Thursday, August 25, 2016

Mount Adams - Washington

Sunrise on Mount Adams
                 Mount Adams is the second highest volcano in Washington, standing at 12,276 feet. I previously climbed Adams back in 2009 on a trip with my Dad in which we also climbed neighboring Mount St. Helens; and Mount Bachelor and the South Sister in Oregon. I was invited on a trip up Mount Rainier that is planned for later in the week, so I thought it would be a good idea to do a warm-up climb on Adams. The crew heading up the mountain was my Dad, Mark and my friend Loren (LT) and Cédric which is LT’s exchange student from France.
                We chose to climb the standard South Climb Trail that begins at Cold Springs Campground. This climb requires the Cascades Volcano Pass that costs $15 and can be picked up at a self-serve station at the Mount Adams Ranger Station in Trout Lake, Washington. I flew into the Portland International Airport and had my Dad pick me up there. To get to Trout Lake from Portland drive east on I-84 taking exit 64 in Hood River. Use the Hood River Bridge to cross the Columbia River, there is a toll of $1 for using the bridge each way. Follow WA-141 for the next 24 miles into Trout Lake. The ranger station is along WA-141 on the west side of the town. Pick up your permit and start making your way up to the TH. To get to the TH, drive back into town turning north on Mount Adams Road. After about 5 miles take a slight left onto NF-8040, this road will turn into NF-500 another 5 miles down the road, follow this to the right for an additional 3 miles to the TH/CG. This area is chaotic and parking sucks. Try to find a spot; we arrived about 11pm so there were a few available spots, but if you came in the morning I doubt you would have luck finding a spot especially on the weekend. Expect about a 45 minute drive from Trout Lake to the TH.
Climbing the Snowfield to Lunch Counter
                We arrived at the TH around 11pm. Instead of digging out tents we just slept in the back of the truck. We didn’t crash before having a few social beers and taking in the meteor shower that was in full effect. Throughout the night/early morning there was moderate activity with people arriving and heading up the trail. Since we were doing this as an overnighter staying at Lunch Counter, we weren’t in a hurry to get up the trail too quickly on Saturday morning. Lunch Counter is the name of the flat feature where most people camp and it represents the halfway point, to get there it is a 4.5 mile climb of about 3,800 vertical feet. After getting our gear together in the morning we finally hit the trail at about 9am.
                This was my first time backpacking in almost two years, so my pack was feeling quite heavy. I guess if I left the beer in the truck that would have shaved some weight off, but what fun would that be? I considered doing this climb as a day trip in order to lessen the load on my back, but in the end we decided this would be a good chance to test out the gear we would be using on Rainier later in the week. The trail starts in an old wildfire burn-out area from the 2012 Cascade Creek Fire. The trail is fairly wide, and very dusty. After gaining the initial 1,000 feet you finally will be out of the burn zone and will see Mount Hood to the southwest.  
Climb from Camp to Pikers Peak
                Crossing Morrison Creek was the last chance to fill water bottles from a flowing source until reaching Lunch Counter. After the creek the trail splits into several paths that others have created. Follow the large cairns with the poles and you will stay on route. There is a traverse leading to the main ridge that you will be ascending for the remainder of the day. Once on the ridge you are reminded that this is a volcano as you see all the volcanic rock (scoria) at your feet. As you ascend the ridge there are several makeshift campsites that use the available rock to build wind shelters. There is still 1,000 vertical feet to climb to get to Lunch Counter. Somewhere around 8,400 feet we finally hit the snowfield, this is what’s left of the Crescent Glacier, but it is a snowfield and there are no crevasses to worry about. From here to Lunch Counter the travel would all be on snow, you can stay on the rib in the rocks if you wish, but the snow seems to be the easiest mode of transport.
Sunset on Mount St Helens
