Mt. Adams, Washington (12,276')
September 3-5, 1999
I was living and working in Vancouver, British Columbia during the summer of 1999 and decided to spend a weekend climbing in Washington state. I had several options, but I had climbed Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier the previous summer and wanted to head to a new part of the state.
After work I headed south towards Seattle. Considering it was Labour Day weekend, the traffic heading into the US was light, and there wasn't a line at the border crossing. My destination was Olympia, Washington, to see an old friend from Alaska (we had attempted Mt. Hood together the previous summer). My visit was quick, and I left early the next morning, heading to the Mt. St. Helen's area to have brunch with my friend John (we had climbed Mt. Baker, Washington the previous summer and a few volcanoes in Ecuador earlier in 1999) and his wife.
Saturday, September 4, 1999
Jean and John were expecting me whan I arrived and we took off for a leisurely drive up towards one of the many Mt. St. Helens visitor's centers (we approached from the west). John and I talked at length about me climbing this weekend. A storm was approaching the area from the Pacific, and lots of rain was expected by mid-day Saturday. I had originally thought of climbing Mt. St. Helens from Climber Bivouac up to the crater rim, but I wasn't sure what to do with the weather kinda a variable. The previous summer I had camped at the bivouac after climbing Mt. Hood, but weather had kept us off the mountain, and we ventured down into the lava tubes instead. They were super interesting, but I still wanted to spend some time higher on Mt. St. Helens.
By the time we reached the Visitor's Center, I was planning on heading to the Bivouac again and attempting a hike to the top the next morning. I wanted to camp, and the climb is pretty straight forward, so I could retreat if the weather dictated. On a whim, the three of us piled into a helicopter and took off for an aerial tour of the Mt. St. Helens area. We saw elk in the riverbeads and the pilot told us all about the mud floes and the damaged ecosystem that was fighting its way back from the 1981 eruption.
Although we wern't allowed to fly over the crater, we hovered just to the north of it, close enough to see the lava dome inside as well as a couple of specks on the summit rim that were hikers. We also got a great view of Mt. Adams to the west. After a qick hover, we returned to the landing pad at the Visitor's Center. The pilot pointed out where lakes used to be and of course, told us about the Harry Truman story (the man who wouldn't leave his home and was killed by the eruption. I used to go to a bar/restaurant in Anchorage called "Harrys" in his honor)
My friends Jason and Sue (from Rainier in 1997) had climbed Mt. Adams a few weeks before and told me about the excellent climb and the perfect weather. After seeing the huge mountain, I changed my mind and decided to head out towards it and see what I could do about getting up it. After the helicopter ride back and the drive to John and Jean's Bed & Breakfast, I headed south for Vancouver, Washington and then east on Routh 14 towards Hood River. Just before Hood River, I turned north on Route 141 and drove into Trout Lake to get a permit to climb the volcano.
From an article in a Backpacking magazine, I knew that it was a steep climb, but I was hoping to get more information from the Ranger Station.
There were two nice women who new nothing about the conditions at the mountain, but they were happy to sell me a map of the "Cold Springs" trail. I paid $15 for the climbing permit and headed out towards Cold Springs. The signs to the mountain were good and I had no problems finding the Parking Area, but the road was rough and bumpy! A 4-wheel drive wasn't needed, but my rental Grand Am wasn't the best thing to be blasting down a rocky/hilly/bumy road with. It made it nonetheless.
The parking area was pretty full, but I managed to squeeze in between a couple of trees and started to sort gear for my attempt. In the 15 minutes I was there, five or six groups came off the trail. All reported successful summits and beautiful weather.
The Cold Springs Approach (a.k.a. the "South Spur") is by far the easiest and most popular route up the mountain. In fact, mules made the trek up the mountain regularily back when the area was used for mining. The trail is called out as "South Climb Trail 183" and I followed it up into the pine woods. The begining of the hike is a nice walk on a wide trail up and up and up towards the "Lunch Counter". I started getting into snow well below the "Lunch Counter" but it was soft and shallow, and not really a hinderance at all. The hour was getting late and I still had at least 1,500' to go to get to where I wanted to be for the summit approach the next morning.
