OHE July 31, 1998

Date: Fri, 31 Jul 1998 05:22:51 -1000
From: "Randy Jackson" (ranjack@u.washington.edu>
Subject: Not exactly a pau hana hike...

Greetings from sunny & hot Washington State:

We took a hike more like a trip up Mauna Loa this past weekend! Kathleen & I headed out to attempt a climb of Mt. Adams - one of five major glacier covered volcanic peaks in the Pacific Northwest and, at 12,276' in elevation, the second highest peak in Washington state (the highest is Mt. Rainier). This was the ultimate test for the mended bones of Kathleen's apparently-healed foot. Actually, earlier last week we gave the foot a serious pretest in the mosh-pit at the Pearl Jam/Wallflowers concert. It got stomped on and bruised since she made the unfortunate decision to wear her zories (now she understands why gen-Xers wear doc martins!), but it survived intact. Having survived the stomp test it was now time to give it the 45lb backpack, excess mileage, steep grade, and frost test.

Our route would be the South Climb, and while it is considered a non-technical route, ice axes and crampons are recommended year round. We decided, however, to climb with only ski poles and heavy, lug-soled hiking boots since the snow on the higher reaches was not expected to ice up very much at night at this time of year. Our trip began by registering at the Trout Lake Ranger Station just east of the only gas station in Trout Lake, Washington. A packet of information on the trip is available there, along with the required free wilderness permit. Trout Lake isn't too far from the famous Hood River windsurfing area of the Columbia Gorge on the Washington/Oregon border and is anywhere from 4 to 6 hours south of Seattle, depending on what roads you decide to take. It took us 4 hours taking the backwoods shortcuts. It was hot in the valley and the weather was clear with temps in the high 90's.

It's interesting to note that Indian legend has it that, in the days of old, two young warrior chiefs were fighting over a beautiful young woman who could not choose between them. The fighting resulted in the destruction of villages and forests by fire and flying boulders. This disturbed the Great Spirit Sahale, who struck the three down - but in his compassion for them reared mighty mountain peaks where each fell. The fair maiden became Mt. St Helens, and the warrior cheifs became Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams.

Our journey began with an 11 mile drive up bumpy and washboarded forest service roads to the Cold Springs campground where the south climb trail begins. The road dwindles down to near creekbed quality for the final 3 miles - a real slow go, but probably doable even in a rent-a-wreck. We arrived at the trailhead (5600') at about 2:30pm Saturday and prepared for the 4 hour backpack up the trail to the climbers camping area at a place called the Lunch Counter (9000'). It's the last relatively level area on the mountain before heading up to the summit and a great place for a basecamp - well above tree level with nothing but rock, snowfields, and awesome views to keep you company. The surrounding peaks of Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens (what's left of it - apparently the beautiful maiden grew weary of being a beautiful mountain and blew her top 18 years ago!) seemed to be just stones throws away. Towering above us was the summit and "false summit" (11,300') of Adams that we would head up in the morning We found a flat, sandy spot on the rocks next to the snowfield to camp. Actually, the sand is ash left over from the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, which looked gorgeous and ragged in the setting sun as we set up the tent and cooked dinner. It's very desolate up there. We had to melt snow for water, and the temperature plunged as the sun went down. But the stars were simply outstanding, and there was just a sliver of moon setting in the west. The wind came up and we moved into the tent for the night.

Some people like to start the climb by starlight. We, however, arose at 6:00am and began hiking the up snowfield towards the summit under cloudless skies at about 7am. From the Lunch Counter to the False Summit is a half mile expanse of snow and ice which gains 3000 to 3500 feet that takes two or three hours, rest breaks included, to acquire. The entire way up this part of the mountain is like working out on a stairmaster, in steps kicked into the snow and ice. Even with the heavy packs left at our base camp, sheer determination is required to make slow and steady progress up to the False Summit where the route then swings to the right with a fantastic view of the true summit across a broad, snowy saddle. Carvings on the rocks, several strangely reminiscent of the Hawaiian "Kapu" sign, at False summit date back to the 1920's when some hardy soul used to mine sulfer from the vocanic summit area!

The route heads north across the saddle for a quarter of a mile and then heads straight up another very steep snowfield for the the last leg. It takes about an hour from False Summit to the summit. We finally summited, out of breath in the thin mountain air, at about 11am. To the north we could now see Mt. Rainier, and to the south we could make out Mt Jefferson in Oregon. All around us was a magnificent 360 degree view of peaks and valleys - as well as a fair amount of haze in the skies below us from distant forest fires and just plain old smog from Portland and Seattle. The temperature was an amazingly warm 55 degrees! We spent about an hour taking it all in and munching lunch. The sky was incredibly blue. No problems with the foot! Now it was time to test the okole!

One of the true joys of climbing Adams is the rapid descent down chutes carved in the snow by the butts of 100's of climbers before you. Using your axe or poles as brakes you sit down in the luge-like chute and metally prepare for a several thousand foot nonstop drop. What took 2 hours to climb up takes 15 minutes to descend! Many people bring their skis and snowboards up, but the butt-ride is the best by far - especially on a clear, warm day when you don't mind getting totally soaked and frozen. What a ride. Thing is, though, your okole will get bruised a little, but the thrill makes it all worthwhile!

We arrived back at our camp at about 2pm, broke it down, and packed it all up for the slog back to the trailhead. As we descended, the air temperature increased to about 100 degrees. We wished we were back at the summit, but as we looked back up dark thunder clouds suddenly enveloped the top of the mountain. It all started from just a tiny wisp of cloud and quickly developed into a huge, dark cloud - a sobering reminder of the nature of weather on such large peaks. One must always be prepared for the potential of severe conditions. The ride home through the forest in the setting sun on a beautiful, hot summer evening was filled with great memories of the climb. Good to know Kathleen's foot works again.

Hey, Paka - are you coming up this way in August? Plenty good hikes to make in the great northwest this time of year. Good luck on Mauna Loa!

Best wishes to all of you - Randy & Kathleen

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