Mt. Adams: Hangover on the South Spur

15 Jul 2005 - by Jeff Dhungana

As part of my summer foray into the Northwest for an extended vacation/volunteer with the Sierra Student Coalition, I decided to climb some of the Cascade Volcanoes. I had just climbed Mt. Hood the day before and wasn't feeling entirely too well that evening after quite a bit of drinking with some of the folks I met at the Portland Hawthorne District Hostel where I was staying.

I decided to just crash out, get about 7 hours of sleep during the day so I could wake up around 10pm, drive to the trailhead and ready to be hiking by 1 am. Everything worked out except for the part about sleep the dormitory I was in had about 15 other people, constantly coming in and out and in and out the whole time. The next time I travel, I'm bringing plugs for sure.

The drive at night wasn't too exciting. There wasn't much of a moon, and I felt like I was being cheated of the beautiful scenery heading to the mountain. I wasn't even able to see the mountain until right before sunrise, when I was halfway up the damn thing! After paying for my permit (pretty expensive btw), I drove the final gravel stretch of road and left the trailhead at 1:05 am.

The trail was uneventful most of the way. Except for the 15-20 ft radius my headlamp illuminated, I felt like I was walking through a dark vortex of black space. Very surreal, but I still felt cheated for what I would later find to be a very beautiful trail. It climbed fairly mildly, and after crossing the Round the Mountain trail junction, started a series of the largest ducks I've ever seen after crossing the first few, I christened them, Superducks. On average, they were about 8 feet tall, some even up to 15 feet, with a huge wooden pole sticking out from the middle like a small pyramid or burial site! Thus the final stretch on trail consisted finding the next superduck, chuckling, and hiking to it. They were only about 200 ft apart or so, and I thought of RJ Secor's advice to knock down every duck you find in the wilderness. These would require quite an effort to do so!

After the last duck, it was time to strike off to hit the ridge west of the Crescent Glacier. This is where I had my first blunder of the day. The route actually involves a pretty lengthy traverse to the right (east) and then up, but I headed diagonally, hoping to make a shortcut. Plus, it seemed like the right way to go. After crossing some meltwater from the glacier, I ascended and traversed some steep slopes with horrible volcanic scree. This was definitely not the walk up I expected for the mountain. Every step crumbled off as I tried to walk through. This was even worse than the worst Sierra Scree I'd ever encountered. After quite a bit of cursing and grumbling, I finally made my way to the ridge, I had lost ample time unnecessarily. Later, I would see the route I took in daylight, and it looked just as bad as I thought it would be.

I reached the lunch counter, a broad spot on the ridge where most parties camp before heading to the summit, at 4 am. It was still dark, but the messengers of the house of the rising sun were slowly announcing their master's imminent presence in the horizon. I hadn't met anyone on trail nor seen headlights ablaze (quite strange for a popular weekend), but there were a number of tents on the counter.

It was very windy and the constant howling started becoming a constant annoyance that lasted the rest of the day. As I rested in one of the wind shelters on the counter to have a snack, I noticed a blue piece of metal half covered in rocks. Being a vigilant steward of the wilderness, I decided to investigate and clean it up. However, to my pleasant surprise, it was actually the blade portion of a shovel - I looked around and about 10 ft away, found the shaft, still intact. It looked brand new, and I fused them together gloriously above my head, in perfect Excaliber fashion.

As the sun began to rise, I put on every piece of clothing I had to ward off the cold wind. Then, my second blunder of the day: apparently preparing my pack hastily in a hangover made me forget to put in a pair of glacier goggles! Crap. I was still almost two hours from the summit, with about four hours of the hot sun and snow to blare in my eyes. I'd better hurry.

I donned ice ax and crampons and climbed steadily up the snow towards Pikes Peak, the false summit. Steadily upward. The sunrise was spectacular! My haste made me tire out very fast, and I was panting heavily halfway up the snowfield. I was definitely not acclimatized or conditioned to go up so fast, but the thought of snowblindness pushed me. All those drinks now punished me as I got a mild headache.

As I reached the false summit, the sun was in full bore and I felt like I was ready to quit. Looking to the true summit seemed like it was still 30 minutes away, and now I saw a whole army of climbers, mostly below me, and a few above me. I got renewed strength when I passed by a group of about 15 teenage girls and one male guide at the end of a roped descent. I wonder why they were roped on this easy slope? They looked inexperienced, fumbling down the slope, but with huge smiles on their faces as I walked past and all gave me a warm note of encouragement that I was very close. Later I would find that they were from an organization called Outdoor Adventures, where the same cohort of girls (all under 20) were planning to climb Rainier! Amazing. I made the final trudge to the summit and by 7:45 am, saw 360 degrees around me. There was a group of three at the top. We exchanged photos ops. The views were outstanding Rainier, St. Helens, Hood, Jefferson, and even the Three Sisters in the distance. I think Adams has the best summit view of all the volcanoes due to its central location.

When one of the guys saw me without glasses, he offered me an extra pair, which I kindly accepted. I promised him to leave it at his car in the trailhead along with a beer or two. He smiled, and we parted ways.

Now I had planned my whole climb to involve a perfect 3000' glissade. It looked perfect so far, but the wind had hardened the snow considerably up to the false summit. Dismayed, I hiked back to the false summit where a two other guys were preparing to glissade. They sat, looking unsure, with their axe picks pointing straight between their legs. I asked them if this was their first time glissading and they said yes. After a quick lesson, I told them to watch me as I demonstrated.

Off I went, not stopping for 2500' feet! This was the best part of the climb. The snow was perfect and the tracks were already well developed, making for the most memorable glissade I've ever done. I was down to the trail and the superducks by 10 am, and reached my car at 11:15. As I had guessed earlier, the scenery was outstanding beautiful flowers and turning back, Mt. Adams in all its glory. These mountains truly exude a brilliant aura.

My headache was now gone, and after stashing the goggles in the nearby truck along with an offering of a Corona, I popped one open myself, and drove back to Portland for the next adventure.

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