I usually write about our expeditions soon after they happen, while the events are still fresh in my mind. I have started the story of Mount Adams a number of times but the timing didn’t feel right, for whatever reason. I think the reason I’m writing about the trip now is we are in the initial preparations for our Mt. Shasta climb and I have many of the same thoughts about Shasta as I did Adams. The difference is Mount Adams has prepared me for Shasta whereas I didn’t feel any climb had prepared me for the different type of mountain that Mount Adams is. It is the mountain that has moved the Posse from the beginner stage. The feel of the altitude and the size of it was unlike any I had felt. It had an overpowering presence. When I was walking across the summit plateau, I noticed the formation of the rocks and how they seemed unmovable up that high. The mountain has stood for so long at such heights that it has pride. Pride like a lion has. We were fortunate to walk on its slopes and paid a price for admission. Since the first climb on South Sister, I haven’t been challenged as I was on Adams. It was a welcome misery.
We left Redmond Oregon around five or six in the morning, it has been so long now I can’t remember the time. We made Hood River and stopped at the Taco Bell that the internet assured us was open. Due to the virus, it was closed. One of my dream meals at base camp is a taco bell bean burrito and I have yet to experience that. It may be just as well. My innards have a hard time dealing with food at 9000 feet and I can’t convince anyone that a fast-food burrito is food in its truest sense. Still, I mourned the burrito. We quickly found a place to gas up and had no problem loading up on convenience store rubble. And off we go again.
When I saw the mountain for the first time, I was expecting a big mountain and Adams fit the bill. It’s the second largest mountain in volume in the Cascade Range, it takes up a lot of space. As we found dirt road and slower going, it started sinking in, this is not like the other mountains we have climbed. We haven’t been here before as far as size and intensity go. Mount Adams was different for us and it was the exact kind of different we were ready for.
The excitement when the motor stops running, where the road ends, is a ritual of action. Time is flowing and pushing you toward the moment when you pop open the rear liftgate and grab your backpack. We all shuffled around, we have done this before and the conversation is light as we all go through our checklists. Do we have this? Are we going to need that? There are always items I bring that never make the cut. I think that the mountain being what it is, makes you redefine what a necessity is. Do I really want to lug this up the mountain? We all put on our packs and made the half mile trek to our first stop, the restrooms. One of the most important things to get timed right on an expedition is having to use the bathroom in a small window of opportunity. You don’t want to undershoot or overshoot this thing because if you have to use the bathroom on Adams, you are going to be packing that stuff out with you. We will do it if we have too. I can tell you that many a hiker has suffered down the trail just to be able to use the facility at the trailhead rather than pack the big blue burrito out with them. What is your trick for making sure you “climb through the window” at the trailhead?
The total length of the journey is eleven and a half miles. Easy enough. The first couple of miles are a slight uphill amid the trees. When you catch a glimpse of the upper part of the mountain, you realize that the more footsteps you make on moderate incline means that there’s less distance to spread out the required elevation gain. When you climb Adams in the summer, the trail follows big old piles of rock with timbers sticking out of them. After three miles, we were at the bottom of the headwall. The summer route goes left and up the ridgeline.
The climb begins.
The Posse is all about the digging in and doing. Most of the time this is when the kidding about and laughing take a back seat to slower steps and lips pouting out. Even after many climbs, your body must reacclimate to the stress you put it under. There is a place in every expedition when things get slanky, and there is the adjustment period to it. It takes a little bit for the bones and muscle to figure out that play time is over. We encountered our first steep section of snow and even though we did not put on our crampons, we knew the scent of the expedition had changed. It was no longer the sweet smell of greezy pizza fresh out of the oven, it was dirt and body odor mixed with one of those pine scented air fresheners you hang on your rearview mirror. If a bar of soap smelled like that scent, it would be called, “Why are you even using this stuff?” We weren’t even above the headwall yet. We were still at the bottom of the ridge that led to the top of the headwall.
