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Mt Adams 2008
2007 was my initial foray into mountaineering. I started doing some very small stuff near Snoqualmie Pass with Dean and Seth. Things got a bit more serious when I signed up for climbing Mt. Olympus with Summit for Someone. Knowing that was an upcoming July event (July 2007), Seth and Dean and myself planned for the first excursion up one of the big volcanoes : Mt Adams. So Adams last year was really my first time up on a big mountain. And we made (looking back with that perfect hindsight) several mistakes that I was bound and determined to not repeat this year. First we got started way too late, we didn't even get to the trail head until 4:30 pm. The second was we got way too late of a start on our summit attempt. Lastly I didn't budget enough time with my wife to make it up and back down. This year as we planned we aimed to take care of those variables. Drive down Thursday evening, hike Friday and summit Saturday. The one wrench in our plans was that this year the snow has been 175 to 200% of normal. First of June is early for Adams in a normal year (last year we'd had to walk 2 miles of logging road), this year it was looking like it could be anywhere from 12 to 5 miles depending on how the melt went and which ranger you talked to. We hadn't seen any trip reports and so we weren't sure what the actual conditions were like.
As we neared our climbing date of May 29th the group whittled down to 5 committed : Seth Neilson, Dean Matthews, Tom Plaster and Kyle Freeman. The first and last two only knew me in common and had never met each other. Seth I met on-line, Dean I met through Seth and I worked with Tom and Kyle at Amazon.com. As we approached the climb we had gotten conflicting reports about how far down the logging road we'd have to park, so Tom bought Mount St. Helens passes as back up. Tom drove down early in the afternoon on Thursday and camped on the logging road, Dean flew in from Utah Thursday evening and Kyle and myself drove down to Seth's Thursday after work. We arrived at Seth's house around 10 pm and after putzing around with gear a little bit we hit the hay. I planned that evening to get up at 5:45 and start cooking up pancakes for breakfast. Seth's wife, Amy, I don't think approved of my pancake plans and she ended up getting up with us and cooking us eggs and pancakes. We got away around 6:30 am and drove the 115 miles to Trout Lake. We stopped just outside Trout Lake for those gorgeous mountain shots of Adams from the rural countryside. Tom had picked up permits for us the day before so we drove up the logging roads till we came around 9:15 am to the impromptu trail head where the snow berms blocked the road. Tom had his pack and ski's out getting things ready to go. There was a group who had a truck stuck in the snow on the road. Apparently they had thought they could break on through and had made it around 5 feet before high centering. While they extracted one vehicle with another, we got our packs put on and posed for the requisite before photo with the help of Mr. mono-pod.
We set up the logging road at 9:30 am, after maybe a 1/4 mile we passed a sign that warned of 5 miles of steep narrow logging road ahead of us before Cold Springs, where the summer trail head is located. We intermittently walked on dirt and snow until after a mile the road turned to solid snow. Tom who had been doing the stiff legged ski boot walk, stop and strapped on his ski's. Since this was his first time using randonee ski gear he was a bit slow and we started to out pace him. Before doing so we both turned on radios and stayed in contact. The forward 4 arrived at Cold Springs around 12:30 where we stopped for some refueling and we waited for Tom. He was only 10 minutes behind us, he'd ended up putting his boots back on as the conditions didn't really fit skiing. From Cold Springs we make our way up through the trees, route finding in this section is kind of annoying. The trees make the direction non-obvious and depending on the amount of snow and the melt conditions the route may or may not be visible. Compound this by snowmobile traffic which wipes out boot tracks and aren't always a good idea to follow as they are not necessarily heading to the same destination or on a route you'll want or be able to walk up.
Eventually the trees started to thin and the views of Mt. Hood began to open up behind us. The higher we hiked the more the trees opened up and the mountain rose above us. Eventually we came to the meadow that marked the wilderness boundary. Last year the actual sign was visible, this year they'd put an orange plastic extension sign on. This marked the point at which the snowmobiles could not pass and a $5000 fine if they do. Here we had a decision point with regard to the route. Last year we had got snarled up in some mangy lava rock. We opted for a high ridge above the gully we descended last year, and did a small 30 foot down traverse across a rock field to a snow finger and then angled across to the lava rock we crossed through last year. Ironically looking back we took the same route this year but the snow levels enabled us to stay on snow the entire time.
