Mount Adams, situated in the eastern Cascade range, east of Mount Saint Helens and north of Mount Hood, is the second most massive and the third tallest volcano in the Cascade range. It's eruptive volume is about 48 cubic miles and only Mount Shasta is larger in volume in the Cascades. About 60% of the mountain is in the Mount Adams Wilderness while the remainder (the East Side) was returned to the Yakima Indian Reservation. While often called a neglected mountain, this is debatable. During an early summer weekend, the Mount Adams Ranger Station recently issued Cascade Volcano Passes for over 350 people. Most of these people stay close to the South Spur described below. Be careful of rockfalls, especially on the headwall routes - there's a reason why most Mount Adams headwall routes remain unrepeated.
The South Spur Route (aka South Climb, South Side, or South Rib), which initially follows the South Climb Trail #183, is the easiest and most popular route on the mountain. This straight-forward snow climb is easily done in 1 or 2 days with crampons and a mountaineering axe. During late spring and early summer (typically through July), this route also happens to lead to the thousands of vertical feet of intermediate-level crevasse-free corn skiing/snowboarding and chute glissading. While climbing is better earlier in the day on harder snow, on the descent skiers and glissaders will appreciate waiting a bit until the snow is softer. The trailhead for the South Spur Route is at the Cold Springs Campground at 5,600' and while the trail is only 5.7 miles, it climbs 6,676' to the summit in that short distance, not counting dip in the saddle after Piker's Peak.
There are many alternate routes to the summit, however, the North Ridge (class 2, aka North Cleaver), between the Adams and Lava Glaciers, is the second most popular. This route is much more pleasant early in the season when still snow covered and is accessed by the Killen Creek Trail #113.
Below is a brief routes overview with routes arranged in a counter clockwise order from the south.
Any information regarding filling in this table is highly appreciated. Empty fields indicate unknown or missing information, not that there is no rating or information, e.g. an empty difficulty rating should not automatically be taken to mean an easy route.
COLD SPRINGS CAMPGROUND: This is the trailhead for the South Spur Route (aka South Climb Trail #183) and it is best reached from the South via WA SR-14 or I-84 on the Columbia Gorge (if you are coming via I-84, cross over the Columbia River to SR-14 at the town of Hood River). Turn north on SR-141 or SR-141 Alt. (west and east of Hood River respectively), however, SR-141 Alt. is much more direct and will join SR-141 heading north. Driving north on WA SR-141, turn right and continue north on to Mount Adams Recreation Road (aka SR-17; you'll know you're on the right road when Mount Adams dominates your horizon ;-). Branch off on to FR-80, FR-8040 and then FR-8040500 following signs for the "South Climb". These are all one lane roads, however as of August 2003 there are no longer any major ruts on the road (Ref: climberkristin).
COLD SPRINGS WINTER APPROACH: The road to the Cold Springs Campground is not plowed which means that you may have to ski or snowshoe in. Since the road is not plowed and snow can reach down to 3000 feet, if you decide to drive up and get caught in a snow storm, your vehicle may be trapped all winter. If you decide on a winter trip, make sure you check the Road Conditions section of the USFS Mount Adams Climbing Report (bottom). The road is usually snowfree by July 1 (Ref: Mount Adams Ranger Station & Ash1).
MOUNT ADAMS WILDERNESS: Between April 1 and October 31, a Cascade Volcano Pass is required if you wish to climb above 7,000 feet. This is a per-person fee-based pass that has a graduated cost depending on when you climb ($15 weekend vs. $10 weekday) and how often you climb (1-time pass vs. $30 annual pass). Passes are available by mail (the PDF and RTF forms are linked at the bottom of the page), at the Mount Adams Ranger Station (see below), or at the Killen Creek Trailhead #113 (only 1-time passes available at Killen Creek). Each person needs to have a volcano pass stub attached to their backpack. During other times, a free wilderness permit is required and can also be obtained from the Mount Adams Ranger District office. The maximum number of climbers per group is 12 (Ref: AKlein). See the USDA FS Mt. Adams Climbing Information page for more information. Both dogs and pack animals are allowed on this part of the mountain. Something to consider from Jeffrey King if you don't have time to pick up a pass: "Mount Adams is one of the few mountains where I have consistently encountered rangers hunting down individuals without volcano passes. Pay your $15.00 and get one."
