This is part of a series I’m doing on the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest. Part I, which is an overview of the geology of the Cascade Range, is worth checking out, especially if you’re something of a geo-nerd like me. I was going to start the tour with Mount Hood, the closest one to my home. But this past weekend I summited Mt. Adams in Washington. So I’ll start there.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Mount Adams, at 12,281 feet (3743 meters), was named for America’s second president. It is one of the larger volcanoes in the Cascades. If Mt. Rainier was not close by, Adams would get more attention. As it is, the second-highest mountain in Washington is a popular climbing & hiking destination.
The way this mountain was named is an interesting story. Native Americans named it Pahto, brother of Wy East (Mt Hood). The legend is that in the competition for the beautiful La wa la Clough (sometimes also called Loowit – St. Helens), Pahto won. Wy East grew angry and pounded Pahto over the head, accounting for the flat stubby summit of the mountain. Wy East’s anger also caused the landslide that led to the Bridge of the Gods over the Columbia River.
First sighted by Lewis and Clark (and misidentified as St. Helens), Adams has always been one of the more remote Cascade peaks. For a time it appeared as if the Cascades might be renamed the President’s Range, and many of the individual peaks are named after U.S. presidents. In the case of Adams, named for the second president, it was to be Hood that received the name. But a mistake by a mapmaker put the name Adams quite a distance to the north and east. Instead of the error being discovered and fixed, it happened that the location was occupied by a little-known but large mountain, and it was retained. Now THAT’S a coincidence!
Although Rainier has more extensive glaciers and subalpine meadow areas, Mount Adams has arguably a more beautiful surrounding area. To the south, the only paved access route to the mountain traverses a gorgeous valley. The White Salmon River, which runs down the valley, is a fantastic whitewater rafting or kayaking trip. Apple orchards and scattered forest populate the valley. The tiny town of Trout Lake greets you as you draw closer to the mountain. It is a bulky mountain too, totally unlike the spire of Mount Hood across the Columbia River to the south.
The Klickitat River drains the east side of Adams, and proceeds through a beautiful forested area, ending on the drier east side of the Columbia River Gorge. You can drive this route from Hwy. 14 on the Columbia up to Trout Lake. It is a wonderful route, very scenic. The Klickitat River is a fantastic whitewater trip. In fact, doing both the White Salmon and the Klickitat (both one-day trips) is a great way to spend a long whitewater weekend.
The east side of Adams is covered by the Yakima American Indian reservation. It’s worth obtaining a permit to hike through the beautiful Bird Creek Meadows on this side. This is one of the finest flower meadows in the Cascades. A recent forest fire has impacted both the south and east side though. You can camp in this area at either Bench Lake or Bird Lake. I think this area along with Adams Meadows on the north side are the finest subalpine meadows at Mt Adams.
A fantastic rugged backpacking trip can be had by traveling north from Bird Creek Meadows. You will travel off-trail and cross an icefield. There are some potentially serious stream crossings too. But your reward is camping in pristine meadows, likely seeing no other person. In Avalanche Valley, there is a spring that is amazing. Its flow is so great that a river pops into existence and begins flowing across a lovely meadow.
Adams is like other Cascade strato-volcanoes a young cone with most of the eruptions occurring in the Pleistocene. The volcano is characterized by long periods of dormancy. In fact, the last eruption was some 1400 years ago. It is not extinct though. As mentioned, it is a bulky mountain. It’s second in volume only to Shasta in California. Several overlapping cones cover the summit and account for its flat nature. Though it is no Rainier, the mountain does have its share of glaciers. In fact, Adams Glacier on the NW side is the second largest glacier in the Cascades (Carbon Glacier on Rainier is the largest).
It is the only volcano in the Cascades whose summit has been subjected to mining activity. In 1929 Wade Dean filed claims, built a mule trail to the summit, and conducted small-scale drilling for sulfur. There was not enough ore found to make it economic, and that was that.
Mount Adams is a fairly straightforward climb, at least on the south side. The South Spur trail starts from Cold Springs, trail #183. You need to stop at the ranger station in Trout Lake for information and a $15 climbing permit. The mountain attracts great amounts of snow, so unless you want a long approach, you’d do well to wait until June at the earliest. You can climb it with ice axe and crampons, but might not need them. No rope is needed. Although it can be done in one long day, we opted to camp at the so-called Lunch Counter. This is a flattish area at about 9000 feet (2743 meters), popular for camping and yes, lunch.
It was a beautiful evening. Next morning, since I had skis and the snow had frozen hard overnight, I slept in to 6 a.m. My companions started ahead of me. The climb from the Lunch Counter ascends steeply to the False Summit (aka Piker’s Peak) at 11,700 feet (3566 meters). From here it is a slight drop then on up to the summit. I was on top before noon. What a view! I skied over to the east side of the summit crater and peaked down the steep east-side route. The descent was perfect! I haven’t skied for a long time (because of the broken ribs), so was tentative on those first few steep turns. The snow was firm yet forgiving, and soon I was carving telemark turns down the mountain. My friends had a great time glissading down from the False Summit. Glissading is sliding on your butt.
Mount Adams is a great volcano which offers hiking, camping and flower photography, not to mention horse-back riding, whitewater rafting & kayaking. In the winter, it makes an excellent, uncrowded cross-country skiing destination. Climbing Adams is a great physical challenge. It’s perfect for novice climbers who want some safe practice with crampons and ice axe. But realize that altitude can be a factor, depending on your body’s particular reaction to it. Since it is high up, weather can change rapidly and violently. Storms and lightning are very real hazards, and people have died on this mountain.
Stay tuned for more on this series. If you’re interested in any of these images, just click on them. If you end up in a gallery and are having trouble finding the image, simply contact me. They are copyrighted and not available for download without my permission, sorry. Thanks for your interest and thanks for reading!