Mount Adams - Circumnavigation
June 13-15th, 2008

Photos and story by Jason


"Any road followed precisely to its end leads precisely nowhere. Climb the mountain just a little bit to test it's a mountain. From the top of the mountain, you cannot see the mountain."

~Frank Herbert

The ways and shapes of mountain peaks dominate my every thought and action. They fill my memories, they fill my dreams. I can't escape them. Neither can I run from them. Every day to work, when the sunny skies are out, I can see sights of them whisk by between trees and phone pools, nearly transporting me from the smoggy city streets and freeways to the cool glaciers and high mountain tarns, each time arriving home having pondered future excursions into them. Among my many fascinations has been Mount Adams , a mountain that stands 2nd highest to Mount Rainier in Washington State , at 12276'. Of my 30-40 climbs of her there are still secrets. For years I've worked to unlock them. With a nice forecast one dream was recalled, that of circumnavigating Mount Adams . In this way, I would tie all my memories of it together. I would see the Klickitat Icefall and glaciers, Battlement Ridge, Victory Ridge, Rusk Icefall, Wilson Icefall, the Lyman's, Lava, Adams , White Salmon and everything between and beyond.

C.E. Rusk in the early 1900's led a party who were among the first to name many of its glaciers. The name of Adams came from an accidental placing of the name on a map and has since then stuck. Klickitat stands out as an Indian name like Mount Rainier's Tahoma and Baker’s Koma Kulshan as more appropriate names, their meanings closer to representing these mountains overwhelming sense of wonder rather than fulfilling some early politicians penchant for being remembered. Their meanings are hard to pinpoint but Beyond, Snowy Peak and Steep White Mountain come close.

The past storms of 2006 and 2007 have laid waste to many roads. Those leading to Adams fared poorly. FR 23, 25, and 90 have all been either washed out or covered by large mud slides. Repair for some of them is scheduled to take place later this year, but the budget strapped Forest Service will be hard pressed to repair them all, my hats off to them if they do. In response to all the road shenanigans, the quickest way took us south past the mountain, across the Columbia River and over to Hood River , before going back up to the mountain. This was a very long drive in comparison to what it normally is, adding several hours.

Friday Afternoon

On Friday night just before dark, we were stopped 4 miles before the trailhead by a log and deep snow. We began working our way upward with boots, but soon changed to skinning. There is a shortcut on a few of the switchbacks, but they aren't really worthwhile unless you are skiing down. Any mistake would be unfortunate and it is difficult to remember which ones you can skip and which ones you can't but on one I was sure of, I came upon a large porcupine who skittered up a pine tree. Whence first seeing it, I was sure it was a bear, but the dim light led me astray. I looked up the tree, but it wasn't looking back at me. Its bristling needled hair scraping branches and bark made for a noisy escape.

Our camp was made at 6100' under darkened skis. It was 10pm. We were already beat, but looking forward to the coming day's adventure. Since we were below tree-line my hoped for night photos were encumbered by trees and any photos were hemmed in by them.

Saturday Morning

The morning rose with fingered sunrays slicing through forest and snowed in slopes, racing up toward our tent and warming us up from a chilled night. After spending a hour melting water and eating, we quickly packed up and set out. Knowing that you are leaving one way and coming back by a different path was immensely exciting and wildly frightening at the same time. The unknown would be known and I couldn't help but push on through the first lava flows below the Mazama Glacier without letting a smile form. How lucky I am to be allowed to enjoy such arenas.

From camp to camp is over 20 miles of up and down terrain made more difficult by finding the best and most efficient routes. We made all the right moves until we were below the Klickitat where massive convulsed‑bulges of ice loomed over us and awe-inspiring glaciers and snowy headwalls slept above. I wish I had eyes in the back of my head. I took way too many photos. And wasn't getting much of anywhere since years of wondering what was there, to see it with my own eyes its glories was too much to just let go of, to pass around the corner and lose sight of it. For the moment, I was there. It was almost too much! And, seemingly sending us off, the North Lobe of the Klickitat sent ice thundering down its shoulder, rumbling to the slopes below with clouds of snow billowing above.  Climbing over rocks, we dropped off the other side and it was lost from sight. 

