Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mount Adams

I have been meaning to ski Mount Adams all spring, so when Roanne asked me what I wanted to do on the weekend before my birthday I jumped at the chance. Roanne and I had both missed out on the Memorial Day long weekend due to the unmentionable 4 letter word that starts with "W" (and ends with "ork"), so we decided to take the Thursday and Friday off of the following week. Roanne had just stepped off of a plane from Asia the night before, but Thursday morning after I had packed everything up she shook herself out of her jet-lag induced haze and jumped in the car and we headed south on I-5.

After a lunch break in Hood River where we enjoyed delicious Blizzards from DQ we continued on the town of Trout Lake where we stopped at the Ranger Station to obtain our Cascade Volcano climbing passes. The elderly female ranger did all that she could to scare us out of our planned ascent by telling us how terrible the weather forecast was for the next four days (this was completely opposite to the forecast that I had seen which called for partly cloudy skies and just a 20% chance of rain). Having just driven 4.5 hours we weren't about to turn around without even trying our objective, so we thanked her for the warning, picked up our poop bags, and headed up the forest service road towards the trail head.

From reports that I had checked while planning the trip I knew that we would only be able to drive within 5 miles of the trail head before being stopped by snow, so when we saw a few parked vehicles and the first serious snow blocking the road we pulled over and started sorting and packing our gear:

We knew we would have a bunch of walking at the start before we hit solid snow to be able to start skiing, so we decided to start out with our shoes on. Actually, the preliminary plan suggested by Roanne was to wear flip flops, to which I immediately agreed thinking only of how comfortable flip flops are. Upon further reflection I came to the realization that while flip flops are very comfortable while walking on warm, dry ground, they are considerably less so while walking in snow with a 50 pound pack on your back, so shoes it was. It was pretty warm out so we started out in our long underwear, here I am modeling my outfit of choice:

I guess in retrospect it actually doesn't look all that crazy, because in the photo my long underwear is indistinguishable from very tight pants so if you ignore the ski poles and backpack I could just be a hipster out for a stroll in the forest. After about 30 minutes of walking over patchy snow we finally hit what appeared to be continuous (though dirty) snow, and were more than happy to ditch our shoes in the forest and put our skis on. Here is Roanne buckling up:

We continued to head up the road with our skis on, as it gradually steepened and the snow-to-pine needles ratio slowly improved. Eventually the road began to switch back and there was enough snow that we could head straight up through the switch backs and shave off some distance. We eventually emerged from the forest into more open terrain, and continued chugging uphill while enjoying the last remnants of sunshine:

We decided to stop and set up camp at 8:30pm (4 hours after our starting time of 4:30pm), so when we reached a nice shoulder at 7,000 feet (we had started at 4,300 feet) we didn't hesitate to drop our packs and scope out a sheltered spot for our tent. The summit had been coming in and out of clouds as we ascended, but at this point it was looming clearly visible above us. Here is Roanne pointing out the next day's objective:

We dug out a flat platform for the tent and set it up (anchored down this time after my learning experience on Mount Shuksan) and unpacked our sleeping and cooking gear. We had great views of Mount St. Helens (which we had skied a few months prior) as the sun was setting, here I am taking the opportunity for some photography:

And here is one of the resulting photos:

It was starting to cool off so we headed into the tent and cooked up some pasta in the vestibule and enjoyed a delicious dinner before drifting off to sleep just after 11:00pm. In conversations with Roanne that evening I had gathered the information that her expectation was to be awoken in the morning by the sunshine hitting the tent, which ran counter to my expectations that we would be setting our alarm for 2:30am and starting to climb by headlamp. I decided to go with a happy medium of a 5:00am wake-up call, and when the alarm went off I opened the fly and was greeted by clear blue skies and a great view of Mount St. Helens bathed in the morning sunshine:

So awesome! We brewed some coffee and enjoyed a delicious breakfast of oatmeal and raisin bread with nutella and then started gearing up for the day's festivities. We stepped outside and looked up to see the sunshine just hitting the top of Mount Adams 5,300 feet above us:

