What an adventure! Since having climbed Mt. St. Helens, I had eyed Mt. Adams. Even though it is not as popular as its neighborly volcanic sisters (Mt. Rainier and Mt. Hood), Mt. Adams is the third highest mountain (12,281 feet/3,743 m) among the Cascades and offers breathtaking views with many scenic lakes.
One fine Friday morning, Todd and I left Salem at 05:30 and arrived at the Mt. Adams Ranger Station of Gifford Pinchot National Forest by 07:40. After getting cascade volcanic passes ($15.00 each), we rendezvoused with Adam, and headed to the South Climb trailhead (#183) where hike begins. The dirt road to the trailhead was narrow and made me more anxious yet excited about the trip.
The parking lot was already almost full. After the final check of our hiking gear including crampons and ice axes (thanks to Jay for lending me the equipment), we took our first steps at 10:20. The initial part of the trail was surrounded with dead trees from the last wildfire, but strangely enabled us to enjoy the views of Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood with less obstruction. Before long we reached snow covered areas accented with patches of exposed volcanic rocks.
The trail got steeper as we struggled to put one foot before another; the air was getting thinner. With a full backpack, I started feeling lightheaded. The high altitude was going to be a continual factor from here on, so I reminded myself not to miss taking a breath. The façade of Mt. Adams looked intimidating. My companions and I were glad we planned to stay overnight at the area known as ‘Lunch Counter’ (9,300ft) before attempting a summit. This gave us a chance to acclimatize.
As we approached our camp site, we found a small stream from snow-melt to fill our water bottles which made us happy since we didn't have to purposely melt snow for drinking or cooking. At the Lunch Counter, there were many camp sites available for early arrivals at 14:00. Previous climbers had built numerous well-formed rock windbreakers. We settled into one that afforded us a good panoramic view of Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, and Mt. St. Helens. No sooner had we pitched the tent than strong winds were magnified by unanticipated sleet that drove us hurriedly into our tent. Being tired from the climb thus far, we welcomed an opportunity to take much needed nap sheltered from the weather outside. Resting our bodies horizontally made it easier to replenish our brain cells with oxygen.
When we arose from several hours’ nap, the camp site had filled with later arriving hikers. A tender pink sky hung over Mt. Hood. Dark clouds that had gathered earlier had begun dissipating. The weather held more promised for the next day’s final push to the summit (3,000ft elevation gain). The ranger station’s prognosis for the night was increasingly strong winds. I favored an early start for the next morning. Adam was initially reluctant, but all of us alas agreed.
The wind never died down during the night. We could hear tossing and turning all night from the tent of campers closest to us. Thus, getting up early at 03:30 we didn’t feel very well rested. This was my first experience for the pleasure of using a human waste pack. LOL. Crampons (microspikes) on shoes, ice axes in hand, we followed the thin thread of light from our forehead lamps on the trail before us. As our focus adjusted to the swirls of snow dancing in the moon light, we detected a delicate line of lights from the climbers on the trail ahead of us. We weren’t the earliest to set out.
I knew it would be a difficult climb, yet I was surprised by the heaviness in my breathing when I first stepped on the snow. To deepen my fore boarding, the ice-covered trail looked even steeper the closer I approached. To dispel the cold and dark, all I had to do was to remind myself what would await me at the summit. With Adam's lead, we climbed toward the goal.
Half way to the ‘False Summit’ (also known as ‘Pikers Peak’), the sunrise began to illuminate our surroundings. I witnessed a dramatic shadow in the air created by Mt. Adams itself. The sight was breathtakingly beautiful. I was energized all-the-more for capturing a view from the summit. Thanks to Adam for gummy bears! Chewing them was seriously a chore at above 10,000ft.
After a steep hike up four benches and four breaks, we finally reached a plateau known not ironically as the ‘False Summit’ (11,667 feet). The wind gusts were so strong, I couldn't breathe facing them. To catch my breaths, I quickly turned and looked down a line of hikers working their way up to the plateau. My feeling of pride and accomplishment immediately blew away when I turned around to face the steep wicked incline remaining before the true summit. Only from being present at the False Summit can you visually connect with the True Summit still further and higher. Nonetheless, the end was near. The possibility of standing on the summit was palpable.
The wind no longer content to simply blow snow now picked up ice particles. Progress up the final steep incline was reduced to 20-30 steps at a time. We stopped simply to breathe. We were getting closer, closer to the morning sky now blue, closer to what we long wanted. Less than 30 feet away from the top, a rush of adrenaline surged through my body. During the final push not even the wind gusts mattered anymore. My joy was complete for what I had accomplished. To some, the climb may seem insignificant, to me, it was huge. This was what I had wanted. I earned it by overcoming all the doubts and obstacles along the way. I proved to myself: I am capable.
The panoramic view was beyond my boldest imagination. Mt. Rainier stood tall above the clouds; Mt. St. Helens remained magnificent; and Mt. Hood manifested perfect form. I was so elated, I didn't even realize my goose down parker had slipped out from underneath my rain jacket creating a silly sight. I guess that's what happens when you truly enjoy the moment.
The cloud formation was mesmerizing. Snow particles blown together in streams that almost looked like smoke left mysteriously beautiful trails in the air. In awe, we sat down to soak it in.
Thank you Todd and Adam for sharing this tremendous experience!