Solo Climb of Mt Adams via South Spur Route

I finally got smart and waited for nice weather for my third attempt of Mt Adams. While not a technical climb via the South Spur Route, weather often plays a role in the success or failure of climbers on this route. My first attempt was in July of last year and we turned around after spending the night at high camp. The weather cleared before bed, but came back in overnight with visibility only a hundred feet or so. My second attempt was on skis in late June of this year. We had originally planned on climbing Mt Rainier that weekend, but a poor weather forecast caused us to change our plans. Unfortunately the weather was not very cooperative on Mt Adams either and we turned around just shy of Pikers Peak. So for this trip I decided to wait until late summer and go up solo.

Mt Adams South Spur Route

Mt Adams is the second tallest peak in Washington and third tallest in the Cascade range. It is the second most massive and is located East of Mt Saint Helens and North of Mt Hood. The South Spur Route is the most popular on the mountain, with hundreds of climbers attempting the 5.7 mile one-way climb of nearly 6,700' of elevation gain on any given weekend in early summer. Most climbers take two days to climb the route, setting up high camp in the vicinity of the "Lunch Counter" at around 9,250' in elevation. The round-trip climb typically takes between 10 and 14 hours. I set a goal for myself of 8 hours on this climb.

Mt Adams South Spur Route Elevation Profile

Wanting to avoid hoards of other climbers, I took Thursday off from work and headed to Cold Springs Campground after work on Wednesday. I arrived just after 6:30 PM to find about a dozen other vehicles at the campground and South Climb trailhead. There was one other group camped when I arrived and another showed up after I went to bed.

My Bivy at Cold Springs Campground     Me Enjoying Campfire Before Bed

Before going to bed, I explored the campground and trailhead where I would begin my climb early Thursday morning. There were feet of snow here my last two climbs, so it was nice to see what it looks like without snow. The South Spur Route starts on the South Climb Trail #183 right next to Cold Springs Campground. The campground is primitive with two outhouses and no water. The temperature was cool at around 44°F when I went to bed just after 8 PM.

Mt Adams South Climb Trail #183     Mt Adams from Cold Springs Campground

I awoke to my alarm at 4 AM Thursday morning. The other group that came in after I went to bed was already up getting ready to climb. The temperature was about 34°F with no wind and clear skies; perfect weather for climbing. I quickly warmed water for oatmeal and broke camp. I was on the trail just after 4:45 AM, ahead of the other climbers. My headlamp shined the way as I made good progress the first couple miles toward Crescent Glacier.

Just Before Sunrise about 7,400' up Mt Adams with Mt Hood in the Background     Climbers Trail Approaching the Crescent Glacier

I stopped a couple times to take pictures and change layers as the wind slightly increased the higher I climbed. It was still relatively calm as far as Cascade volcanoes go.

High on Mt Adams at Sunrise     Me Taking a Break on Mt Adams

I was able to watch a beautiful sunrise and the progression of the shadow Mt Adams cast on the valley below.

Shadow from Mt Adams at Sunrise with Mt Saint Helens in the Background     Mt Hood from Mt Adams

The remaining snow on Mt Adams was icy and frozen solid, so I avoided it as much as possible, not wanting to put on my crampons. I was able to avoid the large snow field on Pikers Peak by climbing up the talus and scree of Suksdorf Ridge to climbers left (East). As I climbed higher and higher towards Pikers Peak (false summit), I could feel the effects of the high elevation on my stamina, but I pressed on as fast as I could. I met another solo climber on his way down who told me the wind was pretty bad from Pikers Peak to the summit, but that didn't surprise me.

Glissade Chute on Large Snowfield on Pikers Peak (False Summit)     Old Glissade Chute on Spiny Icy Snow near top of Pikers Peak

From the top of Pikers Peak I saw two other climbers just about to glissade the second half of the snowfield down toward the "Lunch Counter." The upper part was no longer safe to glissade and looked like a field of ice swords with a section of rock separating the lower half. I was hoping the sun would soften the lower part enough for me to glissade on the way down.