After gathering up the last of our gear, we clicked into our skis and started skinning up towards the saddle that separates the South Butte from the Suksdorf Ridge that we would be ascending. The snow was completely frozen, which along with our lighter packs made for easy going and we quickly gained the 1,500 feet to the saddle, here is Roanne striking a pose in the morning light:

We continued up the ridge, and at around 9,300 feet we gained the formation called the "Lunch Box" where we could see the south false summit (named "Pikers Peak") looming above us:

We stopped for a quick snack here and then started trucking up the wide open face above us towards Pikers Peak. It was pretty steep skinning, and the still frozen snow made for slippery conditions at times. Here is Roanne making her way up the slope:

About 3/4 of the way up this section it started getting steeper and a little sketchy on the frozen crust (it would have been perfect for ski crampons but I had left mine at home since we didn't have any for Roanne) so we swapped out our skis for crampons and continued up with with our skis strapped to our packs. We soon crested Pikers Peak at 11,600 feet, and paused for a breather in the saddle between Pikers Peak and the summit:

Check out Roanne's cool orange crampons! We actually bought them when we lived in Washington previously since we had intended to climb Mount Rainier together, this didn't happen so they were getting their first use 6 years after being purchased. Better late then never! At this point we were starting to feel the effects of the thin air, which for me manifested itself with some lightheadedness when I paused from climbing and with my stomach feeling a bit off. With break time over we continued up, and before long we were cresting the shoulder of the summit. Here is Roanne working her way up the final section with some clouds starting to swirl in below:

Great success! Before we knew it we were standing on the 12,300 foot summit enjoying the sunshine and the spectacular views. Here I am happy to be on top with Mount Hood seen to the south in the background:

And here is Roanne celebrating the long-awaited first ascent in her orange crampons with Mount Rainer in the background to the north:

And the Team Charles-Sones celebratory group summit shot:

We lounged in the sun for a while, until we started to get a bit cold and decided it was time to carve some turns back down the 8,000 feet that we had ascended from the car. Yee-ha! We stepped into our skis, locked down our heels, and headed down. The upper 700 feet down to Pikers Peak was still frozen and a bit variable which made for good but not great skiing, but once we crested the shoulder of Pikes Peak and began dropping the next 2,300 feet to the Lunch Box we hit awesome conditions, perfect corn snow with just the top few inches softened up by the sun. Oh man, SO AWESOME! The slope was a perfect steepness and totally even, making it really easy to effortlessly link nice turns as we floated down. Here is a shot of the man in black making his way down the hill with the dubious form of someone who just learned to ski 3 years ago:

And now to erase that image from your mind, here is a shot of Roanne carving turns with the proper form of someone who has been skiing their whole life:

So. Stinking. Awesome. From the Lunch Box we continued on down towards the South Butte, with the skiing still fun but not quite as good since the snow was starting to get a bit too heavy at these lower elevations. About 45 minutes after leaving the summit we were pulling up outside our tent (which, in contrast to my last tenting experience on a mountain, was still there) and we were happy to take off our ski boots and head into the tent to lounge a bit in the early afternoon sunshine:

We slept in the sun with the fly off for about an hour, then ate some lunch before packing up and clicking back in to head back down towards the car. We made it back to the car in just over 2 hours, finishing up just before 4:30pm which made for a nice 24 hour total trip time. Here is a topo of our route, which totaled just over 33 km of distance:

And the elevation profile, revealing our 8,000 foot total ascent and descent:

And finally the Google Earth view, showing our route up the Suksdorf Ridge:

What a great trip, I think this might have been my favorite mountain that I have skied to date. If you own a set of skis and are thinking of heading out one last time before summer, go ski this RIGHT NOW.


  1. Nice work, Cam! This looks awesome...I'll try to take your advice and do it next weekend.

  2. Let's talk about plans for this weekend, I would love to ski something again also!