This is the easiest route on a spectacular, high 13er with amazing views the whole way of the amazing Crestone/Carson group. As such, it's a great way to escape the crowds. While everyone else at Willow Lake is climbing (or attempting to climb) Challenger Point or Kit Carson, give the underlooked Mount Adams a try. For one thing, it isn't a 14er and thus no one has ever heard of it. For another, it's not readily visible on the approach to Willow Lake or from the lake itself. You'll have ample solitude!
Doing the West Ridge as a day hike is a 10 mile round-trip venture but with a rather stiff 5170 feet of elevation gain (and loss!). Splitting it into two or more days with a basecamp at Willow Lake makes it more moderate: 3.7 miles and 2700' to the lake, 1.3 miles and 2400' to the summit.
Willow Lake ApproachSeveral popular mid-Sangre peaks (Challenger, Kit Carson, Adams) are most commonly approached from Willow Lake via the town of Crestone on the west side of the range.
Crestone: To get to Crestone from the north, follow US285 to CO17 at the north end of the San Luis Valley (just south of Salida and Poncha Pass). Drive south of CO17 to the town of Moffat and turn east just south of town on Saguache County road T (paved and well-marked). Follow SC-T about 12 miles to Crestone.
Willow Creek/South Crestone Trail Head (8800'): From the center of Crestone, follow Galena Street east as it turns to dirt and makes several turns. The trailhead is 2.3 miles up the road which becomes progressively rougher as you go. As of summer, 2006, a low-clearance car can make it all the way to the end without trouble, but the driving may be more exciting than you are comfortable with. The road is generally rough with ruts and loose rocks, but the grade is not steep. The trailhead itself is small, but there are several pull-offs along the way which can accomodate 2-5 vehicles each. It's a popular trailhead, so get their early.
Willow Creek Trail: The popular trail to Willow Lake splits right from the South Crestone Lake Trail about a hundred yards from the TH. Follow the trail up a series of 12 switchbacks in a mile to a ridge. From here, you can finally see up the valley in which Willow Lake sits. Another mile brings you to more switchbacks and, eventually, the first of two stream crossings just below a spectacular cliff band and waterfall. The trail switchbacks up a steep talus slope finally attaining the hanging valley above at 3.0 miles. Another 0.7 miles of hiking brings you to the spectacular Willow Lake. Lake elevation is 11,564'.
Camping: Camping isn't allowed within 300 yards of the lake, but there are numerous camp sites in the quarter mile below the lake. Camping is also feasible above the lake.
Route DescriptionFrom the outlet of Willow Lake, hike left along the north shore for about 100 yards to the base of a steep grassy slope. This is indicative of things to come! Climb the grass passing through a band of trees to 12,000' and continue up the moderating slope to 12,200'. A steep creek appears on the left and a small basin opens before you. Finally, you get your first good view of Mt. Adams and its West Ridge.
Dodge the small tarns and willow patches as you see fit to attain the heart of the basin. From 12,500', ascend more steep grass and scree to obvious low-point in the ridge connecting Mt. Adams with UN13564, the north side of the basin. In winter and early spring, this probably constitutes a moderate snow climb.
From the ridge at 12,900', the route heads east on the ridge starting with a bit of class 2+ scrambling onto the more gentle ridge proper. Stick to the ridge crest itself (class 2+) or follow faint trails on the southern side (class 1+) as you quickly gain elevation. At 13,400', the going gets a little harder as you transition from tundra to increasingly large slabs of Crestone conglomerate.
[img:208130:alignleft:small:The technical difficulties of the summit block.]At 13,700', you encounter the first technical difficulty of the route, a small gendarme blocking the ridge. This is easily bypassed with a few class 3 moves on either side leading to a small knife-edge. The summit block looms above and looks a lot harder than it is. Roach suggests detouring to the left (north) and ascending a grungy scree slope to the summit. I found it more aesthetic to skirt right (south) on slabs and loose blocks to 13,800', then follow an obvious dihedral/chimney to an upper slab (class 3). From there it is an easy scramble on marvelous conglomerate knobs to the summit.
Essential GearStandard day-hiking gear is all that is required for a summer ascent. Sturdy shoes are a must and hiking poles will make the descent much safer.
Winter ascents are a much more serious venture and will require ice axes at least. Snowshoes and/or crampons may also be required on the approach. Both the approach and the climb itself cross some very steep slopes which are probably avalanche-prone in the right (or wrong) conditions.