One of the cool things about Mount Adams is the many places to pitch a tent and the little communities that form because of their proximity to each other. From the ridge that takes you above the headwall and on to Lunch Counter there are many of these sites with rocks piled up to make for good camping out of the wind. As I was falling asleep that night, I could hear people talking and carrying about and it had a comforting effect for me. Someone even blasted a Bluetooth speaker and the music carried over the mountain wind, it was like we all had an annoying neighbor blasting music in the middle of the night but this time it was fun. No need to call the cops. Imagine how that call would go. “You have a noise complaint where!? Yeah…we will send an officer right over…click.”
For some of the Posse, the climb up to camp was just as tough as the climb from camp to the summit. It was in the heat of the afternoon and the sun was splashing off the snow. The incline was steeper, and it was constant all the way to Lunch Counter. A few of us went up ahead to find a spot with enough tent sites for the group. There was a stream of people heading up and we thought it best to send the scouts on ahead. Turns out, Lunch Counter is huge and there are easily over a hundred tent sites up there. It’s like the worlds coolest KOA. We found our rock wall accommodations with a little run off creek close by. A traveler coming down the mountain had given me the hot tip about the place and assured me that there were enough sites for our group. One thing I noticed was the faces of the travelers going down compared to those of us gaining elevation. The downers were floating and lite, smiles and giggles, the uppers were walking like they had gravel sacks in their socks and certainly not giggling. I thought I heard a giggle from one of the many uppers, it turned out to be the opposite, a google. That’s right a google. That’s when someone on the steep side of a mountain moving in the upward direction is "searching" for a reason why they are putting their mind and body through this torture. The unintentional sound that comes out of their mouth is a google.
It was pure delight the moment I dropped my pack at our campsite, from here on up I didn’t have to lug a full pack. I was tired. Instead of resting, I started munching on some snacks and slurping water while setting up my tent. I wanted to get all the work done so the rest of the day and evening would be rest. The Posse started filtering in and I watched as they chose their spots and made home for the night.
I already realized that this mountain was different from the others we had climbed by the trip to camp. It was like climbing a mountain to get to Lunch Counter and we had much altitude left to gain. We had a clear view of the never-ending slog to Pikers Peak and the only way we knew the little black dots way up there were people was assumption. It was intimidating what our future held. Instead of turning our backs to it, we studied it and formed a game plan for scaling it. It is the steepest, longest section of mountain I have been on. It’s no nonsense, keep going up. There were little rocky sections along the way, and we used them as our resting points. As you scan the route, you see steep sections with some really steep parts mixed in. It just so happened that the steepest of all was the last two hundred yards at the very top. It was this little section that made sleep hard to come by that night. I am amazed at how we put ourselves in situations and places and let time push us farther along into them. We know that things are about to get slanky and we let the current lead us there.
The sunset on Mount Adams was spectacular.
Another thing that marked how different Mount Adams was for us was how the Posse acted at camp. Normally we are much more outspoken and lite hearted. Even during dinner circle, we all were mostly quiet, and I could feel in myself and the others a seriousness. I believe that as an adventure becomes more intense the proper response is to mirror the situation. It does not mean it’s not fun anymore, it means that we acknowledge where we are and give it its due respect. We had been preparing for this expedition, preparing for an unknown and our response was appropriate. As I slept that night, some change fell out of my pocket and was with me in my bed. I really enjoyed the thought that, in that place, money meant nothing. My job and my cars and all the other stuff had no value, they offered me nothing on the mountain. I pictured myself on that steep part just below Pikers Peak, knowing that soon I would be there. I wanted to be there and didn’t at the same time. I guess that’s the recipe for adventure. Go where coins aren’t worth anything. I would sure need them tomorrow, back in the low country, greasy food isn’t free.
