Avoiding Disaster on Adam's Northwest Side

Avoiding Disaster on Adam's Northwest Side

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 46.20280°N / 121.4894°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jun 15, 2003
1. Planning: After doing a lot of reading on the routes of the north side of Mount Adams this past winter, the Adams Glacier stood out as a spectacular and worthy objective for this summer. I brought up the idea that I would like to lead a trip up there to the Spokane Mountaineers Climbing Commitee. The initial reaction was very positive, so I recruited a co-leader and entered the climb as an event. I rounded out my research of the route by reading all of the trip reports I could find, as well as researching alternate routes, in case of bad conditions. I was looking forward to this route and the chance to enhance my teambuilding and leadership skills. Since the trip would happen 1 week before the crevasse rescue seminar, several people were concerned with my lack of field experience in team crevasse rescue. I had professional training in roped team travel, routefinding, and self rescue, and had read the book "Glacier Travel & Crevasse Rescue", by Andy Selters, but had not practiced team rescue in the field. My co-leader had significant training in this, however as the objections started to get louder, we decided to change the route to the Northwest Ridge to appease everyone. 9 people including myself were on the list a week before the climb. When only 5 people showed for the preclimb meeting, my reaction was actually positive, since I could manage this group much more closely. On our team were Tom, David, myself, Jerry, and Kay, a lady 3/7s the way through her quest for the 7 summits. I felt good about our team, and we were in good spirits during our meeting at Manitow Park in the south hills of Spokane. My climbing co-leader, Tom, reaggravated a knee strain Friday that occured on Mount Shuksan the week before. That left me with a group of 4, and I as the sole leader. I felt comfortable with this considering the nontechnical nature of our route. The plan was to meet at 9:00 AM on Saturday at the Killen Creek Trailhead. I drove part of the way on Friday night after work, before crashing at the Motel 6 in Yakima. 2. Day 1: I arrived at the trailhead at approximately 9:15 to find an empty car and no-one around. After paying for my climbing pass, I noticed a note on the SUV window stating the three had left at 8:45 AM. That left me to hurry up to repack my things and get moving. I wanted to catch them quickly, since I would be solo. I started up the Killen Creek Trail just before 10:00 motoring very quickly with my 50 lb. pack. I was pressure breathing and hiking as fast as I could in hopes of catching them before the end of the Killen Creek Trail at 3.1 miles. I hit snow at 1.3 miles, but the conditions were nice and firm. Their tracks were easy to follow and I caught up in just under 3 miles. After discussing different options for high camp placement, we headed off along the Pacific Crest Trail. The mile went by pretty quickly before we turned towards the mountain along the snow covered High Camp Trail. The clouds departed momentarily and gave us a really nice view of the upper mountain, including the stunning Adams Glacier. After setting up camp we visited and had a nice leisurely dinner.
3. The Ascent: We departed camp at about 3:00 AM heading south accross the snow slope below the Adams Glacier. The four of us were feeling good in the crisp 30 degree near breezeless night air. Clear skies were above us and a full moon lit the way. We used our headlamps in a few spots where we had to cross scree piles. We picked a spot to obtain the ridge at 7,600 feet. At the start of the route we hit a moderate snow finger of about 40 degrees with firm crusted conditions. Several of our team members suffered from heel slip while attempting to use a frontpoint / duckstep technique. The steeper section was about 200 feet high, and seemed to drain our team a bit. After that we climbed several narrow snow fingers at a slope of approximately 30 degrees. At about 8,500 feet, we had to make some routefinding decisions. We decided to stay on the ridge and climb over some talus and boulder fields, in lieu of some steeper snow. The talus was tough to keep our balance on, even with an ice axe to assist. Just before the boulder field, David announced that he would not be continuing. He had been having problems with his boots ever since we had been on the ridge. They did not fit well for alpine climbing techniques, despite working very well for sport waterfall ice climbing. I also mentioned the fact that the three of us were wearing plastics and he had on leathers. (I hate shanked leather boots) After some discussion and reassurance by David, it was agreed that he would descend back to camp on his