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A summer solo climb of Mt. Adams in Washington State
by Paul Chance

Paul Chance on August 15-17, 2001

I left Bend about 9 AM, paid for my permits to climb Mt Adams at the Trout Lake Ranger Station at 1PM and drove up to Cold Springs Campground.

Though some topo maps show a road going from Cold Springs campground to Timberline campground - it is not a vehicle road. Cold Springs is the start. And it cost $10 per person to climb - covers the "parking fee" too. The Forest Service woman said there was no water but it turns out (3+ quarts of water carried for 2000 feet later) she meant no water at the Cold Springs campground. She also said crampons were necessary. I'd been getting "yes, you need them/no, you don't" information about 50/50%. It was a big deal for me because it meant more than crampons. It meant a much heavier boot and a somewhat painful one at that.

I put mole skin on that bone behind my little toe that hasn't yet deformed to the crampon boot and started up. After a few hundred yards I met a lady climber in tee shirt on the way down. Usually my eyes go somewhere else but this time I went right for the boots. Good old PCT style hiking boots. I asked if crampons were necessary and she said there were a few places were I might feel more comfortable with them, but they were not necessary. Or it might be a choice between going straight up a snow field or working my way up via the rock basalt. She also said there was plenty of water.

As it was already after 5 pm Tuesday, I decided I could burn a few more minutes and walked back to the car and changed into my lighter, more comfortable hiking boots. Those 30 minutes most likely made the difference between a successful climb and gnawing off my right foot at the ankle.

I started back up - forgetting what she said about water - planning to make it to between 8000 and 9000 feet where I was told there were lots of camp sites (but no water it turns out).

About 6:30 I reached near 7350/7400 feet. It was a good 1000ft/hr pace (easier at lower elevation). I saw a stream coming out of a snow pack to my right, but nothing above it. I also noted that sunset was a bit after 8 pm and there would be almost no moon. Remembering how much "fun" it is to set up camp in the dark, I decided it was time to stop. I saw a trail with a stake cairn leading off the main trail and took it. That lead to and empty "city of camp sites" - nice rock walls and soft, lump free, sand within appropriate distance from the stream (10T 0616597, 5113194). 

I wasn't sure what time to leave and set an alarm for 6:30 am but it was so hot - 70 degrees or so - that I slept fitfully and woke up every hour. I got up "for real" at 6:30, heated water for two packets of oatmeal and some hot chocolate.

I left about a quart of water in the tent, and took two quarts, electrolytes added, along with six Cliff bars. I decided to hike in shorts and tee shirt, both nylon, and bring a long sleeve nylon shirt and pants. I took a light weight windproof vest and decided to leave the gore-tex shell in the tent. I needed to go as light as I could and there was not a hint bad weather there or in any forecast I had checked. I was completely prepared to come back down if the weather changed. I set a waypoint for the camp in my Gps, checked that I could get a cell phone signal if necessary, and started off.

On the way I was passed (by almost everyone : ) ) by a couple wearing jeans but carrying ice axes and crampons. I planned to use my poles but brought an ax - just in case.

From 7400 feet to the "Lunch Counter" at 9000 feet is just a long one foot in front of the other. The trail was well defined - ON THE WAY UP - except a few places where there were rock camp cities. At those places the footprints/trails could be a bit confusing - but it was still up. All roads lead to the Lunch Counter.

We (me and the couple about 100 yards ahead) finally reached a place where we could get off the meandering rock trail and go straight up a snow field. The snow was excellent constancy for kicking steps and gave a solid platform. My only gripe was this guy was taking too big of steps and an occasional traverse wouldn't hurt either. But his lady friend was negotiating it (However, I didn't see her smile or say one word to anyone else during the climb. Still, she did it and it was a heck of an effort). Between 9500 and 10500 feet I got really worn out. Endorphins would kick in and I'd feel occasional numbness. But nothing that said, "Stop" - just "Slow down, keep the heart rate in aerobic range."

I finally reached a steep pitch where one slip meant a long slide. I kicked a secure platform and switched over to my ax - first dragging it through the snow to make sure it would grab and stop if needed. At that point I was passed by another climber who was also using poles and he was kicking decent steps, improving what was above me. So it was piece of cake time.

It got to the point where I wasn't getting warm when I'd start up after a rest - timed roughly every 30 minutes. So I put on the long sleeve shirt and windproof vest. But I was running out of water. On the last push to the top of the false summit I knew I needed something more for the cold and used the "butt pad" as extra isolation on the inside of the vest. I also put on my windproof headband ear cover.

