At about noon last Friday I checked the forecast for Mount Adams and, spotting sunny and clear, decided that a run up the south side was in order for the weekend. I was on the road from Yakima by 1:30 pm and, after a couple of small stops, reached the trailhead at Cold Springs campground about four hours later. With about three hours of daylight left and an intended campsite destination at least 4500 feet above me I didn’t have a ton of time to waste. I knew what to expect though, having done this same hike last August, and felt comfortable with the logistics in place. I quickly loaded up my pack, opting at the last minute to leave my sleeping pad and the rain flap to my tent in the car. I also left behind my leather hiking boots and slipped on my beat-up Merrill hiking shoes instead. Light and fast, light and fast.
The South Climb Trail 183 climbs gradually from about 4600 ft through the trees on a well-defined dirt path before reaching the steeper talus slopes of Mount Adams. I met a few groups coming down the mountain, but nobody on the way up (until reaching the more popular camping spots near Lunch Counter, elevation 9000 ft). I marched upward at a fairly quick pace and was cooking in the evening sun, rivulets of sweat pouring down my cheeks. Once I reached the snowfields below Lunch Counter though things cooled off nicely.
I had intended to camp at Lunch Counter and was treated to a spectacular setting sun as I crested into this flatter area (see pic below left, Mount St. Helens silhouetted in the distance), but my legs were feeling sharp and the sun hadn’t completely set yet so I kept moving. I scrambled up the rocky slopes above (pic below right) for another 500 feet of elevation gain and several times considered what it would feel like if I just kept pushing for the summit in the middle of the night.
As the temperature rapidly dipped though I was plenty happy to break out my tent and curl into a warm sleeping bag for the night. I took these pictures of my campsite on Saturday morning on my way back down the mountain.
Inside my tent, I chugged Powerade, ate Nutrigrain bars and cashews, packed my summit pack, and put on just about every piece of clothing I had brought with me. I thought I might be a little colder than normal without the insulation of the rain flap (and I’m normally always cold when I sleep outside), but the wind was fairly calm, my rock windbreak was sturdy, and I used my pack as a mini windbreak inside my tent and after about twenty minutes I barely noticed the cold. I set the alarm on my cell phone for 4:30 am and was asleep within ten minutes of laying my head down on a balled up t-shirt.
I woke up before my alarm at about 3:45 am, half moon shining overhead. I felt rested and alert and lay in my sleeping bag watching stars, not quite ready to move just yet. At about 4:00 I heard voices and four headlamps flashed into view, bobbing in the darkness 100 feet to the west. I took this as my cue, hurriedly shouldering my day pack and lacing my shoes. I said hello to the group as I trotted past and mentally started ticked off my goals for the day.
1. Watch the sun rise from the summit.
2. Summit first.
Given the time of day and fairly fresh legs I thought the first goal would be doable with a little hustle. The second (born partly out of competitiveness and partly out of a desire for solitude) would come with the first if no one in front of me had too much of a headstart. I was navigating by moonlight (the dogs chewed up my head lamp a while back), but with a clear sky and snowy footing this proved easy enough.
The section of the south climb between Lunch Counter and the false summit (elevation 11500 ft) is the steepest part of the climb, but the snow was soft enough that I could kick steps most of the way up slope. I punched through the top layer once to a stream of water below the surface, soaking my right shoe, but otherwise had smooth sailing. I reached the false summit at 5:25 am, catching a group of two in front of me. Up until this point I had been comfortable hiking in shorts and long sleeves, but even on this relatively calm day the wind was whipping steadily across the saddle. I added long pants and a fleece and exchanged pleasantries with the father-son duo before heading off. 800 feet to go, racing the sun.
After the false summit you get a small reprieve across mostly level terrain before one steep last push. I knew the way and the trail was well travelled and easy to follow. I summited at 6:00, with the peak to myself and the sun winking into view. The sunrise picture below was taken a short while after the sunrise shot I posted a few days ago.
It was far, far, far more pleasant on the summit this time versus the last time I was here (windswept and freezing) and I scampered around snapping pictures and watching the world light up below.
The lookout shack on the summit. Definitely more iced up than last time. Mount Hood in the distance in the right photo.
Left: Mount Adams casting its gigantic shadow across the valley (with Mount St. Helens in the distance). Right: Looking North toward Mount Rainier. I kept thinking about what a gorgeous day it would be to be summiting Rainier. What’s another 2000 feet anyway?
Left: West Peak of Mount Adams. Right: Looking South down toward the false summit (Piker’s Peak), Mount Hood in the distance.
I stayed for about forty five minutes until the two hikers that I had passed at the false summit finally poked into view a ways below me. I figured they would enjoy the solitude as much as I had, so I headed down. Stopping to check out the icy crevaces above Klickitat Glacier on my way down. Teeth.
A couple looks back up toward the summit. Left: From the saddle. Right: From near the false summit. Back at the false summit I ran into the group of four (with the headlamps) who I had said hello to earlier that morning. In their plastic boots and crampons, they seemed to get a kick out of my low-top shoes and shorts. Hopefully, that didn’t temper their sense of adventure too much.
I took these two pictures while hiking down below the false summit. You can kind of get a feel for the steepness of the slopes.
I took these two pictures from near my campsite. Left: looking up. Right: Looking East toward a snowfield full of sun cups.
Back in camp, I kicked off my soaked shoes and socks, squeezing out as much water as I could before hanging them over rocks. I let my wrinkled toes air out while I broke down my tent and rehydrated. Then headed toward home. Left: Tents below Lunch Counter. Right: A snow slope that I stupidly skittered down instead of following the trail back.
Beautiful hiking conditions, blue skies and loads of sun (but not too warm). All the way out I ran into people asking about the summit and I happily relayed the good news. With plenty of time to think, I realized that I might never be back this way. I like the hike/climb, but I like new experiences more. Twice is probably enough for me. I know the views and the trail now. I know what the peak looks/feels like in the near-light and the sunrise. Other than climbing in a very different season or showing somebody else around or heading up a more challenging route, I think I’ll probably had for other pastures with my free time. If I’m not back, I definitely can’t complain about the note I went out on. Gorgeous weekend.
Glad you had such a good climb. It must feel great to get to know the mountains so well. Beautiful.
That pic of Adams shadow is really cool. Southern California doesn’t have enough volcanoes.
But you do have Mt Whitney. That’s on my list.
Jordan, glad that you are still alive as of September 2. What happened to WanderingHiker?
Josh, don’t you ever get tired of mountains? Do you ever long for lakes (real ones, I mean, not dammed up rivers) and level land?
Magnificent photos and scenery. What is the highest elevation you have ever hiked at in your hiking life?
Sometimes I do miss Lake Michigan being only a 40 minute drive away. But mostly I don’t when I can just drive to places like this:
I think the highest elevation I’ve ever been is just under 14,000 ft out in Colorado. Of course, out there you’re starting out at such a high elevation that those hikes are less strenuous than the more prominent peaks around here.