Thursday, August 20, 2015

I'll Be Back

Mt. Adams at sunset
The 14-day forecast showed mostly sunny skies over Mt. Adams as I began my mental preparation for the summit attempt of just over 12,000 feet. Mt. Adams is the second highest volcano in Washington and I might add, has one of the steepest starts of the five.

My friend Lauren and I mapped out our itinerary from start to finish as we neared the weekend we would attempt the climb. About five days before, forecast models were showing a low pressure system moving south from Canada which would most likely induce convective thunderstorms over the area and soon enough, every forecast mentioned PM thunderstorms right over the two days we would attempt the climb. Fantastic.

Carbon Forests
Lauren and I were a bit nervous about the weather but decided to head up anyways. We pulled into the Trout Lake Ranger Station on Sunday, grabbed our Volcano Passes and headed to the trail head. The extremely dry weather regime this season had caused multiple forest fires and a large portion of the entire region had been burned. It was pretty amazing to see charred tree trunks as we wove through the forest road to the trailhead. Check out the picture to the right! Super Char! Not only were the surrounding forests doomed to death, but there was an abundance of loose dust around due to low ground moisture.

The trailhead to the snow level winds you through a somewhat steep grade through rocks and a lateral moraine below the Crescent Glacier. We pushed on to Lunch Counter which is roughly at 9,000 ft. Once there we were in a field of snow and volcanic rock with tons of man-made camp spots. This is where you'll want to camp if you attempt to summit this peak! We finally found a good secluded spot and set up home, boiled some water, and went to bed around 9pm. We would wake up very early and begin our summit at 2am. This early start and accompanying bad weather would later be our downfall..

I woke up around midnight to howling winds and hail/rain pelting our tent. We had left our bags outside so I freaked out and woke up Lauren who pulled them in our tent. It would be a long restless night as my sleeping pad slowly started to deflate. By the time I woke up to get ready for our ascent, I was sleeping on rocks. I can't say I was mentally ready for the climb when we geared up and headed out. I think we were both initially scared because we were going to guess our way up the mountain. We were not equipped with a GPS or map and my only sense of direction came from the mental picture of the summit I took the night before. The weather was windy and it was pitch black out but we stuck to our guns and headed upslope.

Poles would have been more handy here
I felt pretty confident navigating to start and once we found the very pronounced glissading chutes, I knew we were going the right way. However, the winds were brutal up there. It was also freezing, the snow was as hard as ice, and the lack of sleep got to us on the extremely steep climb up. We were basically stair stepping in darkness with no real sense of direction for two plus hours. I saw a few strings of lights below us which I assumed where groups also climbing up for a sunrise summit. But as the clouds seeped in, we soon couldn't see anything and the comfort of having people around disappeared. As far as I know, we were the only ones on the mountain, others had turned around already. It was so eerie. We later learned that multiple groups didn't make it up the summit that day. We both started to get extremely uncomfortable with our situation. We took a few 15 minute breaks in the dark, freezing and windy conditions, trying to sit in the snow holes carved out by decay. Soon enough, both of us weren't having fun. We decided to turn around right around 10,900 feet.

At the highest point I've been on Adams
I'm a little upset for giving up because I'm not sure if I can solely blame not making it to the summit on the weather conditions. I think I assumed the climb would be easy and we would just show up at the top in a couple hours. I was so tired and underestimated how hard it is to climb a mountain - it takes a lot of mental and physical will to make a summit.  The weather was not ideal and we needed more sleep. I was calling all the shots and it sucks to say we didn't make it up there on my lead. It definitely would have helped to have more climbing buddies to keep our morale high and a GPS to keep nerves low. I think then I could have pushed to the top in those conditions.

My new #1 rule now is to never go climbing without a GPS and map, especially if you're doing so in the dark!!

On a brighter note! I got to use my brand new crampons that work great. They're hybrids for hiking and ice climbing. Also, Mt. Adams is not going anywhere. I will get up it one day with the experience I gained from this climb. I'll be back.

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