Peak(s):  Mount Adams - 12,276 feet
Date Posted:  08/01/2012
Date Climbed:   07/28/2012
Author:  Aubrey

 Mt. Adams (WA) in one day  

Route: South Spur
Trailhead: Cold Springs Campground
Round-Trip Distance: 12 miles, give or take, depending on how much switchbacking you do up the snow slopes
Total Elevation Gain: 6,800’ (6,700’ elevation change from the trailhead to the summit plus 100’ due to the 50-foot loss/regain in between Piker’s Peak and the true summit)
Times for reference: 7 hours up, half-hour on the summit, and 4 hours down

When we rolled into the Cold Springs Campground at about 9 p.m., just as the sun was setting, we were super lucky to find an open parking spot. The place looked like a refugee camp. Vehicles were parked everywhere, and many of them were parked rather creatively – tilted in ditches, 4x4ed onto boulders, squeezed between trees and wedged against bushes. It wasn’t the prettiest sight, but at least the drive in was beautiful.

Columbia River Gorge from White Salmon, WA:


Mount Hood’s north face from White Salmon, WA:


Mount Adams from Trout Lake, WA:


We had just driven all the way from Bellingham, WA, which took us 8 hours – two hours longer than expected because we hit some horrible traffic in Tacoma. Not surprisingly, it was hard to just immediately start sleeping because I was still pretty wired from all that driving. I pounded an Avery IPA, but it wasn’t enough. Whether it was excitement, nerves, the altitude or whatever, I just lay there awake (on our foam bed in the back of our Xterra) all night until our alarm went off at 1:30 a.m. I don’t think Jen got any sleep either.

I didn’t have an appetite but I knew I had to eat, so I forced down a piece of bacon and a couple slices of cheese. Just after 2 a.m. we started up the trail.

Routefinding wasn’t too bad in the dark, but there were a few spots that gave us pause, especially where the snow patches began, which was around 6,000’. After crossing the Round the Mountain Trail, we followed the boot-tracked path in the snow that followed the wooden-post markers.

The path kept alternating between snow and rock, so we decided to wait to put on our crampons until it was continuous snow.

At one point, a distinct boot pack went up a steepening snow slope, so we followed it, as it was heading in the right direction. But the higher we climbed, the sketchier it became. Taking off our packs and putting on our crampons wasn’t an option. Right when the angle pushed to about 45 degrees and I reached my threshold for climbing a steep and icy slope with just boots and poles, we topped out. There were some good steps kicked in, but they were icy, and my trekking poles weren’t cutting it anymore. So this was when we donned our crampons and ice axes.

Not far from there, we ended up on rocks again, in an attempt to skirt the Crescent Glacier. After a bit of screeching and scraping, we eventually made it to solid snow that was perfect for cramponing. The clear and cold night created a bit of surface hoar, but for the most part it was hard-packed snow and ice.

Just below the “Lunch Counter” (which is at about 9,000 to 9,200 feet), where most people set up their basecamp, the rising sun gave us our first view of the upper mountain.



Mount Hood just before sunrise:


Mount St. Helens:


The 2,000-foot climb from the “Lunch Counter” to “Piker’s Peak” didn’t look so bad. But when we started to see all the black dots (aka climbers) death marching up the slope, it made us think otherwise.


That slope is one of those slopes where you feel like you’re hiking forever, yet nothing seems to move. And every time you look up, or back down, it doesn’t look like you’ve made any progress.

During the first thousand feet I was in a groove. My breathing was good and my rest stepping was rhythmic. But the high altitude and my lack of sleep finally caught up with me on the second thousand feet. I battled nausea and I had to stop often to catch my breath. Jen also struggled a bit. Keep in mind, we live at sea level now, and we drove to the trailhead just hours prior, with no acclimatization time, so we were definitely feeling the thin air at 11,000 feet.

Nevertheless, we continued our slow push up the mountain. Though I guess we weren’t so slow because we ended up passing most of the other groups, most of which were doing a two-day climb.

Jen just below “Piker’s Peak” with the “Lunch Counter” in the distance below:


Knowing “Piker’s Peak” is just a big false summit, I braced myself for the intimidating view of our remaining route. And as expected, from the top of Piker’s, the true summit appeared to be a million miles away, and the saddle between the two points looked like it took a huge dip.

Jen topping out on “Piker’s Peak” next to a glissade chute:


Mount Adams’ true summit (upper-left) viewed from “Piker’s Peak”:


Approaching the low point on the saddle:


As it turned out, the saddle only dipped 50 feet (adding 100 feet of total elevation gain), and it only took us an hour or less from point to point, so it does look a bit worse than it actually is.

Me climbing to the true summit of Mount Adams with “Piker’s Peak” below, dead center; a boot track and climbers can be seen below:


After making a series of pushes and rests up that final slope, we gained the summit at 9 a.m.

The 360-degree view from that broad summit was amazing. Excluding some thin cloud bands, it was crystal clear, and we had some fantastic views of Mount Rainier to the north, Mount St. Helens to the west and Mount Hood to the south. We tagged both points on top, just to be sure we got the highest one, though they were essentially the same height according to my GPS.

Our unexciting summit poses:


Mount Rainier:


Mount St. Helens:


Mount Jefferson and Mount Hood:


More summit photos …




"The Pinnacle"

Did I mention it was crowded on top?


After sauntering around for a half hour, we decided to begin our long slog back down.