The ridge up from these rocky hills is steep. On our Olympus trip our guide Craig had emphasized the rest step and Tom and I had been discussing this as well. One of the challenges to the rest step is to resist the urge to continually put one foot in front of the other without pausing in between. The goal is to not break into the aerobic zone, it does require discipline and concentration to not pick up the pace. By this time the "gray hairs" had caught up with us, they'd passed everyone else in our party and were following just behind me. Apparently I wasn't going fast enough for one member in their party and as I angled out wide on a switch back, he cut the corner and started up ahead of me, monster fast punching steps in the snow. The rest of the gray hairs plowed past me, most of them stumbling and punching through the snow. I followed slowly behind them. Near the top of the ridge there was one large rock. The fast leader stepped holes right next to the rock. I was below two other gray hairs when one of them as he got adjacent to the rock disappeared as he fell into the moat that often melts out next to rocks on steep slopes. He wasn't hurt and slowly crawled out and made his way to the top. As I got to the rock I took some steps wide to not risk falling in myself. Dean, Seth, Tom and Kyle soon joined me, it was around 6pm, we'd been on the trail over 8 hours and were all tired, they were read for camp. I wanted to scope out something with slightly better views of Mount St. Helens so I dropped my pack and scampered up higher till I found a great camp a few hundred feet higher. I tromped back down and convinced them the better camp was worth putting their packs on for a brief stroll.
We set up camp amid a few rock walls. Tom had this perfect little chute that he set up camp in. We immediately started boiling our left over water for our freeze dehydrated dinners and then the process of gathering large blocks of snow and melting and replenishing our water supply for the next day. We'd keep boiling water for the next 3 hours until we went to bed, me with my MSR Whisperlite and Tom and Seth with their JetBoils. Dinner tasted fantastically delicious (Lasagna from Mountain House), afterwards I worked on getting my summit pack ready for the next morning. As the sun began setting a huge shadow cast by Mount Saint Helens stretched across our camp. The magic hour when the light gets low and long and everything glows with rosy tones. We took a group photo, a couple of jumping photos and a Leki Pole pose as well. I love this time of the day high in the mountains with great alpine views. Finally with camp chores done I took my sitting pad and sat out on the rocks and watched the world fade to darkness as the light slowly died. By 9:45 or so I and everyone else was in our bivys asleep.
At 2 am my alarm went off and woke me up, I yelled "Its 2am, time to wake up". Everyone started rolling out of their bivys. I started by putting in my contacts, and then the rest of the gear : a medium weight poly pro zip top and a mid weight Mamut soft shell, a pair of MSR hiking pants over my shorts (no long johns), gaiters, hat, thick OR mitts hanging from my wrists and my thin OR gloves on my hands, boots and then finally crampons. The skies were clear, the stars were fantastically bright, the milky way arced over head and the big dipper pointed to the north star the direction we were headed. By 3 am we were ready to start up the snow field toward the top of Lunch Counter. Tom and I started a bit earlier than the other three because we were ready and I was getting cold standing around and needed to start moving. As we started up the snowfield the snow was nice and hard, there was no breaking through as we easily walked on top, the crampons giving us a little big of extra stick. Tom's ski's with skins on finally made for efficient traveling and he skinned up the slope ahead of us, leaving hardly any track on the hard snow.
Seth, Dean and Kyle soon caught up to us and we continue up the slope till we were above Lunch Counter at the base of the very steep slope that rises almost straight up over 1700 feet to the top of the false summit at Pikers Peak, 11,700 feet. This is snow field between two rock ridges on either side. Here the real work begins, much of that mental. Your at 9000 feet above sea level, and you really start to feel the elevation on this stretch. Here its critical to use the rest step to not over exert yourself. The angle changes to sharply ranging from 40 to 50 degrees, as Tom tried to head up this on his skis the skins would no longer grip and he toppled sideways in a heap. He yelled at me uncomfortably for taking photos of his ignomy. Seth, Dean and Kyle switched back and forth up the slope, I choose to go straight up, angling my feet outward. Tom followed behind me in this boots as the slope was too steep for ski's. We all kept about the same pace going up me taking less steps to their zig zags. Slowly but surely we climbed the slope. As we got a short way up the sky began to lighten and the fog and clouds began to roll in behind and above us.