A group of about seven climbers were gathered at the false summit and I thought about asking to borrow a few ounces of water from each one. I didn't consider the biological mix, but pride sort of stopped me from asking. Also, there was about 100 yards of flat ground and I was now feeling pretty good. Kind of like when your car reaches some mph and there's a resonance vibration. but when you continue beyond that speed, the car smoothes out again. I was once again in the smooth zone.

The first lady I met on the trail (mountain goddess?) warned me not to be discouraged when I saw that I'd have to loose about 250 feet of altitude and gain 750 more on the final push. Also, the trail crossed another snow/ice field and there was WATER running through it (so you have water between 6000 and 7400 feet, at 9000 feet (Lunch Counter), and between the false summit and the top. Other trickles are here and there.)

I continued down to the snow field, drank about half a quart of "pure" glacier aqua, and filled a quart bottle up again. At that point I could have only taken half a quart with me to the top and filled again on the way down. But it was too precious or I wasn't running on all cylinders.

Maybe it was the water replenishment, or the knowledge that the top was "just up there" but I was feeling fine, tired but fine. Of course I was passed by several more climbers. And the wind really picked up and I reconsidered the wisdom of leaving my shell back in the tent. I decided it was the right decision and the mistake was not bringing my lighter nylon windbreak shirt and silk balaclava - both weigh next to nothing and packing down to nothing. I did bring a windproof headband-ear covers. That helped keep my head warmer. But I'll definitely need more wind clothing when I plan on being at altitude - regardless of the sunny day.

When I reached the summit I was going to change into my long pants - but the "jeans" couple was there and I didn't want to expose the damsel to something she might not want to see. I could have gone down the hill a little - on the other side of the peak - but there was no way I was loosing that much altitude. So I took my shoes off, the feet thanked me, and put the pants on over my climbing shorts.

Unfortunately, the sky was not clear. There was a gray cover over most of the land - maybe smoke from all the fires. The sun would breakout occasionally and it felt so good to warm up. I had done what I had set out to do, it was a bit after 2 pm, six hours of daylight left, time to come down, maybe hike out that night.

On the way down I met a lady coming up. She had a big black labrador retriever with her. I think he was trying to retrieve some oxygen. He was NOT wearing crampons.

I looked forward to having her pass me again, like everyone else, on the way back. I wanted to ask how she/dog negotiated the snow field, if she had started from Cold Springs or a camp site higher up, and if she was planning to go all the way to back to Cold Springs. Among other things.

Well, that couple with the jeans passed me again and though I hadn't said anything up to that point, I was going to point out that if they glissaded in those jeans, they'd be wet for the rest of the down climb. They got to the first snow field and I remember it was the last push to the false summit and steep. I'm sure that's where I got out my ice ax - or worked my way up via the rock instead.

But they pulled out some garbage bags to slide on. It seems, except for the jeans, this guy knew what he was doing. When we had talked briefly before, he said he had traveled so far and he wanted to have the whole mountain experience. But I could see, as I was headed for the rock, that after about six feet he stopped himself before becoming air born.

Now this down climb is tricky. The "trail" is not so well defined on the way down. everyone has made their own way. I was following some "path" about mid rock pile and the couple were closer to the rock's edge. So when we got to the next snow slope, I couldn't see what was going on. I just saw them at the bottom of what looked like at least another hour down climb for me. But I was really scared of loosing control in the glissade shoot. However, a few minutes later I saw that lady with her dog at the bottom of the snow field, and then saw another kid go by holding his poles next to his chest and leaning back, almost prone. So then I could see how slow the snow was.

I made some dicey moves as I traversed steepish ice to get to the snow. But I planted my ice ax solidly, was careful, and saw that if I slipped I'd quickly be stopped by some rocks - i.e., not rocket all the way down to the bottom.

As it turned out, by that time if day the snow was pretty soft and controllable. In fact, I think the previous glissaders had added some twists and turns just to give a little toboggan effect. I used the ice ax as break and reached the bottom just fine. But as I approached the next snow field, the ice ax was slippery in my hand. That's because blood is slippery and some snow/ice edge had made a small cut on the knuckle of my thumb. Being wet and such it wasn't going to stop bleeding on it's own. Well remember that Band-Aid I took out of my "kit" to hold the poles together - before I left I thought, "I should replace that." - and I had. So this big "for heel blisters" Band-Aid nicely contained the flow from my thumb. I thought about messing up the snow so the next glissaders wouldn't see the blood - but naw...

