photo-A look at the southwest side of Mt. Adams. photo by Zach Taylor, 2012
12,276' Mt Adams
members of group- Craig Burger and Zach Taylor
ascent route- South Ridge- Upper Mazama Glacier
descent route- Southwest Chutes
Lou Dawson states in his book Wildsnow that, "If you do not believe in God, you will believe in God after you ski the Southwest chutes, and you will believe that God is a skier." (paraphased slightly). I cannot say that I was made a believer after riding this line but I get what Lou meant when he said this. This is a really awesome line.
Mt. Adams is the third highest peak in the Cascades and the second highest in Washington state. Ever since reading about the southwest chutes in Lou's Wildsnow and then seeing it from the summit of Rainier last year it has been top on my hit list of Cascade peaks.
After spending two weeks climbing and riding Teton peaks in Wyoming with Joel and Sam I made my way back to Colorado to leave off with them and meet up with Craig for a Cascades ski trip.
Craig and I left on the morning of 05/19. My two weeks in the Tetons had been full of sunshine and corn snow. We could not have asked for better ski and climbing conditions.
I remember saying to Sam and Joel at the end of our Tetons trip that I thought Craig and I might pay for all the good weather we had had when we got out to the Cascades. Of course, we did, but we also got some amazing riding in as well.
Just before we left I called a friend that I knew was skiing out there to ask about conditions. He called me back the next day, while Craig and I were driving through Idaho and we talked for a bit. His group had stellar weather the whole time and he skied all the Cascade volcanoes in the US in just two weeks. They had an awesome ridge of high pressure the whole time. He said ski conditions were great and gave me some info on current TH access on the Sisters and Adams.
The high pressure was breaking down though as we drove out and we ended up having a more "typical" Cascade weather pattern, lots of snow, rain, and wind. We decided to head to Bend, Oregon to start the trip and then work our way north to Mt. Adams. The weather forecast did not look promising with snow totals every day for the next several days totaling in the feet.
We got to Bend on the afternoon on the 20th and decided to drive up to the Bachelor/south side of the Sister's area to scope things out and go for a tour, knowing that we would probably be sitting in tents for the next few days. The afternoon was mostly sunny and we decided to skin up Mt. Bachelor to get a little exercise.
photo- A look at Mt. Bachelor. photo by Zach Taylor, 2012.
We enjoyed great views of the central Oregon Cascades as we skinned up through the ski area to the summit and made the top in less than two hours. We enjoyed some Rainier beers on the summit and then skied back down through the ski area.
photo- Zach Taylor on the summit of Mt. Bachelor with the Sisters and Brokenen Top peak in the background. phtoo by Craig Burger, 2012.
photo- Craig Burger skiing off the summit of Mt. Bachelor. photo by Zach Taylor, 2012.
photo- Zach Taylor riding down Mt.. Bachelor with the South Sister pictured in the background. photo by Craig Burger, 2012.
Over the next few days were got weathered off an attempt on the Sisters, skied at Timberline ski area on Mt. Hood, soaked in some fun Hot Springs, and looked at weather reports trying vainly to find somewhere in the Pacific Northwest that was not in a major storm cycle. Snow and rain pounded us relentlessly. We looked as far as California, Montana, and British Columbia hoping to find somewhere within a long day's drive of where we were. The weather report did not improve though. Finally we decided after a few days of bad weather to head north to Mt. Adams and go for our main objective regardless of the weather report. We figured we could get a base camp set up and sit in our tents till we got a weather window to get up and back down the mountain.
We arrived at Adams on the morning of the 24th, got our permits, and began the long skin up the snow covered road that gives access to Mt. Adams south side. We skinned up the road for about six miles to its end at the Cold Springs campground and then skinned up another mile and a half or so to treeline on Adams to get a good basecamp. The day started with sunshine but it clouded over and began to snow heavy, sticky, and wet as we made out way up the mountain.
photo- Zach Taylor skinning up the road towards the Cold Springs campground and Mt. Adams. photo by Craig Burger, 2012.
The snow stuck stubbornly to the bottom of our skis as we made our way up, doubling our difficulty. Finally we decided to make camp at about 6500' feet.
We found a nice open spot with good views of the south ridge and the southwest chutes of Mt. Adams and began digging in, making walls, and drinking wine. After a couple hours we had our home for the next few days set up.
We made some Mountain Houses and watched weather deteriorate around us. We went to bed with snow coming down all around. I remember waking up throughout the night to the tent collapsing down on top of us from all the new snow. I would hit the top of the tent, knock everything down around me, and then repeat again an hour later. It snowed well over a foot that night.
We woke up in the morning to howling wind and more snow. We hung out in the tent for most of the morning and waited for weather to improve. The winds relented a bit and boredom got the better of us so we decided to go tour up the south ridge as far as we could go and scout things for a hopeful summit attempt the next day.
We skinned up to 8500' or so. We passed some guys from Texas that were moving real slow, complaining about the altitude or something like that...hah, I live at 9500'. (and i am from texas so I can make fun.
photo-Zach Taylor hanging out at Mt. Adams basecamp. photo by Craig Burger, 2012.
The weather deteriorated and we kept on getting whited out so we skied back down to camp. We discussed a summit attempt the next day and decided to get up and go for it unless weather was absolutely horrible.
We got up on the morning of the 26th and began skinning towards the south ridge. Clouds swirled around the mountain, sometimes masking its summit, other times not. Weather looked ok, but not great as we made our way up the ridge. Much of the ridge was comprised of blue ice and made for time consuming travel conditions. Skin, hike, skin, slide back down hill, repeat... I ended up regretting not bringing my crampons. Despite the low angle terrain the blue ice made going difficult.
photo- Craig Burger skinning at treeline on Mt. Adams. photo by Zach Taylor, 2012.