Midway up the slope to Pikers Peak the pitch increases and a small ridge blocks the view of the top. Naively you imagine that your almost there, you must be getting close after all the climbing; deep disappointment washes over you as you crest this small bump and see the top of Pikers another 1000 feet above you. I was prepared for this having had this experience last year, though I think it was demoralizing to Kyle. At a couple of rests stops along the slope Kyle worriedly wondered out loud if he'd have enough energy to make it to the summit. I encouraged him that it was mostly mental and he just needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Somewhere above 10,500 feet I was hit with extreme drowsiness. I was feeling very strong physically, the rest step ensured I wasn't winded, but I was so sleepy. I started blink sleeping a few microseconds between steps. I felt if I laid down on the slope (and could have picketed myself in) I could have fallen asleep instantly. Dean and Seth later admitted they had the same feeling. I asked Kyle if I could have some of his Extreme Beans that had caffeine in them, I munched down 6 of them and in a few minutes felt much better.
As we approached the upper sections of the slope the wind began picking up and the fog began close in around us and on the top of Adams. The leaders Seth and Dean, 40 to 50 feet above me could no longer see Kyle and Tom who were 40 to 50 feet below me. We stayed within sight of each other and I'd occasionally shout down to Kyle to ensure that Tom was still bringing up the rear. I stopped for a moment to put on my shell to block the wind and put on my big OR mitts to keep my hands warm. Dean and Seth disappeared above me as they crested the top of Pikers Peak. By the time I gratefully arrived rhyme ice was forming on our hats in the wind. Visibility was around 20 feet and snow was beginning to fall. The snow was not big warm fluffy flakes but round pellets that form as they are blown round and round in the clouds before gaining enough mass to fall. Kyle and Tom joined us shortly. We stopped for bio breaks and some food. Kyle lay down on the snow on his pack exhausted, we were all tired. The summit was invisible, somewhere up there in the fog less than 1000 feet and a mile away.
Since we had Dean's GPS and everything was waypointed we decided to press on for the summit. We followed the gentle ridge line over the wind slab crusts. Occasionally your crampons would break a few inches through. Occasionally the fog would clear and we'd get a tiny glimpse of the mountain summit. Finally we arrived at the final summit block. I led up the wide rolling spine of the ridge that was not quite as steep as that up from Lunch Counter to Pikers. The ridge was wind swept and only had 4 to 6 inches of snow over rocks, we switch back and forth up the ridge as the wind and snow howled around us. Midway to the top suddenly a loud boom echoed over the mountains. We all stopped suddenly : "What was that?!" We realized it was thunder, grateful it wasn't something like an avalanche. Thinking nothing of it, other than it was odd to have thunder in a snow storm, we continued upwards. Soon Seth started asking if anyone heard a buzzing sound and started complaining his back was hurting. Then Dean also heard the buzzing. I could hear or feel nothing, nor Kyle or Tom. As we walked a few more steps the realization was dawning on Seth and Dean that they were experiencing a high static electrical current. They yelled its electricity and said we should turn around. Tom looked at me with a withering stare and glanced up where through the fog we could see the summit a mere 200 vertical feet away and said "The top is right there". Suddenly I felt the shock of electricity run up my ice ax to my shoulder and Tom heard the buzzing and felt his hair stand straight up under his hat. We all looked at each other with panic in our eyes. Dean shouted "Get that pole out of your pack, its a lightning rod" and yanked out my mono-pod. I threw both my ice ax and pole onto the snow in front of me and said "Lets get down now!". Tom said don't leave your gear behind and don't run as I picked them up and quickly started tromping straight down the slope crossing over the switch backs.
We descended to the base of the summit block with due haste by which time the buzzing had stopped and tingling had gone. We then followed Dean's direction from his GPS back to Pikers Peak where we sat on the snow with relief for being alive. Tom had some quality time with a blue bag, after which we posed for the group photo amid the howling wind, since we hadn't had a chance on the true summit. Tom put on his skis and prepared for the fun descent that would pay off for his slugging them to the top. The rest of us put on snow pants and tucked and battened down the hatches preparing for the 1800 foot glissade back to Lunch Counter. Tom said his good byes and with his radio on skied off into the fog. Normally in clear conditions you can reach extreme speeds sliding down the steep slope, but with fog still swirling around us and not wanting to slide on top of each other we spread out on the slope with 10 feet between us and agreed to slide at a moderate pace with in sight of each other so as to not loose anyone. It was eerie sliding through the fog, the slope appearing ahead of you 20 feet at a time. Soon my confidence built and I realized that while I couldn't see anything I wasn't going to run into anyone or thing and I picked up the pace a bit and started sliding faster. I had a bit of trouble getting momentum going in some places because I had stuffed my padded sitting pad between my pants and my snow pants to take some of the bite out of the ice slide. As I slid through the fog suddenly Tom skied up with a big grin on his face, he'd been cutting turns back and forth across the entire slope and had bumped into the "gray hairs" who were part way up and after hearing his tale of the summit turned around. I chatted for a moment and then slid down till I hit the slopes run out at Lunch Counter.