Coming into view was the Castle and Rusk. Further away, beyond these, were the ice walls of the Wilson Glacier. They dominated the fringe of the mountain, at the edge of what I could see. We wondered over moraines and rock bands, through trees and continued to climb back up what we lost by going around Battlement Ridge. There is a pass below Victory Ridge which is where Josh and I were stopped on an unsuccessful bid to ski around the mountain last year by wind and snow. I clearly remembered battling the wind. It was powerful enough to carry rocks into the air and fling them at us.

Looking back at the way we had come was the most difficult portion of the traverse. Forward was familiar terrain. Past the Lyman's, Lava Ridge and Headwall, North Ridge, West Face North Ridge, Stormy Monday, Adams Glacier, North Face North West Ridge and Northwest Ridge were truly spectacular! I consider this the best side of this mountain.

Throughout most of this section my camera wasn't working, having fogged up inside the lens. Largely disappointed, I put it away and enjoyed what was there to see (selfishly) with my own eyes.

The snow was sticky enough to allow our skis to glide on up hills as long as they weren't too steep. We skied right under the North Face and it was good to be back since my last visit (link). Conditions were certainly better.

We passed under the Pinnacle Glacier Headwall and the Northeast Face West Ridge and there Josh came upon a herd of mountain goats. Surely the same bunch I happened upon last year, less than 500' lower. They stayed put. These animals are wise and I learn from them. I should've recognized there leeriness in crossing the open slopes above us. Below them, we had been hearing ominous wumphing caused by new snows from the past week settling. Much anxiety was caused whenever they occurred, our hearts diving out from us somewhat like when a sonic boom passes over you and a sudden jolting look for where it originated swivels your neck upward. One such settling was the loudest I'd ever heard, reverberating far up the slope and stopping us all in our tracks. Above me, probably a 1000' off, an avalanche breaks off the rocks and set course down the hill. It was so far away, it was of no concern, but the idea that we could set off an avi from that far away was disconcerting.

The gentle slopes throughout this part of the mountain made for easy going and our worrying about progress began to feel less important. The way ahead was going fantastically. After crossing around the West Ridge we could see the White Salmon Glacier, Avalanche Glacier Headwall, SW Chutes and the edge of the South Face. What caught me here was the sight again of Mount Hood . It causes a double take and really brought into focus the idea of a circumnavigation. That morning I had seen it too. Now I was seeing it again under a bright afternoon light.

The Avalanche Glacier Headwall, for lack of a better name, was quite something in the sun. You could tell the snow was fantastic. We kept it in mind for the following day. I wasn't sure then what I wanted to do since the snow was a bit unstable, but that days consolidation may be enough to go have a look.

After so many ups and downs, over and arounds, I was excited to finally ski traverse a large way toward the South Face on crisp corn snow that shhhhhhhhhh as I glided across. It was a beautiful feeling. There were a few uphills required but nothing too significant. The hardest part was keeping your eyes off the mountain long enough to make any progress at all.


Finding camp was easier than I expected. Amar (mapquest) had a GPS, one of the few times I've ever skied with anyone who had one. It was informational to have it along, especially to know how far you'd come, etc. It allowed for me to take a bee line down last several hundred feet to camp. Wow what a feeling. There I was - done. What an experience. 

Looking down at my skis and then up at the mountain, I felt more sure of this place than I had before, even more confident. Some of her secrets no longer hidden from me were just then being realized. It was sad to find the unknown gone, the mystery. It is what I search for every time I go into the mountains, what I seek with every breath, every heartbeat I have. There is something wild about seeing what is hidden, what takes effort to go and appreciate. Something a photo can't relate. Something a story can't put into words.


***ROUTE ON ADAMS IN PHOTOS: Route page***


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