I made it down every available snow shoot - almost to the 9000 Lunch Counter - in less than 20 minutes. That was important.

Once again I was faced with the "which way down" decision, not because it wasn't clear, but because there were too many options. There were boot prints everywhere, but there was only one set of dog prints - which I followed.

At home I had put waypoints in the Gps at every 200 foot contour line - straight up the mountain. turns out, it wasn't that far off the main trail. And I'm pretty sure from the Lunch Counter I could even see my camp and because all my water was gone again - that one remaining quart in the tent. I mean I couldn't see it with my eyes, but it was in my mind. I didn't trust the un-boiled water at the Lunch Counter as much as I did the water 3000 feet higher. So I didn't fill up.

The jeans couple were taking a break further down and I worked my way over to them. We were probably at 7600 feet and I was pretty well spent. It looked like the trail took off from the left of where they were, but when I said, "looks like the trail goes to the left" the guy said he thought it went to the right. Now he had "adjusted" my route earlier and was correct. And of course there were foot prints and kind of a path heading off in that direction. Now maybe I was correct and I should have immediately gone left, or he was correct and I went too far right - but that rest spot would have been a good time to check the Gps, take a longer break, survey the next move. Maybe I was too quick to move on because I didn't want to disturb their privacy. - but I knew I was so close to camp - at 7200 feet as I recalled at the time. (trouble brewing).

I was really wasted and I just wanted to get "home" so I aggressively started down the right gully. (I can see it on the Green Rivers Topo map.) Just as I was about to pull over and check the Gps, the jeans guy (bless his heart) appeared near the top of the ridge I just climbed down and shouted that the trail was to my left. It was an easy traverse left but when I looked over the other side of that ridge my heart kind of sank because it appeared I had way overshot the trail and would have to climb back up to my tent. I had to go down another gully, then up to the main trail, then back up that trail to my turn off to the tent. But just then 4 climbers came by and I was actually only 10 feet from the main trail which traversed the gully at my current elevation. So I didn't have to down climb any further.

I continued with the group of four and they stopped for a break just at my turn off. Because that place was marked with a cairn, I told them the trail continues down but I was turning there - in case the jeans guy might wonder why I never came off the mountain and asked someone.

I was really grateful for that water at camp and I had enough fuel to boil another quart. I had two quarts left in the car so I'd just hike out empty. And the stream continued to about 6000 feet if it were really necessary. I took a hand towel to the stream and wiped off all the sweat and cooled off - feet in the water till I couldn't stand it, etc. Later wearing various pieces of clothing - remembering the visibility of my camp - I rinsed out everything I wore that day and put them on the rock to dry by radiation and convection. That was about 6:30 pm and they were dry by sunset. There was no reason to even consider walking out that night.

I finished the quart of water I left in the tent and sipped the quart I had just boiled slowly every half hour till it was gone.

On the way out the next day, the first people I met coming up asked my name and said someone was left on the mountain. I gave them my name, but it wasn't me they were looking for. To double check, in case they got the name wrong, I asked what kind of car he had. Not mine.

I could have driven straight back to Bend, but I turned back to Trout Lake to tell the Forest Service person I had made it back and ask about the MIA. Turns out, he was "found" in a restaurant. Apparently he had reached camp ahead of his party and continued on out. Had he left a note on their car windshield, it might have saved some grief. I didn't go into the logic of why they thought he was still on the mountain when his car was missing.

One more thing, the road up changes from paved to washboard gravel to soft flat dirt. It is very tempting to go faster than the recommended 5-10 mph (for about 6 miles - do the math). But the sunlight and shadows wash out the contour of the road so it looks completely flat. All of a sudden you go over what would be considered a big speed bump, but it's worse because the ground is much lower on the other side. After a few surprises and a slow learning curve I had knocked off my front license plate - I discovered that later at camp and had to drive back down to retrieve it - and the cosmetic air flow thing under the front bumper of the Buick. On the way out I saw someone pulled over to the side and they were picking the cosmetic airflow thing from the front bumper of their car off the ground and putting it in their trunk. I mentioned this to the Forest Ranger and she said when they "fixed" that road they found all kinds of car parts.

What I learned was, if I have to choose, I'll take the water filter instead of the stove. And I should have more food, something that encourages me to eat. And though the trail looks clear on the way up, I'll be more careful about marking waypoints or make a rock cairn along the route for the way down. I made some mistakes but they were more embarrassments than anything else. And the dog didn't pass me on the way up.
-- Paul Chance

Copyright, 2001 by Paul Chance. All rights reserved.