We were now below the fog and you could see the ridge and rock field below us where we had camped. We glissaded, boot skied and tromped our way down to camp. You could see rain falling in the valley of the gorge below us, it was pretty but I was too tired to take my camera out of my pack, where I had stored it for the glissade. I hurried a bit wanting to make it to camp before the rain hit us. Arriving at camp everything was wet as the snow had already blown through. I started breaking down camp as the rain finally hit us with driving snow. This snow was wet though and we knew it was rain lower down. It took us 35 minutes or so to break camp and get our packs ready to go again. Tom waited for us at the edge of the snow on his ski's ready to descend. I chided him that I didn't know why he was waiting he'd just be out of sight in 2 minutes anyway. He said his goodbyes and skied off down the slope. We tromped our way down, we stayed in the same gully we had traversed the year prior on our descent. There were a couple of sections where we had some nice steep glissades. They were short with gentle run outs and no ice ax was needed, I kept my poles out and caught the end of my tri-pod in the snow and snapped it. We paused beneath the gnarly trees to re-apply sun-screen as the bright sun despite the clouds made us squint.
The the long slog through the trees. By this time we had hit that "horse to the barn" phase where you just want to be back to the car and off the trail. We used Dean's GPS to pick the straightest line between way points and tromped and boot skied our way back towards cold springs. At one point Kyle slid down a small incline and headed straight for a tree well, whomp and he was up to his neck in the hole. Unhurt he climbed back out and we continued on. We finally reached the logging road and we knew there was a long switch back, rather than walk the road we opted to cut down across to the next waypoint. This was cross country through a steep hillside that was covered in deadfall that we had to climb over. By this time we were all beat and Kyle's plastic boots where banging his shins pretty bad. He kept slipping on the logs and swore that he was "Too tired for this". We cheered him on and kept going till we hit the road again. Now we knew we had 3-4 miles of logging road slog. And since its a logging road and built for cars, the road is designed with the least grade and covers the most distance. I groaned as I realized we were at 4700 feet and our car was parked at 4100 feet. Dean,
Seth and myself kept out pacing Kyle who was suffering with banged up shins. We kept stopping and waiting for him to catch up. At one point Dean and Seth loosened his boots a bit to give him some relief. I started hanging back with him, not wanting him to have to suffer alone at the rear. Kyle kept encouraging me to go ahead and he just keep plodding slowly along. Finally I gave in and said I'd see him at the car and I started motoring down the mountain. I had some bathroom business to take care of and wanted out of my pack and some privacy in the woods. Constipation is a sensation that overwhelms every other sensation, exception for electricity. I quickly caught up with Dean and Seth and passed them moving as fast as I could. We kept complaining about how the road didn't seem to end. Finally I saw the last switch back in the road before the car and I knew we had arrived, Tom was long gone having arrived well ahead of us. At the car we took off our packs and first thing stripped of our boots. I grabbed a changed of clothing and some TP and headed down a side trail to find me a quite spot. When I returned to the car Kyle and arrived and was unpacking as well. We threw everything in the back of the car. Dean and Seth were in the front seat and I was in the back. Kyle was still getting his stuff organized, but when Seth heard my door shut he thought everyone was in and started the car and began to drive off. Kyle who was halfway in and out of the car had his foot run over! Luckily it didn't hurt him at all, and we all laughed about the irony as Seth apologized profusely.
It was 4pm as we headed down the logging road. It had been 30 hours since we'd begun our hike the day before, we'd been awake for 25 of those hours and hiking for 21 of those covering in the course some 18-21 miles (still waiting for the distance from Mr. GPS man), and we'd almost been electrocuted in the process and we didn't even make it to the top. But it was memorable, but right now we were hungry. I moaned over the remaining salt and vineagar chips as we made our way toward Hood River. Seth's buddy who used to live in Hood River wasn't answering his phone so I googled on my Blackberry and found a place called the Mesquitery. We called for directions and arrived ready to feast. Seth and I had the fillet mignon, Kyle had a monstrous T-bone steak and Dean a full rack of ribs. The food was all cooked over a mesquite grill and tasted absolutely divine. After dinner we walked across the street back to the car, down the road we could see Mt. Adams across the river and the top was clear. Dang! Its all about the timing. Until the next time.....
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