Elevation Gain: 6800'
12 miles RT
Left car: 4:30 am
Summit: 12:30 pm
Back at car: 4 pm
11.5 hours car to car
I had one weekend available before going to France, and I asked Jennifer if I could go skiing. She said yes, and I talked to Dan about a summit attempt on Mount Adams. He invited Chris along, and we had our trip. The goal would be to climb the South Route, and either descend the climbing route or the Southwest Chutes. We would make the decision once there to see what coverage was like.
We left Seattle a little after Noon on Friday and took the long way down. (Is there a short way to Mount Adams from Seattle?) We drove down to Portland and then east on I84 to Hood River before crossing the Columbia again and heading up to the mountain. On the way down we discussed how many people we thought we'd see. This question was starting to be answered when we stopped to get our permits. There were 3 other cars there with about 3 people in each, all getting permits to climb. When we arrived at the campground, we found it full with cars. There had to be over 100 cars! We had difficulty finding a spot, and then parked and got ready to sleep.
Sleeping was next to impossible. Cars rolled in all through the night trying to find a spot. A loud Vanagon pulled up and proceeded to be restarted a few times while the owners were attempting to park it level to sleep in. At one point, well after 1 am a car rolled in blasting their stereo. ("Danger Zone" by Kenny Loggins) This could be heard with their doors and windows closed.
Our wake up time of 3:30 am rolled around and we started to motivate. We were finally moving by 4:30 and headed up the trail. There were plenty of others already hiking as well. Since there was no snow in the parking lot, we were booting from the start. Dan choose to wear hiking boots, while I wore my ski boots and Chris his snowboard boots. It took about 500' vertical before we met snow. It was not continuous, and quite hard, with plenty of boot tracks, so we kept on booting up.
Chris wasn't feeling well so we were not making great time, but not bad either. About 900' vertical and hour was our pace early on. We made a stop around 9000' where Chris took some Ibuprofen and put his split board on his pack as an A-Frame to better stabilize the load. The Chris. Once we passed the "lunch counter" (a large flat area with good high camps) we kept looking back, but could not make him out from the hundreds of people on the mountain. Around 10000' Dan and I stopped at a rock island to see if we could see him. He was just past the lunch counter and we presumed he would take at least a half hour to get to our location. From our previous discussion, we knew Chris was not there to summit, and Dan and I made the decision to head for the summit and meet Chris at Piker's Peak (the false summit) and the entrance to the Southwest Chutes.
Dan and I continued on. I was really affected by the altitude and was not feeling great. I slowed a bit right before the false summit. Once there, I was really not feeling great and took a brief break. Dan and I checked out the SW Chutes and saw a few skiers drop in. We didn't like the icy sounds we heard from their skis and thought we might be better descending the climbing route. After some discussion, Dan and I decided to drop our packs, put on crampons and make the final 600' push to the summit. Dan lost me almost immediately. It felt like I was dragging an anvil up the last steep section to the summit plateau. I had all of the symptoms of AMS: headache, dizziness, nausea. Dan reached the summit 15 minutes before I did. Once there, I snapped a few pics, and we headed down to meet Chris.
Back at Piker's Peak we talked about the descent. I took an Ibuprofen and we geared up. The wind had picked up and we all put on our poofy jackets. The decision was made to descend the chutes as they had softened up in the time that Dan and I went to the summit. I was still a bit dizzy, but knew that descending was the only cure and I told the guys I was going to take it easy at first. I headed over to the chutes before them and made my first turns.
The snow was fantastic! To use the skier's cliche it was sweet buttery corn. Almost immediately I felt better! Was it the skiing? Was it the drop in altitude? Who knows? I was having the greatest ski run of my life! Dan and Chris hopped over a rock band to descend the next chute to skier's right. I saw what looked like a lot of rock where they were going and stayed in the main chute. There was a mess of other skiers and boarders in the main chute, and there were occasional rest periods to wait for others to clear the next section of the run. This was fine with me as it gave me an opportunity to rest a bit and to snap a few pics. At one point, someone kicked a rock down the chute, but I think everyone avoided it safely.
The bottom of the chute I took got narrow and steep with a rocky snow finish. I needed to make a few quick turns and then ski out to the right to join Dan and Chris. Once on flatter terrain I finally got to remove my jackets and gloves for the rest of the ski out. The next section below the chutes is what we called "the mine field." There were rocks all over the snow. Most about the size of a softball. They had all melted into the snow to some degree with some creating large holes that you had to jump over or turn quickly around because they were not obvious until you were on top of them.
After the mine field, there was a short steeper mogul slope. It was probably the trickiest section to ski as the moguls were icy hard and had steep sides. The best you could do was follow other's tracks before you and add a little side slipping in. Dan, Chris and I continued to follow another party out who had great knowledge of the route. We were able to ski for quite some distance. There was a brief rock step that I had to come out for and then a little more skiing for me. Then the snow was too patchy and the trees too tight for me to continue safely without damaging my equipment. I de-skied and continued to walk down. Dan and Chris stayed in and managed to ride to the 6300' level. Which gave us all around 5000' of vertical ski run.
Once at the 6300' level we were at the "round the mountain" trail. From there it is was a matter of traversing back to the climbing trail and heading back to the car. Dan and Chris switched into hiking boots/shoes and I continued in my ski boots. We arrived back at the car parched and chugged some water and prepared to leave.
On the way out, we saw a sign that said: "Big Tree, 1/4 mile." So we went. Wow! The largest Ponderosa Pine I have ever seen. The pic tells the stats, as does Dan and Chris standing under it. Quite a sight and worth stopping for before or after a climb of Adams.
Overall it was a great trip. We hit the route perfect both for time of day and season. The snow was perfect for the ride down and the chutes were a great descent. This was Chris' second time doing the route, and he felt the next time he would do the whole hike in hiking boots and bring a full board as both times he has done this trip neither involved skinning. Skinning was possible, and probably at times made for a quicker ascent, but the snow was icy, and it never seemed to make great sense to switch over. Many people who where skinning up were using ski crampons, and none of us even own them. Chris also said he wouldn't bring an ice ax or crampons. I'd probably bring the ax, or at least a Whippet. The hiking was mellow and there were a few steeper sections of the hike, but nothing over 30°. The boot path is well beaten in, and if it wasn't, crampons may have been nice, but not necessary.
This mountain also has a remarkable amount of people on it. We were guessing there were around 300 people climbing the South Route yesterday, but it is hard to tell. (My one pic of the snowfield shows around 70 people on it.) The crowds are unpleasant, and run the gamut of the goat rodeo. People with polypro under shorts with axes and crampons to guys with jean and army boots with no back packs. Quite a crowd. I guess it makes sense being a non-technical climb of the state's second tallest mountain. But the crowds were not fun, and it is not likely I'd want to go again unless I could go mid week.
This trip marks another goal completed that I wanted to achieve this year. (Ski of Mt. Adams.) It also once again proves that skiing rules for these long snowy descents. It also makes me turn the corner on the possible five Washington Volcanoes in one year. I only have to summit Mount Baker and Glacier Peak to make that possible. (What have I got myself into?)