Ski Mountaineering on Mt Adams, Washington

Due to a poor weather forecast, we (Matt, Loius, and I) canceled our plans to climb Mt Rainier this weekend and instead opted for a day trip on Mt Adams. We anticipated skinning up Adams as far as the "lunch counter," but didn't have high hopes of summiting due to the poor weather prediction. Mount Adams is the second tallest peak in Washington, towering over 12,276 feet. The South Climb Route (our planned climbing route) begins near Cold Springs Campground on the South Climb Trail # 183. This route gains about 6,600 feet in elevation over approximately 5.7 miles. Unfortunately, due to lingering snow, we had an additional 3 miles of hiking each way along road NF-500 to Cold Springs Campground.

Mt Adams South Climb Route     Mt Adams South Climb Route
Mt Adams South Climb Elevation Profile

We left Portland around 4 AM Sunday morning. After a coffee stop in Hood River, we arrived at the Crofton Ridge East trailhead around 7 AM where there were several other cars parked just before snow banks in the middle of the road. There were some high clearance vehicle tracks in the snow leading further down the road, but I had no interest in getting my Corolla stuck in the snow. We set off hiking in our ski boots with our skis strapped to our packs. We were under cloudy skis, in calm conditions, with a temperature around 40°F.

The 3 mile road hike was a little disappointing at first as there were only a couple patches of snow before the road became completely melted out. A high clearance vehicle could have made it a mile further up from where we parked. The road should be completely melted out in another couple weeks if we get some warm weather.

Just before hitting Cold Springs Campground, the snow became consistent enough to put our skis on. It was a relief to get them off our packs.

Patches of Snow Blocking Vehicles on NF-500 Road 3 Miles from Trailhead at Cold Springs Campground     Louis and Matt Skinning Past the Outhouse at the South Climb Trailhead

As we skinned up the trail, we observed some fairly recent snowmobile tracks just outside the wilderness boundary. It was good to see they had respected the rules. Seeing the tracks made me look forward to next winter when I will be able to bring my sleds out again.

As we climbed higher we could see clouds obscuring the upper mountain just as we had expected. But down lower we were greeted by a mixture of sun and clouds. At times the sun was so intense we felt like we were being cooked in an oven. Short sleeved shirts and rolled up pants helped make it more bearable.

Snowmobile Tracks Near Mt Adams Wilderness Boundry     Looking up Towards the Cloud Covered Summit of Mt Adams

Visibility became very poor above about 7,500 feet in elevation, but occasionally it would clear up for a few minutes and we would again get baked by the sun. We became hopeful we might get a window long enough to summit.

The snow was firm, but not icy down lower on the mountain. Up higher, there was a light crust of fresh consolidated snow atop an icy layer.

Low Visibility High up Mt Adams (below lunch counter)     Looking Back Down Mt Adams

Our route unfortunately took us over some rocks where we had to carry our skis. Above the "lunch counter," the conditions partly cleared, giving us a glimpse of the false summit known as Pikers Peak (about 800 feet shy of the true Mt Adams summit). We observed two other groups of climbers making their way up. The chance to summit was looking better and better as we continued on.

Carrying Skis Over Rocks     Nearly Visible False Summit Named Pikers Peak

Visibility worsened and the wind picked up as we neared the top of Pikers Peak. We decided to turn around at approximately 11,200' in elevation, about 400 vertical feet shy of Pikers Peak and 1,000 feet shy of the summit. The snow had become pretty icy and the thought of skiing down in zero visibility conditions did not excite any of us.

Nicer Weather During Brief Clearing of Clouds     Looking South Towards Mt Hood

We stood on the side of the mountain waiting for visibility to improve. Finally it became marginally better (enough to at least see 50-100 feet in front of us) and we began our descent. The steep slope, icy snow, and poor visibility made for very difficult skiing. I had to make my turns pizza-style and quickly became fatigued. Since I am not an expert skier, I decided to take my skis off and walk down a ways until the snow and weather improved. Louis and Matt left their skis on and followed me down, using me to guide the way. Shortly after, Louis got sick of fighting the conditions and took his skis off too, while Matt stuck it out. Several hundred feet lower the conditions improved enough to start skiing again.

Instead of going back the way we came (via the normal winter route), we decided to head down toward the Crescent Glacier and the summer route. We hoped to hit less rocks and be able to ski all the way back to the road. It ended up working pretty well for us, except for one overshot which forced us to hike back up and over a little to hit the trail back to Cold Springs Campground. Down lower the snow and weather became stellar and made the whole trip worth it. Eventually we made it back to my car after a nearly 16 mile round-trip adventure. This was my second time climbing Mt Adams, but I have yet to summit. It seems I always pick bad weather to climb lately! I'll have to come back later this summer on a warm sunny mid-week day.

Ski Tracks Coming Down the Crescent Glacier     Ski Tracks Below Cornices

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