We had a great view of Mt. St. Helens to our west, for the first time completely free of cloud cover.
photo- Mt. St. Helens viewed from Mt. Adams. photo by Zach Taylor, 2012.
As we climbed higher clouds built around us and we were completely enveloped in cloud cover for the upper part of the ridge. We contoured slightly climber's right of the south ridge proper and ended up on the Mazama glacier just below the false summit. It steepened a bit and we climbed over a couple crevasses as we stepped onto the false summit in the clouds.
photo-Zach Taylor skinning up Mt. Adams. photo by Craig Burger, 2012.
photo-Craig Burger skinning up Mt. Adams. photo by Zach Taylor, 2012.
photo-Craig Burger high on Mt. Adams. photo by Zach Taylor, 2012.
photo- Zach Taylor climbing the Mazama glacier just below the false summit of Mt. Adams. photo by Craig Burger, 2012.
The Southwest Chutes drop off the false summit. They are sustained at 40 degrees for over 4000'. We took a few minutes to figure out where the drop in was before continuing to the real summit.
The south ridge offers a crevasse free passage up Mt. Adams but every other side of the mountain has large glaciated areas with big crevasses and complex route finding. If you stay on the ridge between the false and main summit you can mostly avoid crevasses as well. However, you do walk above the White-Salmon and Mazama glaciers and it is easy in poor visibility to end up on one of them. Then the crevasse hazard increases significantly. We did not bring ropes and wanted to avoid this problem. Our wands allowed for easier route finding in the clouds between the false summit and the main summit and back.
The snow conditions here were terrible; mostly convoluted ice and wind hardened sastrugi. Despite the low pitch angle I was thinking that I would probably walk back down to the false summit to avoid damaging my gear. Craig decided to contour west just on the southside below the summit and he found a gully dropping off the main summit plateau that was filled with powder and offered a great descent off the main summit and back to the false summit. Thanks Craig! We summited in a white out with almost no visibility.
We took a few pics and walked over to the top of the gully and dropped off the summit. The gully provided some nice snow conditions down to the saddle between the main and false summits. Craig sidehilled on his skis and I ended up just walking for a few minutes. We collected our wands and walked over to the top of the southwest chutes.
After spending several hours with no visibility whatsoever the clouds actually lifted off and the sun came out as we readied for our descent down into the southwest chutes.
From the top the snow conditions looked like crap, wind hardened and interpersed with ice patches. The chutes are still only 40 degrees and we figured we could manage the difficult snow conditions.
I dropped in first traversing across the chute looking for better snow...The chute is real wide, maybe a hundred feet across.
photo- Zach Taylor on the summit of Mt. Adams. photo by Craig Burger, 2012.
As I traversed across I could see what looked like softer snow on the other side. As I got closer my hopes rose and then I was on it. Powder!!! Soft, pushy well bonded Cascade powder! Excited I yelled back to Craig that he should ski across to me. He did and we both had big smiles on our faces as we dropped in one at a time taking turns skiing this beautiful run in amazing snow conditions with sun finally shining down on us. After a week of bad weather, our patience had paid off, and the mountain Gods were smiling on us.
photo-Craig Burger skiing the southwest chutes on Mt. Adams. photo by Zach Taylor, 2012
photo-Craig Burger skiing the Southwest Chutes on Mt. Adams. photo by Zach Taylor, 2012.
photo-Craig Burger skiing the Southwest Chutes on Mt. Adams. photo by Zach Taylor, 2012.
photo- Zach Taylor riding the Southwest Chutes. photo by Craig Burger, 2012.
photo-Craig Burger skiing the Southwest Chutes. photo by Zach Taylor, 2012.
As we descended further the snow transitioned seamlessly from powder to corn. I usually find whooping and making unnecessary noise in avalanche terrain innapropriate but the snow was so good and avalanche danger was not really there so there were a few whoops made as we skied out the bottom of the couloir.
photo- A look back up at the Southwest Chutes. photo by Zach Taylor, 2012.
This is a real big, long line. When you stand on top of it, you can tell it is a big line but then when you ski halfway down it and feel like you should already be at the bottom it really strikes home just how big this line is. Wow. If you a ski mountaineer, you must ski this line. It is awesome. We contoured on the 7000' line across a couple drainages to get back to our camp.
Craig's dad, Steve lives in Seattle, and had skinned up to the campground the day before and had made his way up to our camp while we were climbing Adams. We skied down on top of him and his dog a couple hundred vert above camp and said hi. I had not met Craig's dad before so it was good to meet him. He turned around and skied down with us to our camp. By then it was early evening and we decided to wait till the next day to try to get all the way out. We hung out with Steve for a few hours at our camp, made plans for leaving the next day, and he skied down to his camp a mile or so below ours.
We were tired and crashed out pretty early, happy and satisfied. The next day we skied down to Steve's camp, met up with him, and we all made our way down the road and out together.
photo- This is how much snow is at 5000' in the Cascades at the end of May. photo by Zach Taylor, 2012.
photo- At Steve's camp. photo by Zach Taylor, 2012.
photo- Craig, "skiing?". photo by Zach Taylor, 2012.
This was quite the trip. As is normal for the Pacific Northwest we had more bad weather than good weather. I was reminded of why I like living in sunny Colorado. It was a great trip though. The Southwest Chutes are unbeatable. I look forward to spending more time sitting in a tent in a blizzard in the Cascades in hopes of riding more lines like this one.