| Mt. Adams Report
Peak: Mount Adams
Route: Southwest Ridge
Length: 10 Miles Total Round Trip Distance
Gain: ~5,200 Feet
Father's Day weekend came and went. It was a nice weekend, but as a 16 year old boy I desperately needed to get away from the house. On Monday, I made a resolution; I would go hiking the next weekend, no matter what. I was sick and tired of staying home. This resolution begs a question, though. Where should I go? That all depended on another big question. Who would I go with? If I were to go on my own, it would be to one of the lakes up in the Sangre De Cristo Mountains above Crestone, maybe North Crestone, or maybe I would check out the approach to Kit Carson Peak's North Ridge. If I had someone to go with, however, I would have my father's blessing to try for a summit.
With that in mind, I got on the phone with two of my friends who had recently mentioned they wanted to go hiking. One, as it turned out, couldn't go on that weekend. Try as I may, I couldn't get a hold of the other one, my best friend, Abe. The situation looked bleak. Then, on Friday, I finally got through to Abe. He had been in Rocky Mountain National Park (without me!) He said he wanted to go camping. That's right, camping, as in the very next morning I would have to get to the trailhead (20 miles away, I didn't drive at the time) and get back Sunday afternoon. Believe it or not, somehow, it worked out! Dad agreed to drive me there, and Mom agreed to pick me up.
Now for a destination… Abe and I talked about hitting Mt. Adams (13,931 ft.) on Saturday, spend the night at Willow Lake, and then climb Challenger Point (14,081 ft.) on Sunday before heading out. That didn't go over very well with Abe's parents, so we decided that Adams would be enough. By the time that decision was made, it was 8:30 PM Friday. I hastily packed for a camping trip, something that usually took me a week to prepare for, and got to bed. I didn't sleep very well…
The next morning, I woke up at 5:30 AM and was wide awake immediately. I did my best to eat some breakfast and help my parents with the morning chores, but I was practically bouncing with anticipation. I couldn't stop glancing to the east at my destination for the next two days; Mt. Adams can be seen with ease from my house if you know where to look. Finally we got away and drove to Abe's house, where Abe was putting the finishing touches on his pack. His parents were just waking up, and had lots of safety questions for us (what do you do if a mountain lion attacks, for example). Once they were done, and Abe put the last item (TP) in his pack, we got away.
We arrived at the alternate trailhead for Willow Creek at about 9 AM, shouldered our packs, and headed off, Abe in front. We registered, and noticed that Adams hadn't been climbed for a few days. That's the nice thing about high 13ers, you get the rush of a 14er without the crowds.
Up we trudged, passing a group of four along the first batch of switchbacks that get you over the hill into the Willow Creek drainage. We crested the hill and walked by Willow Park, a large, grassy meadow, which was a bit brownish for this time of year. Even so, the view here was astounding, as usual. To the West, the San Luis Valley sprawls out for miles, and you can just see the foothills of the San Juans on the other side. There are hills to the North and South, and to the East the view is dominated by Kit Carson Mountain's Northwest sub peak. You can also see the valley in which Willow Lake lies, to the North of Kit Carson.
We continued through the trees at a steady pace, crossed the creek with no problem, and cranked up through the boulder field. The trail is very good the entire way through the boulders. Above the boulder field, we reentered the forest and wound our way to the lake at 11,564 feet. This is also a beautiful place. The lake has cliffs on its East end, with a waterfall cutting through them. To the South, Kit Carson Mountain runs almost right up to the lake. There are trees around the West half of the lake, and above the lake the creek curves to the South behind Kit Carson Mountain.
I was surprised (though I shouldn't have been) at the amount of people camped below the lake in the trees. There must have been at least ten tents! We received a pleasant surprise when we found a few friends of ours from Crestone who were camped up there as well, though they were only camping for the sake of camping and would walk down the next morning.
We ate lunch, and while Abe lay down on a rock to rest I went ahead and scouted out the beginning of tomorrow's route. I walked around the left (North) side of the lake for about 100 feet and then turned uphill into the trees. After about a hundred yards, I came across a great camping spot which had been built up to include a fire ring, log benches, and extra firewood, with a few bare spots of ground for a tent. I made a mental note of its position and continued uphill.