Looking Down Towards 'Lunch Counter' from Pikers Peak     Two Other Climbers Glissading Down Pikers Peak

This was the highest I had been on Mt Adams and the first time I could actually see the mountain. It was beautiful and the views are amazing like on the other Cascade volcanoes. I feel so lucky to live so close to so many peaks.

Small Tarn to the West of the 'Lunch Counter'     Mt Adams Summit from Saddle Between Pikers Peak

Soon I was approaching the old fire lookout on the summit of Mt Adams. It was built between 1918 and 1921 and staffed from 1922 to 1924. After that it was used by sulfer miners in the 1930's before being abandoned. Today it still stands, encased in ice most of the year. I could only see the dilapidated roof; the rest of the cabin was buried under ice.

Old Fire Lookout on Summit of Mt Adams     Mt Adams Summit

I had the entire Mt Adams Summit to myself. It was windy, but the views were breathtaking. It took me 5 hours, 12 minutes to summit, close to what I needed in order to reach my goal.

Old Fire Lookout Preserved in Snow and Ice     Mt Rainier from Summit of Mt Adams

I spent a few minutes taking photos before starting my climb down. It was cold and windy on the summit without any place to find shelter.

Closeup of Mt Rainier     Closeup of Mt Saint Helens
Closeup of Mt Hood, Mt Jefferson, and Three Sisters     Me All Alone on the Summit of Mt Adams

Back down on the lower half of the snowfield on Pikers Peak, the sun had softened the snow a bit. I strapped on my glissade sled and away I went. The steep slope in combination with my glissade sled made controlling my speed tiresome. At one point I shot down the mountain uncontrolled as soon as I sat down, but came to a stop with the aid of my ice axe. After that I chose to walk the rest of the way down the still-firm snowy slopes. The going was slower than I had hoped, but soon I was back down below Crescent Glacier and on the South Climb Trail #183. I chose to ignore a sign pointing left to the trail and instead continued straight on a ridge that turned out to be a couple ridges to the West of the trail. My motivation was avoidance of a patch of snow. After some cross country hiking down the ridge and across another small ridge, I made my way back to the official trail. I ended up avoiding the snow but added a little bit of distance to my return trip.

Looking Back at Mt Adams     South Climb Trail #183 with Mt Hood in the Background

I came across a couple other climbers on my way down, but overall the mountain was very quiet. I love getting out midweek. It took me 3 hours and 6 minutes to get back with an overall round-trip time including stops of 8 hours 25 minutes. So close to meeting my goal. It was a great climb and I am very happy to have finally made it to the top of Mt Adams.

Mt Adams, Washington


Michael, Tue, 06/30/2015 - 13:27

Hi there Jason,

Good write up about Mt Adams. I am thinking about doing the climb myself sometime in late August this year. What month and day did you climb? From what I have read its a pretty non technical climb and I would like to do this without crampons or any ice gear whatsoever. Basically apline style....thoughts?



jloomis, Tue, 06/30/2015 - 20:45

This trip up Mt Adams was August 30th, 2012. When I went, conditions allowed me to avoid using my crampons. In the same conditions a less confident climber/hiker may have felt more comfortable wearing crampons or microspikes. I would recommend bringing crampons and an ice axe, even though you may choose not to use them. Conditions are different every day and it pays to play it safe. That being said, I would imagine later this summer (2015) there will be very little snow on Mt Adams and it will be mostly a hot, dusty, and long hike.

Daniel, Fri, 08/14/2015 - 20:02

Hey great TR! Just curious if there is any water on this route that doesn't involve melting?

jloomis, Fri, 08/14/2015 - 21:50

There is Morrison Creek down lower. You may also find small streams melting off the edge of the snow pack.

Daniel, Sun, 08/16/2015 - 19:40

Thank you! So crampons aren't probably necessary at this point of year then?

jloomis, Sun, 08/16/2015 - 19:43

Maybe, maybe not. Depends on the climber's abilities/comfort level and snow/ice condition. I would bring them just in case. It is best to be prepared when climbing any mountain.

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