The week before the expedition, Keegan threw his back out. He missed work because he was stoved up on his bed, doing his best impression of a piece of jerky. I was convinced that he wouldn’t make the trip at all. He did make the trip and made it to Lunch Counter. That was as far as he would go, and we give him mad props for it. The sun blasting off the snow gave him the worst sunburn of the group. It was weeks before he recovered. When we climbed Mcloughlin in the snow, I burned so bad, I vowed to always carry sunblock. I carried it but didn’t apply it. I didn’t burn at all. At the summit a sunblock angel lady was offering sunblock to everyone and I did apply some to my face. I’m sure that saved me from agony. Keegan had his walkie and kept in contact with us and watched our progress from camp. I don’t have any concrete plans to ever climb Adams again, if I do, it will be with Keegan or Tyler.
Tyler is afraid of heights and his chances of finding the top of Adams was less than fifty percent in my mind. On top of that, he attempted the climb in brand new boots. We were still below the headwall and his boots were already destroying his heels. He was hobbled. He made it to Lunch Counter, and I figured that would be it for him. He had other plans. It was easy to see the discomfort he was in as we made our way to Pikers Peak. He kept going. I forged on ahead of the group to get to the steepest section as I film the expeditions and wanted some footage of the Posse on that spot. Tyler was with Apolo just below Aaron, Christian and Jose. They were at the bottom of the steepest section. It was the most uncomfortable part of the climb for me. It was steep enough that turning around to sit on the mountain and film the group was a bit unnerving. It didn’t feel like I was in danger, but it was knocking on the door. I had an ice axe for arrest if I slipped and there weren’t any rocks below that I would slide into causing injury. It would be frightening to slip but probably nothing more than that. It was fun.
I quickly made my way to Pikers Peak and waited for the travelers. Soon Aaron and Christian arrived. Then I saw Jose pop into view. He gave me the news that Tyler had turned around. I don’t know if the combination of his new boots shredding his feet and fear of heights were the cause or just his fear of heights. I really like to thrash into Tyler because that is how we do. Our relationship is based on making the other look bad and pointing it out to the world. I thoroughly enjoy when Tyler makes me out to be a loser in front of people and he enjoys the same treatment from me. I have found though, that when it comes to mountains, no dice. His fear is very real and to make light of it in printed form isn’t cool. When we are face to face in living color and he starts bragging about how great he is and brings the mountain into the conversation, that’s a different story, let the shame rain down. There are many things I would love to write but will have to save it for in person humiliation. Tyler went farther then I thought he would, he was only a few feet from Pikers Peak and the summit would have been a cakewalk from there. If he ever wants to try again, I have no choice but to join him.
When Jose made it to Pikers Peak, he gave me one of the best photos I have taken. This describes better than words the struggle to Pikers Peak. The summit was finally in view and although it looked a long way off, it was not comparable to what we had already climbed.
Apolo also made Pikers Peak, he climbed the steepest section after having watched Tyler turn around. I have never asked him if he considered turning back at that point. I’m sure there was some struggle to overcome in that moment.
A common occurrence on a mountain expedition is the little groups that form. We like to talk about staying together as one big group, but the reality is that we don’t. We break into little groups of two or three. We maintain contact with each other with walkie talkies. You would think that staying in one big group would be easy, but it’s not. Things start happening on a mountain that aren’t planned, and we all react differently to it. There was a section right at the beginning of the climb that was almost as steep as the Pikers Peak section. We were all close together, making our way up. We got word from Joseph and Vivian that they had to stop and adjust crampons. This created separation. To stop on a steep section doesn’t make sense so we made our way up to our first rocky area for a break. Joseph and Vivian were within sight. Everyone has an internal clock when it comes to breaks and how fast they move. When it’s time to start moving again, you start moving. You may want five minutes and me ten, and that is what happens on a mountain. If we waited for Joseph and Vivian it would be five minutes more and they would need ten to fifteen minutes beyond that. It’s too long, that can make you stiffen up and game over. There is an individual self-preservation involved when things get intense, and we all get it and let each person have it while they rein it in to accommodate the others. It’s one of the things that happen up there. It’s part of it. Aaron and Christian left first, and started climbing straight up. Myself, Jose, Apolo and Tyler decided on a route to the right at an angle and then back to the left to ascend another steep area that was about three football fields long. Another separation. We had line of sight and verbal communication, so we were good. The point is, in a group, prepare for people to break into smaller groups. Make sure that you have a way to communicate from group to group. Mount Adams is not a technical climb, it is a long, hard climb. It is very easy to lose someone on something that big if not properly equipped.