own, since it was only 1.5 hours away. The three of us continued on and began to cross the boulder field. As I was about 1/2 the way through it, I accidently dislodged a 5' diameter boulder that started to roll towards Kay. Jerry and I yelled rock as it rolled right in her general direction. She got out of the way just in time as it breezed by her arm. A second rock, about 6 inches accross, hit her in the foot causing her to tumble over. Luckily she wasn't hurt. The large boulder gained steam as it plowed through the lower section of the boulder field. We all yelled rock again as David was down there. He ducked behind a rock outcropping as the boulder wizzed by at speeds of 20 to 30 miles per hour. It went about 3 feet to the left and 6 feet over him as it was tossed up into the air after smashing into the edge of the rock outcropping. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief and the three of us agreed to continue, but avoid any more boulder fields.
From the top of the boulder field to 10,000 feet the route was easy 30 degree snow climbing, which was a big relief. At 10,000 feet, the route steepens to 40 degrees. We climbed part of the North Face of the Northwest Ridge here. On one of these snowslopes I had awful luck with some snow and rock. I stepped just before a large rock and postholed badly smashing my knee into the rock pretty hard. The first thought that went through my head was that I just broke my knee. The pain was quite intense and I bent over for several minutes agonizing. It gradually started to subside after about 5 minutes, so I continued on as the pain lessened with every step. At about 10,500 feet we encountered a very large rock formation on the spine of the ridge. We choose to go to the right (south) to avoid it.
After getting off the ridge, we completed an exposed traverse of the Pinnacle Headwall in order to gain access to the slopes above the ridge. A member of our party felt uncomfortable here with the exposure. We all made it accross and looked upwards to pick our path.
The slopes were steep up here and we encoured a 4 foot ice wall that required some teamwork to get up. After getting around the rock formation, we obtained the slopes above the ridge gradually making our way to the Pinnacle. We then summited at about 10:00 AM under clear blue skies. There were lots of smiles after we felt like we just completed an ascent more like Rainier than the Mount Adams we all remembered from the hike up the South Spur.
4. The Descent: The knee was really starting to bother me as we started our descent. I gulped some Aleve, but found out that I couldn't bend my left knee without a very sharp pain. I developed a technique of going down with my bad leg first and not bending the knee. This worked very well and was only just slightly painful. The steeper parts on the NFNWR were very challending for me with the bad knee. Our team made it down the face and ridgeline with one fall that was quickly arrested. On the lower section of the ridge, I postholed up to my hip with the same leg that was hurting. The hyperextention that occured definately seemed to amplify things. I limped back to camp about 3:00PM. We had been on the upper mountain for 12 hours. We had some dinner then broke down camp and headed down the mountain towards the Pacific Crest Trail. After getting on the wrong side of a ridge, we used our GPS to find the Killen Creek Trailhead and reached our cars at 9:00 PM. The three of us were exhausted after an 18 hour day, and David was tired as well. 5. The Aftermath: I examined my knee which hadn't been bad on the trail, even with a full pack on. I found it to be bruised, slightly swollen, and scraped up. As I began the drive back to Spokane, I knew it would be impossible to make it there tonight. I planned on hitting the Motel 6 in Yakima again. About 20 minutes into the drive, my knee really started to ache. Even with Alleve, the pain started to get really bad. At this point the pain was the only thing keeping me awake. The longest 2 hour drive of my life finally ended at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital. I was examined by a doctor who determined that a lot of ice, some anti-inflamatory, and pain releaver was the only thing I needed. My injury involved bruises and pulls, but no tears or breaks. The doctor saw the exhausted look on my face, and suggested that I take a breather. He wrapped me up, then I almost immediately fell asleep for 4 hours. When I got up, I asked a nurse if I could go home. They released me at 4:30, then I drove the 3 hours back to Spokane using 6 Red Bulls to keep me awake.


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isaacholk - Jul 23, 2010 8:14 pm - Voted 10/10

Great report!

My brother and I had a very similar experience on the NWR. Fantastic route!


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