Total elevation gain: ~5000'
Time including stops: 14 hrs, 30 min
Highest clocked gust: 28.8 mph
Already thoroughly addicted to mountains, I moved to Colorado in March '09. I did some hikes around Boulder and wanted to try for some real altitude with my parents on their first visit in June that year. We drove up Evans, we rode the cog train up Pikes, and then we tried to hike Mount Bierstadt but turned back around 13000' due to ill preparation and an outspokenly fatigued eight-year-old niece. They went home to Ohio, and I climbed my first fourteener (Longs Peak) in August. Since then my father has been inundated weekly with tales and photos of climbs.
My parents planned another visit this April, and Dad wanted to tackle a fourteener. Already in decent shape, for months he'd been training, building endurance, and losing weight. We discussed a few peaks and settled on Longs--I've been itching to climb the Trough and wanted my dad to experience a snow climb. He's always been stronger and faster than me, so I didn't worry much about whether he could do it. Unfortunately, the forecast deteriorated after their arrival and we had to look elsewhere.
Mount Adams: second-highest thirteener in the Sangre de Cristo range and the 66th ranked peak in the state. It was the first thirteener I attempted (and failed) in September '09. From Humboldt a few weeks ago I saw a nice-looking snow line on its southeast face. In summer it's a 13-mile round trip and a class-3 ridge; this time of year it's a 13-mile round trip, a 1300-foot snow climb, a class-3 and -4 ridge, a heavily-exposed ledge traverse below the summit. Had I known the route then as intimately as now, I would not have tried it with someone who has never climbed above 9000', has never climbed in winter conditions, has never seen a class-3+ ridge, and has lived in Ohio for the past ten years.
Thursday night we stayed at a motel in Westcliffe. Neither of us slept much--I've grown accustomed to sleeping in the car; for Dad it was lights out too early. We awoke at 3:30 and were on the trail an hour later.
Hiking up the Horn Creek trail, we stumbled upon artifacts of recent struggle and calamity.
Two miles in we donned snowshoes. Around 10500' Dad started to feel the aerobic cardio one first encounters at altitudes previously unknown. We slowed the pace. After four miles, UN 13517 and a stiff breeze welcomed us to the Horn Creek basin. The skies had been overcast all morning, and while the sun made a few brief appearances, it didn't seem likely to penetrate the thick cloud cover anytime soon.
We snowshoed through hardy thickets over hilly terrain, past dry lakes and willows, to Horn Lake, where we took a snack break and surveyed Mount Adams' southeast face. The line I had seen from Humboldt was still there and looked good--the gully had snow from the lake to the ridge. This would be my first real snow climb this season and I couldn't wait to get on it.
By my calculation from the topo, the gully averages 36 degrees and scrapes 45 near the top, making it a great beginner snow climb. After a brief crash course on self-arrest, we switched to crampons and axes and got after it. The snow was nearly perfect--just soft enough to plant the shaft and kick shallow steps. As the slope angle grew steeper, the snow hardened a little and soon we were on front points and picks in low dagger. There were a few icy spots to overcome, but overall it was a straightforward test of endurance. All the while I was marveling at how great this snow was, Dad was asking what bad snow is like. He would find out later.
Between sprints we checked out the surrounding peaks. Over Humboldt and the Crestones the clouds had lifted to 14000'. We caught glimpses of blue sky underneath the gray ceiling to the west, but it was still pouring into the Horn Lake cirque, producing flurries intermittently, and we wondered if we'd see anything on the summit. There certainly wouldn't be glissading down if the gully didn't get some sun.
I had predicted this would be the most difficult part of the climb for Dad--but it barely slowed him down.
The gully deposited us onto the ridge around 13200' at the base of a nice class-3 buttress. Here we had great views of the Horn Lake basin to the south, ridges and peaks to the east, and frosty North Crestone Lake to the north. We took another break and put away the crampons.
We began to pick our way over easy class-3 terrain on the ridge. There were some options to traverse on snow around more difficult sections, but without crampons Dad preferred to stay on the ridge. So we navigated a few 4th-class outcroppings and then made a serious move involving a big juggy hold and a pull-up. Shortly thereafter my camera suffered an unfortunate fall, which I've documented elsewhere. Dad continued up the ridge while I retrieved it. Luckily the camera, though no longer functioning in a praiseworthy manner, was still taking decent photos.
Back on the ridge, the soup had lifted and I was able to see the summit, looking impressive and attainable if not a bit tricky. Dad was approaching it quite aggressively so I hurried up.
We found access to the top guarded by a sloping, snow-covered ledge which presented an uncomfortable scramble to the summit or a quick trip back down to the lake. Dad hadn't yet given me any reason to be concerned for exposure on his behalf, so without hesitation I started across the ledge and he followed.
Shortly we had to decide how to gain the last 30': we could climb straight up from the ledge, making a few technical moves on rock to reach easier scrambling above, or we could navigate around a tight corner on the ledge to finish the climb on snow. We decided against the corner. Due to the exposure, I'm sure the crux seemed far tougher than it actually was, a long reach with awkward holds and a smearing stem (interesting in mountaineering boots) in a dihedral. Dad had less trouble with it than I did, either because he's 2" taller, isn't bothered by exposure, or is just a badass. Probably the third one.
Moments later we were on top. By this time the sky had lifted enough to expose incredible views in every direction. But after a few minutes on the cold, exposed summit we were ready to get down.
I was worried about how to get off the summit; I didn't want to downclimb the same way we'd come up, and we'd be taking a chance with the snow and the corner. The other option was to descend to the west, far enough to get around a cliff band, and climb back up to the ridge. Dad had left his backpack at the ledge so he wouldn't have crampons.
We decided to go west. The snow on this aspect made for an uncomfortable downclimb--steep, completely bulletproof in patches. Without crampons it took some effort to kick steps that offered any degree of purchase, and going was slow. Eventually we reached the bottom of the cliff band some 200' below the summit. We climbed back up, retrieved the backpack, and started down the ridge. This part wasn't any more difficult in reverse and soon we were looking down the gully to Horn Lake.
As expected the snow conditions hadn't changed at all in the cold and overcast, so glissading was out of question. We downclimbed the steepest section face in, but as the slope angle decreased, now quite comfortable in crampons, we were able to walk down.
Back at the lake, we switched to snowshoes and hiked out, reaching the trailhead at 7 pm.
In retrospect, I'm glad I had no idea what was in store for us. I can't express how overwhelmingly impressed I am by all the firsts Dad breezed through today like so much armchair hype. I'm 25 and the guy is still my hero.