing and reek. I now bring an extra shirt to change into after a hike, or overnighter like this.

BodyGlide and Gold Bond. You know why.

3:30am, morning of.

3:30am, morning of.

Stars the first night

Stars the first night


Life finds a way...
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