This past Sunday, waking at hour zero, I strolled, hiked, skinned, and then scampered my way to the top of Mt. Adams by the innocuous South Col. route.  I chose to solo the route for many reasons (to be addressed in a later post) but prime among them was just to get out o Portland and all of its people and into the big, quiet mountains.  The road was closed by a large pile of snow about 3.5 miles from the standard trailhead, so I was forced to park on the side of the road and walk up the long dusty road in my ski boots.  It was slightly erie to travel by night, as at times I would recognize a bend in the road from when I went up the route sophomore year of highschool, and then at others my headlamp would catch the reflective disks occaisionally nailed to trees along the road and it would look like there was a single giant eye reflecting its light back at me.  The whiteness of snowline was a comfort as the trees grew more sparse and the waning half moon rose burning brightly in the east, outlining my shadow in the snow alongside those of the small weathered trees among which I traveled.

Above treeline, I made my way up a protected ridge to the climber’s left of the Crescent glacier, having only to sneak below one or two small cornices, which had been reduced to amusing, barely overhanging shapes by the warm weather, but which were frozen pretty solid.  Above the Crescent I crossed a large snowfield and picked a means past the rock band which stood between me and the ‘Lunch Counter’, luckily selecting the one which afforded me snow the whole way.

Sunrise to the east.

Sunrise to the east.

At the lunch counter I refueled on cheddar cheese and M&Ms and surveyed the small collection of tents left by the overnighters.  None, it seemed, had even begun to wake.  I felt tired, but broke down the ‘headwall’ (can a headwall be 30 degrees and still be a headwall?) into thirds and headed up, cutting a zigzagging skin track up the hard snow.  Eeking my way through the last third, I mae my way along the far right of the snowfield, which gave me a great view of the sun coming up, throwing an orange-red light across the ice cliffs at 11,700 ft.  Piker’s peak, the false summit, made for a quick rest and then easy travel across the summit icecap to the final pitch to the summit, for which I finally donned the crampons and grabbed my axe and kicked steps into the last 600 ft of breakable crusty snow.

Ghosts on the summit

Ghosts on the summit

I had the summit to myself, apparently the first to arrive, and as I looked down I could spot a few dots moving about on Pikers peak, still a half hour away.  An odd, ethereal fog was drifting in pockets across the summit, and some cirrocumulus clouds to the east hinted at approaching winds.  I switched myself into descent mode, locking in skis and boots and stowing all of the pointies.  Before skiing away, I left a little offering on the tip of the summit for Johnny Copp, Micah Dash, and Wade Johnson, who all recently perished in an avalanche in China.

Skis made for a quick descent to Piker’s, where I waited ten impatient minutes before deciding to just take the beating and ski the crust to the lunch counter before it softened.  I passed what must have been 15 or so climbers headed up, and encountered another two with their dog below the counter.  The snow quickly softened and by the time I reached tree line I was waterskiing.  I deviated a little bit from the route at the bottom, skiing a few too many gullies to the skiers right before realizing what I’d done.  A quick compass bearing off of the summit and Piker’s put me on the map, and 15 minutes later I was back on the trail, trucking down.  I stopped to talk to a few people coming up who all asked me when I’d started and where I’d camped, and who seemed universally surprised that I’d not stopped to sleep.  Reaching the car by 10am my mind laughably thought, “a whole day still ahead of you”, before I cruised into town to grab a redeye and drive back to Stumptown.

I am, all in all, pleased with how everything worked out.  I made a good call going Sunday instead of Saturday, which let me dodge a thunderstorm in favor of clear skies.  Exhausted, I made it safely back to Portland without feeling drowsy on the drive, which I think is likely to be the most statistically dangerous part of this whole adventure.  I’m pleased to feel like both my fitness and mountain skills are progressing solidly, and I am pleased in retrospect with every decision that I made but one.  To that end, store your M&Ms in a plastic bag, as paper will tear, and many colors will adorn your jacket.  Luckily, they wash out.

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