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The Outdoor Athlete Book by Courtenay and Doug Schurman



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About Us > Adventures > Mt. Adams

Mt. Adams, 6/28-29/03

Having seen a few recent trip reports that suggested that the Adams Glacier (Mt. Adams, 12,276’) was ready for climbing, four of us from the Seattle Mountaineers opted to do an “Express” or last-minute trip up the ice route: Doug and Courtenay Schurman, Monique Cherrier, and Ken Garrison. For all of us, it would count as an ice climb credit in the intermediate climbing course; for two of us, it was to be an effort at graduating from the course. The weather forecasts looked fairly decent, if somewhat warm; we had a dedicated foursome who promised to be good company; and we had reports of prime conditions through the icefall. I crossed both sets of fingers and toes and prayed that the weather would cooperate.

We left Seattle at 7 a.m. after cramming four climbers’ gear into one vehicle, and with little difficulty found our way through Morton and on to Randle, then to the trailhead some 35 miles beyond along winding gravel roads to the Killen Creek trailhead. It was already quite a hot day, mid-80’s and dry, so I was in shorts and shirt sleeves. However, even at 11:15 a.m. when we headed off from the cars, the bugs were out and relentless whenever we stopped moving. Afterbite became my best friend as the itching got to be intense. We headed up to the meadows at 6,900’ by about 2:15 p.m. and set up camp in the meadows at a snow-free area with two nice tent spots. We could see the entire Adams Glacier route as well as the infamous North Ridge, our descent route. The first glimpses of the Adams Glacier from the road were, admittedly, quite intimidating – “We’re going to go up THAT??” I remember thinking the same exact thing while looking at the Triple Couloirs route on Dragontail toward the end of May. But as we got closer to it, our depth perception improved; what once looked downright scary began to appear a bit more doable.

Monique and I struggled to keep the bugs away; we kept every inch covered, despite the heat; even diving into the tent to escape from the stinging and buzzing was not an option, as the tents were quite literally ovens. We relaxed as much as we could into early evening, boiling stream water, cooking dinner, studying the route, and preparing for the next day. Several parties were already in camp – a couple with a black lab named Travis; a party of 6 on their way out from a climb of the North Ridge; 2 skiers who had done climbs and descents of BOTH the Lyman Glacier AND the North Face of the Northwest Ridge in consecutive days; and a pair on their way up to do a carryover of the same route we were doing. At 7 p.m. the pair of climbers closest to our tent returned from doing the Adams Glacier, looking tired but glad to be done. By 8 we braved the heat and turned in to nap until our 2:30 wake-up alarm.

I have a habit of waking up more often whenever I wear ear plugs to minimize noise, for fear that I’d miss the alarm – this time it was not snoring that drove me to the plugs, but the buzzing bugs. At 1 a.m. I started waking on the half hour, and at 2 I took my earplugs out so I wouldn’t miss the alarm. That’s when I first noticed the wind – at first, minor puffs, but by 2:30 it was pretty steady, and winds always sound louder when you’re in a tent that with anything that can flap! We were up by 2:20 and heading out to the base of the route “just to at least check it out” by 3:30 a.m. The faint morning glow to the northeast gradually increased as we traveled, making for some of the most spectacular sunrise scenery I’ve ever encountered, including a sunrise shadow of Adams reminiscent of the aurora borealis, with shimmering cotton-candy strands (rain?) floating vertically from the shadowy flanks projecting onto clouds farther south. We clamored up one disintegrating moraine and carefully down the other side amid large boulders, talus and scree, and I remember thinking I didn’t look forward to descending the North Ridge if it was more of the same.

An hour into the approach to the base of the route we found a nice flat area to check on the weather again; there were clouds forming to the south, the wind had continued, but it wasn’t getting any worse, so we decided to go ahead and rope up before starting across the crevassed bottom reaches of the Adams Glacier. From there on up, anytime the wind came off the yellowing rock above us in just the wrong way, we caught the distinct stench of sulfurous rock. We stopped long enough to tie into two 40 meter glacier ropes and study the two pairs of climbers already making their way through what we called the crux of the climb: the hourglass right of the bergschrund, our “point of no return.” By 5:30 we were at the base of the climb and the weather was holding, so we kept going up.

The pair who had climbed yesterday and the two pairs above us had kicked great steps into the 35-40-degree slopes. We had pickets, screws, and a second ice tool just in case, but never used anything but the pickets in a running belay up the hourglass chute. I led up to the base of the bergschrund, where Doug then took over; there was a path straight up to the lip of the schrund, and another headed around the left; we opted to go around. Beautiful ice formations in a huge, gaping bergschrund, with enough of a lip to walk on the lower portion that had pulled away from the upper slopes. Two step-across areas were getting mighty thin, however, and I hazarded a guess that the current route would be impassable in about 2 weeks. Once Doug headed up through the hour-glass, a 45-degree slope at the base of the North Face of the Northwest Ridge notorious for rock fall, we’d reached the point of no return and simply kept going. We used 4 pickets in a running belay and throughout the entire section, we had to dodge marble- to baseball-sized rock fragments tumbling down on occasion from the sun-kissed rock up far above us. Whenever anything was headed for any of us, the others were instructed to call out VERY loudly, “ROCK!!!” Unfortunately, one such projectile got me in the arm just as I heard Doug yell. After pausing momentarily to catch my breath and stamp back threatening tears, I forced myself to ignore the pain and keep moving. It was imperative that we get out of there before any larger chunks could do more damage.