Joseph and Vivian were climbing at the same pace as the rest of us. They weren’t gaining nor losing ground. I was unable to get their story in real time and I regret it. There is so much good stuff happening on our expeditions from a personal point of view and I’m unable to capture it all. We each have physical and mental struggles and they create stories. They change the way we interact with the mountain, other people and even ourselves. I’m sure that if I sat down and talked with each person about this expedition, I would have enough content to write an entire book. Mountains are extraordinary places, and they create extraordinary stories.
From Pikers Peak you can see the final climb to the summit. First you have to make your way across the summit plateau and then lose elevation. My body was tired, the elevation was a factor and my mind wasn’t dealing with it very well. It’s hard to explain what it’s like in those moments. There is anger, frustration, pain. There is mental dialogue that doesn’t make sense, it’s a side of myself that I don’t deal with often. There is also resolve and confidence. I forced myself to stop and look around, I was standing in the sky on a beautiful mountain. The place between the false summit and summit is expansive and vast and personal. When I think about Mount Adams, mostly I think about that place. It’s where me and Mount Adams met. It’s like when two people see each other across the room and everyone else disappears and it’s only them and the music, two hearts beating. Well, not really. It was a good moment for me. It was a mountain moment. Each mountain I climb has one, and never has the moment been on the summit.
When I was only moments from the summit, Joseph told me that Vivian was going to stop her climb at Pikers Peak and he would continue on. Jose, Aaron, Christian and Apolo were between Joseph and myself. About five minutes after I made summit, Jose joined me. Then Joseph. It took me around an hour to go from Pikers to the summit. Joseph did it in fifteen minutes. At that altitude, that’s impressive. We weren’t able to pin down a good trail name for Joseph after many expeditions until that moment. Joseph was given the very fitting trail name, “Speed.”
Aaron and Christian arrived and soon Apolo joined us on the summit of Mount Adams. It was a sunny day with little wind, a perfect climbing day. Twenty to thirty other people were on the mountaintop, a little community of strangers sharing a common destination. I don’t know them, but I do know about them, they are like me and me like them.
The temperature was high enough to get the snow to soften up and the glissading was awesome. It took us hours to get from camp to Pikers Peak. From Pikers Peak to camp, minutes. At camp we loaded up our packs and started the four mile hike back to the cars. I was tired and my mountaineering boots started disagreeing with my feet. I longed for my light, comfy altras that were hanging out in the Xterra. Keegan and Tyler were the first to break camp and head to the cars. They told me that they got a little off trail and had a hairy little time along the way. Aaron, Christian, Joseph and Vivian made it back no problem. Last down was Jose, Apolo and Me.
Mount Adams was a challenge for us. It was the first mountain that required crampons and Ice Axes. We all agree that climbing steep snow is better than steep, loose rocks. The trail is easy to follow and both days we ran into rangers patrolling the route. It’s a good step up from easier mountains. It’s like a giant South Sister, non-technical, big.
When you climb Adams and you reach that point between Pikers Peak and the summit. The place where you go down before you go up, stop for a minute. Look around. You will be standing in the spot that I think about as often as I think about this great mountain. It’s a good place in the world. Then, stop dilly dallying around and get the summit.
Be safe and have fun out there…
Here are some videos from the Adams expedition.