YAKIMA INDIAN RESERVATION: If you wish to climb the any of the routes that start in the Yakima Indian Reservation (e.g. Mazama Glacier, Klickitat Glacier, The Castle, or Rusk Glacier Headwall, etc.) and want to start your hike from Bird Creek Meadows, you will need a Yakima Indian Reservation Tract-D tribal-use permit. Interestingly enough, this permit is also available from the Mount Adams Ranger District office. Also, if you are not a member of the Yakima Indian Nation, your climbing season is restricted from July 1 to October 1.
MOUNT ADAMS RANGER DISTRICT OFFICE
2455 Highway 141
Trout Lake, WA 98650
Tel: (509) 395-3400
Hours: Mon - Sat, 8:00am - 4:30pm
Driving north on SR-141, the Ranger office is about half a mile north of the junction with the Mount Adams Recreation Road (Chevron station at the junction) so you if you are heading to the South Spur trailhead you will need to pass the turn off initially and then come back.
In either case, your Cascade Volcano Pass stub or tribal-use permit needs to be dislayed on your windshield when parked at the trailhead.
HUMAN WASTE BAGS (OPTIONAL): All solid human wastes should be packed off the mountain and pack-out bags are available at the Mount Adams Ranger District Office. As of summer 2001, these were not the plastic "blue bags" available on Mount Hood, but brown paper bags with kitty litter inside. Disposal cans are available at the Cold Springs Campground.
The most popular times to make this climb are between May and October, during which time the roads will be plowed and cleared. Optimal times for skiing and glissading will start in late spring, during which time, some roads may not be completely cleared. By August, there have been known to be running streams as high as the summit plateau and at Piker's Peak. Winter storms in October and November can bring snow as low as 3000' closing off approach roads.
SOUTH SPUR ROUTE: There are numerous camping locations that have been built up on the talus slopes below or above Cresent Glacier. The area above Cresent Glacier is known as "Lunch Counter" and immediately below the Suksdorf Ridge. These camping areas are walled off areas made of rock typically facing the west to block the wind with very fine-grained sand as opposed to large volcanic rocks for a floor area. During the weekdays, many of these spots are available, however, they may be hard to find during the summer weekends.
Hint from Noah (Oregon): If you are looking for a way to avoid crowds during heavy-use times of the year, continue climbing above the Lunch Counter and find a place in the rocks just under Pikers Peak. We camped on the right side of the route on a rock slope. You will not find comfort but it does allow you to reach the summit earlier than everybody else the next morning. Don't forget your "blue bag" as you won't find anywhere to go to the bathroom (obviously).
Hint from Jeffrey King: If you plan on staying at the Cold Springs "Campground", be sure to bring earplugs or camp far away from the gravelled areas. Disrespectful climbers routinely roll in past midnight and make no effort to remain quiet, which severely impacts one's ability to get a decent amount of sleep before an alpine start.
The Mount Adams Ranger District Office (referenced in the Red Tape section) is a good resource to call since they often have rangers hiking / climbing the mountain and will be able to report first-hand conditions. Since this is a high mountain, be prepared for snow storms and bad weather any month of the year. A good example of how quickly the weather can change up here is a mining-era report showing 100°F+ temperatures in the afternoon dropping to -48°F within 12 hours during a storm. Additional resources you can check include:
USFS Mount Adams Climbing Conditions Report
Washington State Snow Survey
Daily Snow Conditions: (509) 395-3420
Mount Adams Hotline: (360) 891-5015
Search & Rescue (Yakima County Sheriff): (800) 572-0490
Emergencies: 911 or 1 (800) 572-0490
Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center
Avalanche Advisory (WA): (206) 526-6677
Avalanche Advisory (OR): (503) 808-2400
CascadeClimbers.com - Southern WA Cascades Discussion Forum - esp. good for route beta.