                Once on the snowfield I elected to put on my crampons. You could easily climb the snow in boots, but I felt I could move more efficiently with a solid purchase of the surface. The sweat started dripping off me as the albedo from the snow and lack of wind made me pant like a dog. I tried to put on sun block a couple times during the ascent, but I’m sure most of it just sweat right off of me. Now that I had arrived at Lunch Counter my task was to find a good campsite for the night. I had two requirements for our campsite: near running water, near snow to cool our beer. It took a bit to find the running water, and I would call it more of a trickle than running. There was a small runout of water from the main snowfield heading up the mountain that we were able to filter from. It took some time, but it was better than melting snow or carrying up all the water we would need. We were surrounded by smaller snowfields, so the cooler was not hard to find. Dry bags filled with snow make nice portable coolers as well. Our camp was set up around the 9,400 foot elevation and I would say we arrived there around 1:30pm.
Mount Adams Benchmark
                We had ample time to relax and explore the area. The best part about our chosen campsite was the view. As the sun was setting the colors on Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens were amazing, I don’t think our photographs were able to capture the true color we were seeing. We all stayed up till the light started to fade, then we hit the sack. Our wake-up alarms were set for 3:30am.
                It was rough waking up early, but sometimes that’s the way it goes. After getting out of my tent I could see a number of groups already on the mountain. We took in some breakfast and were on the route by 4:30am. The goal was to see the sunrise from at least Pikers Peak which is a sub summit of Mount Adams.
                I was feeling pretty good from the start and had the direct line of ascent in mind. I followed one group up the first 300-400 vertical feet, as they stopped for a break I took the opportunity to get ahead of them. I saw I was losing my group, but I wanted to keep the pace going. At 5:37 I was on Pikers Peak, just before sunrise. In just over an hour I was able to climb 2,200 feet. I love these steep ascents where you just gain vertical elevation. Since the sunrise was close I continued to a high point in-between Pikers and Adams to watch the morning come in. I figured I’d have a bit of a wait for the rest of my group so after the sunrise I found a large boulder to sit on where I would see them come up the trail.
Summit Crew: Me, LT, Cedric, Mark
                As I saw LT ascending the main route, I started making a move up the ridge instead of dropping down to where they were. There was maybe 500 vertical feet to the summit. I met up with everyone about 100 vertical feet shy of the snow filled structure (I’m not positive this was a fire lookout or a mining structure). We all crested about the same time and the first thing you see is the dramatic view of Mount Rainier. Most climbers hung out near the structure, we made our way east to the true summit which is marked by a USGS benchmark. Just past 7am we were all on the summit of Mount Adams.
                We took maybe an hour on the summit. LT proceeded to make us all breakfast in the form of salami, cheese, crackers and a communal beer. He never disappoints, I guess that’s why I invite him…haha. We explored the eastern side of the mountain where nobody else was and the glaciers get pretty intense just of the edge.
Cedric Wandering
                As we started our descent we could see the sun was already softening the top layer of snow. From Pikers down the southern face it is pretty steep and the snow was a bit slushy. The glissade chute from the top still seemed a bit iced over, so we descended maybe 600 feet before attempting to slide. These chutes resemble more of a bobsled track as they are fairly curvy and can get up to three feet deep. I jumped in without changing to my Gore-Tex, and I slid just fine. It didn’t take very long to get down the remaining 1,500 feet near the rocks by our camp. My knees appreciated the slide I’m sure.
                Once we made it back to camp it was time to pack it up and hit the trail back to the trucks. I wasn’t looking forward to this part, so it was more about getting it over with at this point. On the hike out we took advantage of sliding on the snow as much as we could. I got a decent amount of snow into my boots making my socks wet, as we continued down the trail I developed a nice dime sized blister on my left heel. I could feel it pretty good over the last mile or so, but at that point it was a march to the truck.
                Now that the Adams climb was behind us, my Dad and I had a day of rest before the climb of Rainier was to begin. This is a fun climb, but the trip ends on a dusty trail that is a less than pleasant ending. This is a busy area, not as busy as Colorado 14ers, but I would guess there was at least a hundred people up on the mountain if not more today. Now that the climb was over it was time for mending the body with a cold beer...cheers!
Date: August 13-14, 2016
TH Elevation: 5,600 feet
Lunch Counter Camp: 9,400 feet
Mount Adams Summit: 12,276 feet
Total Ascent: 7,140 feet
Total Distance: 13.9 miles
Class: snow climb
Moving Time: 7 hours 26 minutes
Stopped Time: 5 hour 29 minutes
Climbing Partners: Mark, Loren, Cédric

