Not far from Trout Lake, the Mt Adams road leaves Road 23 at waypoint ADAMRD. Signs for Mt Adams and "South Climb" (the dog route from Cold Springs) led us to waypoint NFD80C, where the pavement ends and you turn right. Regular sedans are fine on this road (to waypoint COLDSP, the trailhead) if you pay attention to ruts and roots. We started late, at 1030am, because we were doing the 2-day easy trip. Many people climb Adams in a day, but then you miss sunrise and sunset at altitude! In the early spring, you may have to park at 3000' but the trailhead is at about 5500'. Pit toilet and NO water. Gosh, those climbing fees are sure helping!
The trail part of the climb is boring for the most part. The view doesn't change much as the trail starts off as a road with debris piled on half of it to force a single track, then goes from dirt to volcanic rubble near the Round-The-Mountain trail junction (waypoint ADAMS4 at 6200'), then switches to snow below the Crescent "glacier" (waypoint ADAMS6). If THIS is a glacier, then we DO have real glaciers in California! It looked more like a snowbank to me. In fact, the guidebook admonition to carry a rope caused us all a great deal of amusement. What you SHOULD carry is a plastic sled or skis. I can't imagine a time when a rope would be useful, and some of the route isn't quite steep enough to glissade. Still, we got out ice axes since we were carrying them. No need for crampons except up high and early in the morning.
By the time we got to 8000', on the ridge west of Crescent, the clear sky had clouded over and a brisk chilly wind had started. Typical Cascades weather, I thought. But then there was The Naked Guy... climbing on snow in shorts and no shirt, not even tossing on a sweater for rest stops, while I was wearing midweight polypro and a goretex jacket! Adding to the party-like atmosphere, The GPS Guy came tearing down the snow with a particularly jerky gait because he wasn't watching the ground: he was stumbling down the slope with ice axe dangling in one hand and gazing steadfastly at a GPS grasped firmly in the other hand, apparently unable to trust the dozens of people around him or the hundreds of tracks in the snow or even the fact that there was only one snow tongue and the route stayed on it. We climbed on.
We got to camp around 3pm, 3500' of climbing in 4.5 hrs, including lunch and breaks. Rather than compete with the masses for a bare spot at the official Lunch Counter (an exposed shoulder near Point 9402 but perhaps not right at waypoint LUNCHC), we found running water and good wind shelter at waypoint CAMP1, the pocket behind Point 9090. Half of our group insisted on camping in the wind at waypoint CAMP2, and some of them even melted snow. Water filters are recommended due to the hundreds who do their business on the snow every day.
The sky cleared at sunset, but the wind kept up all night and there were more clouds at dawn than at sunset. We had a significant discussion about when to leave for the summit, and in retrospect I shouldn't have tried to keep the group together. The visibility was perfect, we didn't climb together anyway, and the debate time would have been better spent meditating. We left camp at 530am, astonished to find that the clouds were clearing as the morning wore on! Under firm crampon snow conditions, there was no reason to care where on the face we climbed. People had different paces, and some preferred to zig instead of zag, so most of the group weren't aware that Nancy's cold/flu got the best of her (she was the only one NOT to summit).
I think most of us reached Pikers Peak around 8am, but I can't say for sure who was where. By now we were well mixed with other split up groups, each choosing the pace we liked. It was VERY windy but the absolute temperature was not that bad. An hour later, we were at the summit at 12276' and those without enough clothes immediately began discussing when to return! Other reports mention an fire lookout on the summit, but all we saw were a few boards poking out of a snowdrift.
My concerns about starting early were unfounded: The wind kept the snow so hard that a later start would have been better for glissading back to camp. I spent about an hour getting down, but the frozen snow destroyed my glissade sheet and others walked much of the way. By the time they got back, the snow had softened considerably, the wind had abated, and the sky remained clear. Packing up to head down was slow, and that caused problems with slipped schedules later... the overall peak day was 3700' and 9 hours, including packing out.
Near waypoint ADAMS6, just below the Crescent Glacier at 7400', we did a great glissade into a bowl we had walked around on the way in. Everyone except Steve Landes. He decided to split from the group, without discussing it with us, and stayed on the ridge to the west. The trail drops into the bowl and traverses east over a ridge, and then south to the cars. His route sounds like the one Tony Cruz reported in 1997: Fewer and fewer footprints, a period of being lost, and eventually hitting the Round-The-Mountain trail. Cruz then turned the wrong direction on that trail, whereas Landes apparently knew by then what had gone wrong. We waited half an hour, then went down without seeing Landes again. We reported his apparent route to rangers working on trail, and their attitude was "that's not uncommon, maybe he'll learn from it" rather than wanting to start a search. Landes missed his flight that night, but did make it to the airport the next morning.
More repacking at the trailhead, talking with some friends who had day-hiked the peak without running into us, a slow drive down the dirt road behind other cars, an early dinner overlooking the Columbia River, and then we split up. The weekend crew flew home, while four of us headed off to the Sisters in Oregon (arriving late in the evening because we blew so much time descending Adams). All in all, it was a simple climb for which we were overprepared. Even though the route was crowded, there isn't much trash or erosion. Next time I'd take a less popular route or go in April on skis!
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