About 100 feet further, I left the trees and could see the top of the hill. I zig-zagged my way up the hill and crested it. From here, I could basically see the rest of the route. Mt Adams stood tall above the basin before me. There were only minor hills in the way of the mountain, and from the map I knew that the route behind them was relatively flat.
Satisfied of my newfound knowledge of the route, I returned to the lake and told Abe of the campsite I found. He liked the sound of it, so we grabbed our packs and hiked up to the site. We struck camp, stowed our stuff, Abe took a swim in the lake (which didn't look like a relaxing experience, really) and we messed around with our friends for a while until they returned to their camp. Even though our aloof campsite was a very relaxing one, I was anxious about the next day. I had developed a bit of a headache from dehydration and it was getting pretty cold, so I was wondering if I would be in good enough shape to climb a mountain the next morning. It was another rough night.
When Abe and I got up the sun was gracing the tops of the high mountains. It was chilly, but not as cold as I thought it would be. I got out of the tent, got a coat and hat on, and realized that my headache was almost gone and my legs felt fine. I was more than ready for the ascent. Abe shared my enthusiasm, and after a quick breakfast of granola bars and some sunflower seeds we stowed all our overnight gear in the tent and headed uphill. It didn't take long to reach the farthest point I had reached the day before, and we quickly moved through the basin. Note: The following pictures were actually taken on the decent, as I was saving my camera batteries for summit shots.
After rounding the hill in the basin, we got a good look at the entire route before us. We would have to scramble up a loose gully to the saddle between Mt. Adams on the right and Unnamed 13,546 "Montaña Mujeres" on the left. From there, we would follow Adams' Southwest ridge to its summit cap, wrap around the cap to easier terrain, and head straight up to the summit from there.
So, goal number one: scale the gully. From our angle, it looked really steep and loose, so we were a little apprehensive. As it turned out there was a line of grass that was growing in the rocks in the lower half of the gully which aided our ascent. In the upper half we avoided the loose rocks and dirt by hiking up the grass to the right. At the top there was a bit of looseness that was unavoidable, but it didn't end up being a problem.
After a brief scramble out of the gully,
we found ourselves on Adams' Southwest ridge. The slopes on either side were pretty steep, and Abe and I both were feeling the rush of being on amazing heights. This truly is a classic route! If we accidentally nudged a rock just right, it would roll down the side until you could no longer see it, without stopping. Any time that happened was a gentle reminder not to fall.
Although the ridge was steep, it wasn't that difficult to move forward. There were plenty of places in the grass and on rocks to plant your feet, and when necessary, your hands. We made our way along the ridge, going around some cliffs when they were barring the way, and gradually made our way to the summit cap.
The summit cap was pretty steep, but it wasn't very large or demanding. We did have to use our hands for balance as we made large steps to the rocks above, but it wasn't that difficult. At any rate, the slope suddenly rounded out and we stood on the tiny summit ridge, clearly pointed out.
From there, it was a nice, though narrow and somewhat scary walk across to the summit, about 50 feet away. We stood in triumph on the summit, only 70 feet shy of 14,000 feet. It was an incredible feeling. Abe commented that it was a greater adrenaline rush than kayaking in the ocean. The area on the summit is tiny.
The view to the East was amazing, just a sea of clouds brushing up against the mountains. It must have been very overcast in Westcliff, as the cloud level was about 11,000 feet.
To the south, we could see, from left to right, Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, Columbia Point, Kit Carson Mountain, and Challenger Point (barely out of frame.)
You could also see Humboldt Peak to the south. It's the one on the right, and the one to the left and in front of it is Colony Baldy.
That's "Montaña Mujeres", a really nice looking mountain, with the San Luis Valley behind it to the West. You can see the clouds are not that high, and they would brush over us from time to time. Our view to the north was obscured by clouds, though we could see a few of the lower 13ers in that direction.
Our trip down was fairly uneventful, except that a marmot had found Abe's hat and ripped it in two to get the leather inside it. We found our way down without talking much, just reflecting. In fact, when I asked Abe what he was thinking about, his response was
Yep, that about says it all, Abe.
We got back down to camp, packed up, Abe dived in the lake again, and we had a minor scare from a storm but we beat it out. We got home safe and sound, conquerors of Mt. Adams.
To see the rest of my pictures from this climb, please visit
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):