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Mount Adams, WA

Adventure
posted: 09/15/2004

Beta:Among the massive, stand-alone peaks that line the Pacific Northwest's Cascade Range, Washington's 12,276-foot Mount Adams isn't the biggest (14,410-foot Mount Rainier has that distinction), the most popular (Mount Hood sees the most climbers annually), or even the most famous (Mount St. Helens grabbed worldwide headlines for blowing its top in 1980). But none of these other active volcanoes offers this perk to ski mountaineers: an uninterrupted, 7,000-plus-foot skiable line reached via a crevasse-free summit route your mother-in-law could handle. Skiers who top out on the peak in late spring and early summer can take advantage of a daily freeze-thaw phenomenon that turns the top layer of Adams' 450 annual inches of Cascade concrete into the most perfectly kernelled corn west of Iowa. Add to this the fact that Adams' flanks are protected from crowds by a snowed-in access road, and it's pretty clear why Pacific Northwest skiers have done very little to promote one of the region's best ski-mountaineering treasures.

The Route: The south side of Adams offers a non-technical skin over a series of snowfields leading 7,000 feet to the summit. After hiking the last section of snowpacked Forest Road 8040500, make camp where South Climb Trail 183 begins. Rise early—a 4 a.m.—6 a.m. start is recommended—and follow Trail 183 to the foot of Crescent Glacier, where you'll bear left and ascend along the glacier's left side until you reach a flat expanse called the Lunch Counter. Fuel up while sitting on the rocks, and then skin up (you might need crampons) the 2,700-foot incline leading to the false summit (a.k.a. Pikers Peak). From there, the route to the true summit is impossible to miss—it's the football field—wide ramp up the bigger peak in front of you.

The Descent: The 600 vertical feet between the summit and Pikers Peak can be a wind-scoured, sun-cupped mess—just make survival turns up there. Once you reach the false summit, however, there are two enticing options: Bomb down the way you came up, carving a perfect 25- to 30-degree fall line for 2,700 feet to the Lunch Counter; or head slightly to the southwest, where a series of chutes drop 4,000 feet from Pikers Peak at a sustained 40-degree pitch. If you take the latter option, simply traverse left at the bottom of the chutes back to the climbing route. The remaining descent via both routes is a roller coaster of varying terrain full of short, steep shots.

Safety:If you take the south route, you can get away with minimal technical skills (the ability to self-arrest) and climbing gear (an ice ax and crampons). Still, Adams offers plenty of danger. Storms arrive quickly in the Cascades and can envelop peaks, making route-finding nearly impossible. Leave a series of wands along your route up (plugging each one into your GPS as a waypoint) so you can get back down.

Other Info: The website for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest (fs.fed.us.gpnf) covers road closures, snow conditions, and route details. Between June 1 and September 30, a $15 Cascade Volcano Pass is required for every team member ($10 on weekdays). For a guided trip contact the Northwest Mountain School (509-548-5823; mountainschool.net) or the American Alpine Institute (360-671-1505; aai.cc).

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