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Pacific and Atlantic Peaks

Quandary and Pacific Tarn
The Tenmile Range near Breckenridge hosts many 13ers that are worth exploring. Over the past few years I have been slowly ticking peaks off my list from the range. This area is close to Denver, and unlike Quandary the local 14er, solitude can be found on many of the surrounding peaks. Last year I came across the East Ridge Route description for Pacific Peak on the website and decided this would be a fun option for this weekend.
                The McCullough Gulch North TH is accessed off of HWY 9 near the Quandary Peak TH. From Breckenridge travel south on HWY 9, turning west onto Blue Lakes Road 850. After the main parking lot for Quandary take the first right onto McCullough Gulch (851) Road. Drive over a mile and a half reaching a junction, stay to the right and follow this road till it ends at just over 11,000 feet. High clearance would be desired for this road, but it is not a full 4WD road. There is limited parking near the TH, and I almost drove into a bunch of people camping there, so proceed with caution if arriving in the dark.
Early Morning Solitude
                I had another early morning departure from Denver and arrived at the TH around 4:30am. I wasn’t necessarily planning on a sunrise climb, but since this is an east facing route the opportunity is there to catch the morning sunrise anywhere along the ridgeline. The morning air was a bit chilly, but I was good to start in shorts and a t-shirt. I knew the initial climb through the aspens would be brutal and I would quickly have my heart rate up, so starting a tad chilly was a good way to do it today.
                There wasn’t a true trail, but through the trees in the dark I could spot signs of climber/animal trails that helped me through the trees. The gain was really steep, so when in doubt just go straight up and within 5-10 minutes you will clear the trees. I would recommend loading a gpx track if you do this in the dark as the ridgelines are not clearly evident. I just kept trying to follow the southern edge of the ridge, but the ridge is quite wide so a few times I would check my gps to make sure I was on the right track. After the initial gain in the first half hour, the main East Ridge becomes more evident, so just start making your way towards the rocks.
                In the first hour I gained 1,850 feet and at this point I was beginning the rocky ridge. I was feeling pretty good, and keeping an above average pace. I took a short break after my first hour since I had already burned my morning fuel supply. The sun would rise in about half hour so I wanted to step it up a notch to get a better view of the sunrise higher on the ridge. I kicked it into high gear as I started up the boulders.
                The ridge narrows pretty quickly and the roller coaster of ups and down soon commences. This first section is mostly class 2, but the more you stay true to the ridge the more difficult it gets. If you stay on the ridgeline it soon turns into solid class 3 terrain, but easier routes can be found to the southern side off the crest. I wanted to have some fun so I stayed true to the ridge and soon was packing away my trekking poles and putting on my scrambling gloves.
Pacific Peak
                The scrambling is pretty sustained for about a mile, maybe a bit further. There is a midpoint along the ridge that is the unranked point 13,238. My goal was to reach that point for sunrise. There are a few really fun sections to scramble up gaining the point. I nearly made it to the top of the point as the sun was cresting the horizon. I took a seat on a rock and enjoy the moment with a handful of gummy bears.  
                After taking a few pictures I was off again continuing up the ridge. By staying true to the ridge I had to back track a few times as the notches between rock towers drop off dramatically as you progress up the ridgeline. If you stay off the ridge by about thirty or forty feet you won’t have to worry about it, but the view down there isn’t as good. Soon you will get to a point where you need to be on the ridge crest as couloirs come in on the northern side. Just past this area is where the standard route ascends from the Mohawk Lakes area.
                A few weeks prior I tried ascending from the Mohawk Lakes, but I didn’t have the right gear that day so it became a day of basin and lakes exploration. I think that route would be more efficient if you wanted to get up to Pacific quickly, but there wouldn’t be that much scrambling involved, so where’s the fun in that? I started making my way off the ridge, dropping into the flat area near the Pacific Tarn. From here I took a break to lather on some sun block and gobble some crackers.
Me on the summit of Pacific
                My goal was to summit Pacific within a half hour from my last break. I was feeling good even for being above 13,600 feet, I just kept trucking up the pyramid block and was on the summit 20 minutes later. The vertical gain didn’t seem too bad along this route because you start out with a huge gain then it mellows into a roller coaster scramble. It was a fun route, and I would recommend it if you want to up your game into class 3 terrain. After taking a break for a few minutes on the summit I was off to Atlantic Peak.
                There was no reason not to make a twofer out of the day since it was only 7:30am. From Pacific to Atlantic the terrain stays class 2 the entire way. There are climber’s routes through the boulders so the going was pretty quick. About a half hour or so after being on Pacific, I was already on the summit of Atlantic. It would have been nice to be able to continue on the ridge towards Fletcher, but that ridgeline quickly turns to jagged rock spires and is not climbable….at least for me.
Pacific from Atlantic
                At about 8:30am I was starting back. I chose to descend the same ridge, a lot of people will drop into McCullough Gulch and hike the trail out, but I was up for some more scrambling since I had a great day for it. I reconnected to the main East Ridge next to Pacific Tarn. I should mention that Pacific Tarn is the highest lake in the U.S., I guess I can check that off on a list somewhere as well.
                On the descent I took my time along the ridge. I tried to avoid a lot of the major ups and downs by traversing further down on the ridge on the south side. There were lots of fun options, so the playground was in great shape today. I spent about three hours on the descent, steadily moving for the most part. Once clearing the rocks I took a final break before the drop down the ridge to the car. It was interesting to see how steep the terrain was I came up in the dark. I would try and stay more south on the ridge early on as opposed to my route that loops to the north. But other than that, I enjoyed the route and would definitely do it again.
                I had one stop on my schedule…Broken Compass Brewing. This would be my last climb in Colorado before heading to Washington. This Saturday I’m climbing Mount Adams, then mid next week I make my second summit attempt on Mount Rainier. I will try and put together some trip reports for those when I get back home. In the meantime, I hope you guys are finding some time in the mountains. Get after it! Cheers!

Date: July 30, 2016
TH Elevation: 11,060 feet
Pacific Peak Summit: 13,950 feet
Atlantic Peak Summit: 13,841 feet
Total Ascent: 3,872 feet
Total Distance: 8.3 miles
Class: 3
Moving Time: 5 hours 9 minutes

Stopped Time: 2 hour 13 minutes