After slogging up the snowfield for a while, I came to a prominent rocky finger and I decided that wheather I was at the Lunch Counter or not, I was tired and wanted to rest. There were two other tents there, one held a small group on descent, the other was a pair of guys who were also heading up in the morning (if conditions allowed). We all talked a while, and a man from the decending group confirmed that I had stoped at about 8,000', well below the typical camping spot called the Lunch Counter.
There were no flat places to make my camp in the rock field, but after 10 minutes or so, I found a rock that I could nessle in next to. I took advantage of all the rocks and built small walls that extended from the edge of the large rock into a c-shape, protecting my head and feet from the wind (which was getting stronger and stronger). A lenicular cloud was hovering over Mt. Hood as the sun set. There were others that looked like they were looking for a mountain to wreak havoc upon. Cookies and a sandwich was dinner, and I fell asleep soundly by about 8pm.
The stars were incrediable when I awoke at about 2:00am to have a quick bathroom run. Just amazing.
Sunday, September 5, 1999
My alarm went of at 5:15am and I slowly ate breakfast in my bivy. The weather was cool and breezy, but no rain. It was still dark, but the sky looked mean. I was ready to go just after the men in the other tent had left. I quickly caught up with them and hoped they knew where they were going. We followed a slight rise heading up and away from the rocky area where we camped. No crampons were needed, the snow was still soft and we didn't sink very much where we stepped. We were joined shortly by a really strong hiker and his dog. They camped near us, but we never had seen them. He knew the route and we all gained the snowfield together as the sun started to rise. We all looked up in horror as the early morning glow revealed a smooth, saucer-shaped cloud hanging over us. The upper half of Mt. Adams had been swallowed by a lenticular cloud.
A retreat seemed certain, but we all were curious to see what was ahead. The guy with the dog started inching ahead and was soon gone for the day. I seperated from the two other guys after the Lunch Counter area (at 9,000') and started the long and unending slog up to Pikers Peak. The snow was very cupped out from the summer sun, it seemed icy, but the rain that had just softened it enough so that my crampons stayed on my pack. The trail just went up and up and up into the grey cloud. Nothing was reall visible above or below me, but my local area wasn't too bad. Water helped fog my glacier glasses, and I started passing the few people who had stayed at the Lunch Counter. I was happy to be on route, and staisfied that the storm wasn't bad enough to require a turn-around (yet).
The higher I climbed, the more it seemed to rain, and the windier it got. I kept trudging uphill and seemed to be making descent time, despite having no general idea what elevation I was at. When I finally reached Piker's Peak (11,657') I took a break behind a rock to shelter me from the wind. I was joined by a couple who huddled for a minute then decided to descend. I knew that at least one man was ahead fo me, and that I was pretty close (less than an hour?) to the real summit, so I chose to continue upward. After following a gently sloping ridge, the trail looses a little elevation, then makes the final push to the top. The final switchbacks were mostly clear of snow, but at the summit, everything was white.
Walking with my head down into the now very strong wind, I came up to the summit and was scared by the broken down hut as it materialized out of nothing to greet me. The fog, wind and rain had obscured my vision to the point where I couldn't see the building until I was right in front of it, then the fog seemed to lift just long enough to give me a scare. I didn't know there was a hut up there, because my friend's photos from 2 months earlier hadn't shown one. So much snow had melted in those eight weeks, that the hut was now the highpoint on the mountain. Another guy came up and we took each other's photos and then climbed the drift to the top of the hut, then decended.
The descent held more battering by the wind and rain, and after Piker's Peak, I clipped into my crampons for the long and steep section between the false summit and the Lunch Counter. I was able to glissade a little, but I did a lot more walking than sliding. The clouds had lifted and the rain had lessened by the time I got to the Lunch Counter, and not too far below that, I was in the sun and out of the rain.
I liesurely packed my gear and enjoyed the view across the Columbia River towards Mt. Hood, and then I descended to the parking lot. The drive out was just as bumpy as the way in. Back in Trout Lake I signed out at the Ranger Station and talked to the women once again. They asked if I had turned around on the mountain, because I was out to early in the day. They seemed surprised to hear that anyone had summited in the poor weather.
I ate dinner in Vancouver, Washington and tried to call Deb in Olympia to say hi on my way back through, but she wasn't home and I just headed back to Vancouver, B.C. because I had nowhere else to stay.