Alone on a Volcano

It had been awhile since I’d made it out to the mountains so the goal for this past weekend was to do something remote that would require snow camping since Ryan and I had yet to test out the Mega Light Tarp Tent. Originally, the plan was to reattempt the Coleman Pinnacle circumnavigation but due to the warming trend we decided it might be just as unsafe as May was during our 2012 outing. So, last minute we instead set our sights on Mt. Adams.

We left Seattle on Friday, March 29th at 7pm after filling up on Kosher for Passover backcountry snacks and a Rancho Bravo dinner (tortilla free for me). And then we began the 5-hour drive down South. We arrived in Trout Lake, WA at around midnight and made it up a few hundred feet on the South Climb road before hitting deep snow. Since it was way past our bedtime we decided chains would go on in the morning and we were quickly asleep in the back of the car.

Waking up around 7am we decided to see if Forest Road 8225 past the Pineside sno-park was better plowed. Nope. We decided to hike Forest Road 8225 instead of the South Climb road due to the fact that the Mt. Adams website stated that the South Climb trailhead was closed due to Summer 2012 forest fires…and we didn’t want to turn around again.

Reaching the End of the Lava Field

And then began the long slog up to the base of Mt. Adams. We knew we would have to hike some road but we had drastically underestimated how long the road hike would be.  About 4 hours later we finally reached the Lava Field on the lower flanks of the mountain where the slog continued but at least the view improved. We constantly debated setting up camp early knowing our original goal of reaching Lunch Counter at ~9000ft was not going to happen.  And the mountain just seemed to keep getting further away. We decided our new goal was to gain the ridgeline at the base of the mountain.  Don’t let me fool you into thinking that spirits were low though. The views were breathtaking, we were all alone, and it was a nice warm spring-like day. 

Candlelight Dinner

By 5pm we picked the perfect site surrounded with views of Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helen’s, and Piker’s Peak (the false summit of Adams). The tent was pitched and we began debating if the summit was a realistic goal for the weekend. The headwall to up to Piker’s Peak seemed daunting and conditions seemed sketchy (although we knew that conditions at 6,000ft had no real relation to conditions at 10,000ft). We decided to wake up at 3:30am, hike to Lunch Counter, and decide then if the summit was attainable. After a dinner of lentil curry over rice we fell asleep just as the sun went down.


Early Morning Light

My eyes open and the first thing Ryan says is “Jamie, it is accidentally 4:45am.” We had set three alarms but they had all failed to rouse us.  The next words were “What do we want to do?” Sleeping bags are often so hard to emerge from, especially after a chilly night’s sleep. Do we take the late wake up as another excuse to not summit? After much debate we decided to get moving. We ate kugel out of a bag, put on our boots, and got moving under moonlight.

At this point it wasn’t long until the sun began to rise and everything got a bit warmer and softer.  We made it to South Butte (~7000ft) and again debated if we wanted to go further thinking about how conditions might deteriorate in the later afternoon.

Sunrise, Helens, and Adams' Shadow

Looking up at Lunch Counter and Pikers Peak

We again decided to push on and make it to Lunch Counter. The climb from South Butte to Lunch Counter was much easier than expected and also felt a lot more stable.  We reached Lunch Counter (~9000ft) by 10am and finally the real decision point was upon us.

Hiking to Lunch Counter with Hood in the Background

Happy with our Decision

The weather was perfect, the conditions were somewhat unstable below but reasonable up top, the summit was another ~3000ft and we were all alone on a volcano that normally sees large crowds.  All weekend we were trying to find reasons to turn around but here we were at the headwall. We debated again endlessly about what sort of day we wanted to have, how long we wanted to be on our feet, how safe we felt, if we had enough food, how disappointed we would be. After about 30 minutes we finally decided…it is ok to want to have only a moderately strenuous day, we live in Washington and can come back, we made it further than we thought we would starting out on Saturday, and we had achieved all we wanted out of the weekend…solitude on a volcano with great views and corn snow. That day we didn’t need the summit and didn’t really want it bad enough.

So we converted to ski mode and began the descent. The top parts hadn’t quite softened yet but the lower mountain was covered in the corn snow we were looking for.


Almost Back to the Car

We made it back to camp quickly, had lunch, and packed up our stuff. A few more corn turns before we hit the lava field again, which wasn’t as much of a slog as we were expecting. Then we hit the road, which was as much of a slog as we were expecting. After poling our way down the road we finally reached the car at ~2pm.  We rewarded ourselves with a stop at Mellow Mushroom in Portland, where I briefly broke Passover with my favorite pizza and beer, before finally getting back home at 10pm and promptly getting in bed (after a shower).

It was a great weekend all in all. Of course I keep thinking “what if we summited?” but in the end the mountain is still there and I know we will be back. We still had a volcano all to ourselves all weekend and ended the day in good spirits with minimal exhaustion.  We will be back to stand on the summit but I think we learned that the tippy top doesn’t always need to be the goal.