I had been delaying climbing to the Skamania County Highpoint for a couple of years because it was a long difficult hike and it is not the summit of anything except Skamania County. I guess I am more of a peakbagger than a “liner” tagger. I was fortunate enough to be invited along on a group attempt on Bonanza Peak
for early July and we were fortunate enough to tag that summit on July 3, 2009. One of my hiking companions on that trip was Adam Helman the webmaster for the County Highpoint Organization
and he had an interest in tackling Skamania County with me afterward. I was fortunate enough to have hiked with Adam previously on Mount Olympus
and Grand Teton
, so I had great confidence in his abilities.
We took a day of rest on July 4th after Bonanza Peak and just drove to the Divide Camp Trailhead, ate well and hydrated for our next attempt on Skamania County. We planned an early start so that when ascending the snow slopes it would still be firm instead of post holing in slush.
Our car alarms went off way too early and we hit the trail at 4:30AM using our headlamps to find the route. The trail was covered with snow and it was nice and firm at this early hour. We made good progress up the hill. A couple of times we lost the trail and had to fan out and look carefully by headlamp for old boot prints in the snow to find the trail again. When we finally reached the PCT it was fully daylight and time for a break and a snack. We saw that the PCT was completely covered with a couple feet of snow. The snow was still firm, so we just headed directly towards the west ridge of Mt Adams about 2.5 miles as the crow flies.
We found that the snow up here was really just ice and we found it easier to stay on the rocky moraines whenever possible. We were carrying our crampons and ice axes, but didn’t want to put them on and take them off every time we came on a patch of ice. There is nothing technical about this route, just negotiating ice patches and rocky slopes. We made good progress across the west side of Mt Adams, enjoying the views, and gaining elevation as we hiked.
When we reached the Pinnacle Glacier, we put on our crampons and headed up towards the west ridge of Mt Adams. The glacier is not very steep and there are no crevasses on the lower glacier. It is a good hiking surface and we just kept following the contours and slopes of the glacier until we reached the west ridge. It was time for another break and we dropped our crampons and ice axes here. The wind was blowing pretty good across the ridge so we didn’t rest too long. We could see that the ridge was an ice free rocky slope and wouldn’t need the crampons higher up.
Climbing the last 1,000 ft up the west ridge was tedious. Very rocky with lots of rock hopping trying not to break a leg or twist an ankle. Adam is a much faster hiker than I am and he quickly gained ground ahead of me. It was just as well because we each were kicking loose rocks down once in a while. It was good that we were separated on the mountain. We climbed up above the Skamania highpoint on the ridge so that we were sure we went high enough. It was lunchtime now because we started so early. We found a depression in a rocky area that was almost out of the wind but it was difficult to get real comfortable.
After lunch we headed back down the ridge. Adam stayed right behind me as I led the way down. I don’t think he wanted me to kick rocks down on him. When we reached the glacier, we put our crampons back on and headed down. The snow had softened now and it was great hiking down, we stayed on the snow as long as we could because the footing was so good. Our route down was lower on the mountain than the one we took going up, so we had to search around a little to find the Divide Camp Trail. Fortunately, we had set waypoints in our GPS units. Once on the Divide Camp Trail, we made good time back to the trailhead and our trucks. In retrospect, I enjoyed this hike in a beautiful area. I don’t know why I had put it off for a couple years.
Total hike was 13.4 miles, gained 4,300 ft in elevation, and took just under 10 hours.