Friday, June 17, 2011

Attempting Mount Adams

There was not a good forecast for Mount Adams but we packed high hopes with our gear and set off for the long drive to the state’s third highest mountain at 12,276 feet.

A never-ending snow season meant the white powder had yet to melt and we had to add an additional four miles onto our approach. We parked the Range Rover on the side of the road and began pulling our stuff together. This was by far the heaviest pack I’d attempted to break my back but even the instant pain couldn’t damper my excitement.

The first four miles were relatively flat, winding through the forest and a meadow before we turned a corner and gasped at the massive snow-capped peak. The sky was a brilliant blue, the snow was crystal white and the air was crisp. We kept our fingers crossed that the weather would remain and kept pushing uphill on the South Spur route (the most common climbing route).

It was slow going since many members of our party kept different paces. Our goal was to reach the Lunch Counter to camp that night in a walled-off area of rock so we wouldn’t be as exposed to the whipping winds. But after about seven miles or so, democracy took over and all but two voted to stop early for the night rather than press on.

We threw up our tents just below the false summit and started melting water to replenish our dehydrated systems. Even from this lower elevation, the views were lovely. Several other famous peaks in the Cascades were easily spotted and Adams itself stood tall and proud.

The sun set early, stealing the brightness from the sky but adding pink and bluish hues on the horizon.

When our alarms beeped at 3 a.m., the winds had picked up significantly and a storm had settled squarely above us. To my great disappointment, the team leader’s sensibility reigned and we trudged back toward the car with our noses freezing, snow hiding our tracks and our pride just a little bruised.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Granite Mountain in all its glory

Distance: 8 miles

Elevation gain: 3,800 feet

Location: Snoqualmie

Guide books billed Granite Mountain as one of the most heavily traveled paths in the corridor, but that must be in warmer weather because there weren’t many others today crazy enough to trudge up a thigh-burning trail still covered in snow.

The trail climbs 3,800 feet in just over four miles, starting out in a lush forest that wastes no time ascending 800 feet in the first mile. It was pretty soon after we went right at a fork (the other direction goes to Pratt Lake) that we found the first snow field. We dug out our axes and crossed with no problem. The switchbacks made the trek a tad steeper, we traversed an avalanche chute and it wasn’t long before we stopped to put on crampons.

A heavy fog rolled in as we slowly moved up the snowfield, eying the gullies and trying to determine the best direction to head. We chose to hang right – until we found ourselves standing atop a cornice. We quickly backed away and snaked our way across the ridge and through a bowl until we spotted the old fire lookout in the distance.

After a quick debate as to how long it would take us to climb the remaining half mile or so (I was already running late for work), we pulled out our poles and carefully made our way up yet another avalanche chute. It was less than 15 minutes before we found ourselves at the base of the lookout, though it was locked and we couldn’t get in to enjoy the 360-degree views others boast about seeing.

The hike down was much quicker (yay for glissading!) and we descended in about two hours – just enough to enjoy a panoramic view of the valleys before hurrying back to Tacoma.