Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Mt Adams, WA: Trip Report

Date:14 July - 15 July, 2007
Attendees:Shashank, Manjunath and Sunder
Trail:South Climb (starting at Cold Springs campground)
Elevation reached:11,500 ft. out of 12,276 ft.

First, the pictures:

Next, the report:

We first stopped at the Mt Adams Ranger Station at about 2pm. There, we bought Cascades Volcano Passes, which also served as our Wilderness Permit to go above 7,000 ft. on Mt. Adams. We next drove to the Cold Springs campground (5,000 ft.) at 3:15pm on Friday. The campsite is in the Mt. Adams recreation area, just off Hwy 141 in Trout Lake, Washington. We parked right next to the South Climb trailhead. It took us about 1.5 hours to get our packs set up, after which we set off (5pm).

Sunder took off ahead on the trail, like a mountain goat. Carrying heavier packs, Manjunath and I were slower. I was practically walking on all fours, stooped by the pack-mule sized load on my back. I felt thankful I had my hiking poles. The trail is well-marked up to an elevation of about 7,000 ft. after which the mountain slope gets mostly rocky. We climbed for about 2.5 hours, and gained an elevation of about 2,500 ft. At this point, I called a stop, since there wasn't much daylight left, and I know its not a pleasant experience setting up camp at night. I was a bit worried, since we were mostly above the tree line, and it was real windy. We set up our tent anyway, next to a clump of rocks and brush.

We decided to cook dinner inside our tent: a potentially dangerous thing to do, when dinner involves burning propane inside a tent made of inflammable material. But, we were exhausted and starved. And, as I mentioned earlier, it was too windy outside to light a fire, let alone keep it going. Dinner was a rather sorry affair, involving some chicken noodle soup, and spring vegetable mix. Note to self: next time, spend more than two minutes at the grocery store to pick up food for the hike.

We tried to get some sleep after dinner, but the wind kept up all night, rocking our tent. It made me wonder if it might have been a better idea to camp at a lower elevation, below the tree line. On our way up, we met people who did so. But, as we found out later, we probably camped at the best possible altitude.

We set an alarm for 4am the next morning. We woke up on time, made breakfast (oatmeal and hot cocoa) and broke camp. We left our tent standing after placing rocks inside. We packed light daypacks, and left the rest of our stuff in the tent. We headed out at about 6am (late!). Within an hour, we reached the snow line. We put on our crampons and trudged up the snow. We hit Lunch Counter at about 9am. Lunch counter is a flat expanse of land at about 9,000 ft. I was surprised by the number of people who had camped here -- it was way windier up here.

At this point, Pike's Peak, the false summit of Mt Adams was becoming prominently visible at the top of a huge, steep glacier. Our task now was to trudge up this face of the mountain for an elevation gain of 2,500 ft. Climbing up a steep incline of snow and ice at a high altitude is a very exhausting, yet unique, experience. At an elevation of 10,000 ft., there really aren't too many obstacles in your line of sight. Every time I stopped to take a breath, I could see the green valleys of the Pacific Northwest stretch out as far as the eye could see, punctuated by Mounts Hood and St. Helens in the distance. Shafts of sunlight pierced the clouds, selectively lighting the valley floor below.

I was afraid we might have problems with the high altitude. But even at 10,000 ft., the worst I experienced was being a bit out of breath, which could simply be exhaustion. And exhausted we were. I focused on settling into a rhythm with my breathing, and climbing. I decided to take 50 steps and then pause for a breath for about 10 seconds. This strategy really helped, and soon, I was feeling energetic. I was also helped by the fact that I was literally walking in the footsteps of others. The hardened ice made stepping easier.

By about 11am, I reached Pike's Peak, the false summit of Mt Adams, at 11,500 ft. Sunder had made it to the top about 10 minutes earlier. But he was completely exhausted, since he went off course, and used up a lot of energy to get back on trail. Moral: Follow the crowds up the glacier. I was raring to go on. The real summit was in plain sight from where I stood, just another steep incline about 800 ft. tall. Manjunath too reached the false summit. But just then, out of nowhere, clouds moved in, reducing visibility substantially. There was also the possibility that they could be storm clouds. At this time, we decided to turn back. We did see others who continued on to the summit.

Going down Mt Adams is a tricky affair. There were those who hiked up with their skis and snowboards. They just skied or snowboarded down gracefully. The rest of us had to either walk down the steep icy face of the mountain, or slide down it ('glissading'). We chose to do the latter, since that would be faster. But boy, was that a bad idea. I did not realize how much speed you can gain sliding down the snow, even using the ice-ax to break my slide. At one point, I was sliding too close to the rocks on one side of the glacier, and I ended rushing straight into them. I was lucky I ended up hurting only my elbow and not my head. After that, I decided I would walk down the whole slope, no matter how long it took.

Going down Mt Adams is tricky also because there are many snowy slopes down and they all look the same. I took the right path all the way back to our camp. But Manjunath and Sunder were not so lucky. They arrived at our tent almost a hour after me, after making a few wrong turns. Tip: as you go up the mountain, keep looking back occasionally, so you know which way you came. We broke up our tent and headed down the mountain by about 3pm. We reached the trailhead by about 5pm, completely sore and exhausted.

In summary, it was a really good first high-altitude mountaineering experience. We went at pretty much the best time. The weather was agreeable mostly. There was a crowd on the mountain, and that was actually a good thing, since I learned from watching others.