I don’t mean to come off as a self-righteous know-it-all, but I feel I have to mention all the ill-equipped and uneducated climbers we came across throughout the day. Most of them probably made it up and down unscathed, but they were lucky. And if they continue to climb the way they do, it's just a matter of time before they'll run into trouble. At least half of the people we saw did not carry packs above their basecamps at the “Lunch Counter,” even though it’s still a 3,000-foot climb from there to the top. Many did not have crampons, ice axes or proper footwear. Some didn't even have trekking poles. Most of the glissaders we saw did not glissade properly. I even saw one guy make multiple glissades with his crampons on. Had he caught a spike, or had one of the others impaled themselves while sliding down with their axes and/or poles flailing about, I think I would have been one of the few people on the upper mountain with a first-aid kit and extra clothing. A full rescue would have been a long time coming. Based on what we saw, I can’t believe there aren’t more accidents on Mount Adams. But I digress ...

Climbing back down “Piker’s Peak”:


The verdant valley that is the Columbia River Gorge; Hood River, OR is somewhere down there; Mount Hood is in the distance:


On our descent we could finally see the terrain we climbed up in the dark. The area near the Crescent Glacier was the trickiest section. We generally knew where we needed to go, but getting down to it was the challenge. Tracks in the snow led everywhere.

It was a rather confusing area, kind of like a maze of snow patches and ribs of rock. We passed one guy who couldn’t find his tent. Sounds funny, but it would be an easy mistake to make, as all those rock sections looked the same, and you could be 20 feet away from your tent and not see it.

After finding a snow path that bypassed the rock section we had climbed up that morning, I figured we had two options: Drop down a super-steep snow slope and possibly end up on the Crescent Glacier (unroped), or continue down the snow ridge to a better drop-down point. We chose the latter.

Peering over the edge of that snow ridge was like looking down a cliff. We kept descending, skirting the edge of the glacier and being careful not to get too close to the developing moat, but we somehow missed the drop-down point (which was the steep, icy slope we ascended that morning).

It’s weird how your mind paints a picture of the terrain in the dark. My mental painting didn’t match reality.

After hiking down the ridge for a bit, the snow softened, the moat grew larger and the ridge appeared to cliff out. We could see a dry trail here and there, but most of it was buried by snow. Realizing we had gone down too far, our only option was to climb back up. We were already exhausted, but it was the safest thing to do. Jen was not a happy climber.

When we finally made it back to the proper drop-down point, our total elevation gain for the day had reached almost 7,000 feet.

Here’s a shot of that area that I took later; the yellow line is our approximate descent path and the red line is where we got off route; because of the weird perspective, it’s much steeper than it looks (and the red-line route did not go uphill); you can see some climbers hugging the edge, where there was a somewhat-level lip of snow, though it doesn’t show up in the photo:


As it turned out, the only challenging part of that down climb was its top 10 feet. The kicked-in steps were slick and slushy at this point in the day, so it really helped to have an axe. Beyond that, it was just a simple traverse down a steep snow slope, and we made quick work of it. Probably too quick because Jen took a fall and had to self arrest, though she was never in any real danger.

Here’s another shot taken from the bottom of that slope; again, it doesn’t look as steep as it really is:


After making it back down to the Round the Mountain trail junction, we started to pass many groups of climbers on their way up to basecamp. They looked so clean and they smelled so fresh.

At about 1:30 p.m. we made it back to the still-packed parking lot.

In the book “Climbing Washington’s Mountains,” this climb is described as a “long, long snow slog,” and I have to agree. It was tough, especially as a day climb, and I was proud of us for sticking with it for the entire journey.

Our approximate route from the Round the Mountain Trail junction to the summit:


Mount Adams from Hood River, OR:


Horsetail Falls on the drive home:


Of course, it would be sacrilege to drive through Portland without picking up some beers:


Capped off the trip with a fitting beer from GoodLife Brewing, one of Bend’s newest breweries:

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

amazing photos
04/02/2015 19:45
thank you for posting.


Life is better with gear and beer
08/01/2012 18:02
Great pics, the usual solid storytelling.
Strong work with no acclimation. Look out, Longs Peak.
AleSmith IPA? Oh, to dream... I looked all over Seattle trying to get more of that stuff. ”You'll have to drive to Portland.”


08/01/2012 18:28
Your pictures told your story very well. I really liked number 21. Thanks for the post


08/01/2012 18:29
Just for a summer. You can have my job/location and I'll take yours.


Sweet road shots
08/01/2012 18:52
I love the different views of the volcanoes from the road. Thats something we basically missed out on completely on our trip back in June. Those first 3 shots are classic, quintisential PNW. And those libations at the end all look pretty enticing.


Very cool!
08/01/2012 18:53
Nice trip report and photos, love those shots with the clouds. Looking forward to heading back to that region one day soon.


08/01/2012 18:54
Absolutely incredible. The northwest is starting to look like a viable alternative if (God forbid) I ever have to leave CO.


Nice trip report!
08/01/2012 20:06
I am headed to the Three Sisters/Broken Top and Mount Shasta areas on 8/4, so your photos were a good way to get the juices flowing...


08/01/2012 20:31
Great TR and great pics! Thanks for it so I can see what it looked like


08/01/2012 23:54
...this looks incredible! please take me with you next time. great TR


08/01/2012 23:59
Was just up there with Shawn, Dave, and our friend JD. It's great finally seeing the views that were obscured by cloud and mist...and now I'm glad we couldn't see the true summit from Pikers Peak.

Great work on the climb and an A+ beer lineup!


Great shots, great beer
08/02/2012 22:28
Very fun to read. Well done.


Thanks for posting
08/04/2012 03:45
Nice job to do Adams as a day trip. Looks like you and Jen aren't letting up at all out there ... good to see.


PNW Climbing
08/06/2012 18:39
Still getting after it I see. Nice job Aubrey/Jen. Those last few pics just created a shopping list for the next time I visit the in-laws (or maybe this year's Christmas List for me to send them.)

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