A solo climber in green pants caught up to us as we made our way through the chute and to the upper reaches where it wasn’t quite as steep. His comment about the climb being "just another day at the office" made us aware that this was a climbing ranger. Above the chute we stopped to take a well-earned water, sunscreen, and food break about 9:30 a.m.; we’d been going hard for nearly 6 hours. We gazed out across the valley toward St. Helens and Rainier, amazed that the “storm system” to the south had disappeared. We decided then and there that we had made the right call to continue. The wind gone, we stayed there for perhaps 20 minutes, then headed up for the upper reaches, where again the slopes steepened to about 40 degrees and the route maneuvered around several crevasses. Once we topped out near the Pinnacle, the winds from the south blew the horrible sulfur odor right across our tracks, and I had to pressure breathe from my mouth only to combat the nausea caused by the combined effects of the altitude and bad odor.

Once we topped out above Adams Glacier, we had a remaining 600 feet to gain. The broad summit of Adams is enormous, many football fields across; Adams has more mass than even Mt. Rainier, which is over 2,000’ higher. And Adams can generate its own weather just like its giant sister to the northwest. As we approached the last 50 feet of vertical, we could see about 25 people standing along the highest plateau of the summit. Many had climbed the most popular, non-technical South Spur route. I was not too happy to see very dark gray clouds to the south; I was even less thrilled to feel gale force winds (perhaps 50-60 mph) hit us head-on as soon as we stepped onto the highest point at 11:15 a.m. A ranger (likely the same one who followed us up) was checking for volcano climbing passes; by the time we’d clicked a few summit shots and untied from the rope, everyone else had already started down the south side. We raced back across the plateau to the north ridge, hoping we would not get caught in a whiteout.

Merely an hour later, the winds had died and the sky above the summit was blue again – how that can happen so quickly remains a mystery to me. The route down the North Ridge was much different from the route up, something I generally enjoy (more scenery and perspectives from high) but there is so much loose volcanic rock that travel is tentative at best and unnerving crossing some of the highest snow slopes above Lava Glacier. We kept looking for snow fingers off deep, rotten gullies that would allow us access to choice glissades, but only ended up having one good one down to camp and several false starts downward that resulted in having to climb up again on some of the loosest, messiest choss I’ve ever encountered. I’d only recommend ascending it in very early season when travel is primarily on snow. We arrived back at camp at 4 p.m. under blue skies and continued wind, refueled, packed up, and hiked the remaining 2 hours with one routefinding challenge: finding the intersection of the meadow with the Pacific Crest Trail to get us back to the cars. By 7:15 when we arrived, the 14 cars in the parking lot on Saturday had turned to two, and the mosquitoes were so thick that we opted to drive to Randle before changing out of our boots. After a very long 16-hour day of high adrenaline up steep snow and dodging stray rocks in the bowling alley, many mosquito bites, two cut fingers, and a wide variety of weather conditions in a single day, we’d done what we’d set out to do: completed the Adams Glacier route and graduated from the intermediate climbing program. A hard-earned success, and most memorable adventure.


Doug prepares his feet


Monique stays covered to prevent bug access


Court braves the bugs but keeps the sun off


Break: Court and Doug enjoy the cool of the shade


Monique and Ken grab a bite to eat


Foursome with Adams Glacier route in background at first meadows


Rainier in distance on a beautiful Saturday in June


Doug looks back before continuing up the last push to meadow and camp


Last slope to camp


Court gets excited; route looks doable with added depth perception!


Dry "high camp" at 6800' with mega bugs


Doug is impervious to bugs; Monique and Court stay covered up


I'll be okay once they stop biting! key: bring AfterBite


Doug catches the skiers on their way down for route beta


Our refrigerator!


Doug studies the route description one last time


Adams profile with clear view of route from camp


Roping up at 4:30 just before glacier; great deep colored sunrise


Ken and Monique tie in short on 40m rope


Pink "rain" and Adams shadow in southern clouds


Peekaboo! The Pinnacle bathed in morning sunlight


Sunrise at 4:45 a.m.


The route up Adams Glacier, to the right then cut left above 10,000'


Ramp leading up to ice fall and crevasses


Court swaps leads and Doug heads through the bergshrund


Doug setting temporary anchor with crevasses in background just before crux chute


Doug leads across bergschrund lip


How small are climbers!? heading up to the chute


The chute; try to get through before 7 a.m. as path is notorious for rockfall from Pinnacle


Running belays on 40-45 degree slope along chute


Good steps kicked into snow where it steepened to 45 degrees.


Monique poses in front of high ice fall just before we stopped for break


Doug takes a sunscreeen and food break


Court with Pinnacle in background


Ken: I think we've got this one!


Monique studies the valley looking for our campsite


The Valley from our break spot


Doug continues up to 11,700'


North Ridge in background as we top out on Adams Glacier


Final crevasse at top of Adams Glacier


Final summit push; winds had calmed on Adams Glacier but picked up when we topped out


Holy Cow, I don't like the look of that dark sky! 25 climbers from S side were there when we reached top; nobody was left when we took off


The nasty sky of a SE Squall, 50-60 mph steady winds


Quick, get the summit shot and let's save our hides!


The Pinnacle and upper reaches of Adams Glacier


Finally, Court and Doug take off their crampons for the scree descent


View down the north ridge, storm subsided leaving warm temps and blue skies


Looking back at the North Ridge from about 7500'



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