- Date: August 20-21, 2016
- Start: Cold Springs Campground
- Distance: 12.4 miles
- Duration: 2 days
- Type: Out-and-back
- References: Best Climbs: Cascade Volcanoes by Jeff Smoot; Washington Trails Association
This summer has been a busy one for outdoor adventures. Back in June, we participated in a week-long mountaineering course, successfully summiting Mount Baker during that time. In July, we climbed Mount Hood and backpacked Goat Rocks Wilderness. And at the beginning of August, we backpacked Garibaldi Provincial Park. Time in between was generally spent planning for the next upcoming trip. After our time in British Columbia, we decided that maybe it would be best to take a break, especially since we have one last backpacking trip coming up Labor Day weekend. Then, as I began writing about our Garibaldi adventure, as well as looking back on all we’d already accomplished since the end of June, the idea of “taking a break” seemed ridiculous. If we have the opportunity to get outside, why not take it? So, just one week after returning from British Columbia, we decided to tackle our third Cascade volcano for the summer.
Day 1: Cold Springs Campground to Lunch Counter (3.7 miles; 3 hours 8 minutes, breaks not included)
We decided to do a two-day climb of the mountain by base camping at Lunch Counter. Although there are climbers that complete the entire route from Cold Springs Campground without overnighting somewhere on the mountain, I think many choose the former in order to acclimate before the summit push.
The South Climb Trail #183 starts out in a burn zone, so from the get-go we were exposed to the sun. It was a warm day with temps somewhere in the 80s and we were hiking up in our mountaineering boots. Not the most comfortable idea, but it seemed better than carrying the heavy boots on our backs. The trail becomes less obvious, less stable (i.e. lots of loose rock), and steeper after Morrison Creek. Since we’d started relatively early, there were only a couple of other people on this section. By the afternoon, traffic is heavier and there’s usually a line of people leading up to the ridgeline and the edge of the snowfield. I hiked up to Lunch Counter last summer in these exact conditions. It was not pleasant. Thankfully, we were able to avoid this. It made the going much faster and less miserable. The final leg on the snowfield leading to Lunch Counter was a welcome change after traversing over loose rock the last hour.
We reached Lunch Counter in the early afternoon. At this point, the majority of Friday-Saturday climbers were making their way back to the trailhead, so we had our pick of sites. In retrospect, we probably could’ve chosen a site closer to the south slope, but we were anxious to set up and get out of the sun for awhile, so we pitched our tent in the first decent spot we came across. While Mack rested in the tent, I walked around Lunch Counter and scoped out the route for the next morning. I reminisced about the short time I’d spent here last summer while dayhiking with a group of women. Climbing the Cascade volcanoes was still a distant dream then, and that realization made me appreciate even more the fact that we were getting ready to climb our fourth the next morning. It’s incredible the things that can change in a year.
We spent the rest of the afternoon napping, snacking, and melting bag after quart-size bag of snow since we couldn’t find a decent water source. We decided on a 3 am alpine start and turned-in early. Unfortunately, my afternoon snooze had left me well rested and I was no longer sleepy. I stuck my head out of the tent to enjoy the sunset and gaze out at the majestic silhouettes of Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens in the distance. I thought back on sunsets on Mount Baker, as well as sunrises on Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens, all of them breathtaking. How fortunate I am to be making these kinds of memories.
Day 2: Lunch Counter to Mount Adams summit, then back (5 miles; 5 hours 57 minutes, breaks not included); Lunch Counter to Cold Springs Campground (3.7 miles; 3 hours 18 minutes, breaks not included)
We were ready to go just before 3 am, but when we unzipped our tent and scanned for signs of life, we didn’t spot a single headlamp. We opted for a few more minutes of shut-eye and ended up departing around 3:45 am instead. We made our way across the rocky plateau and donned our crampons once we reached the slope. The snow was firm and easy to walk on with the crampon spikes biting into it. The trek to Piker’s Peak from Lunch Counter gains a brutal 2000 ft (although I still prefer it to the dusty, rock ridden approach to Lunch Counter). We took it slowly, setting goals of 50 to 100 steps at a time. Every time I looked back and saw the tents dotting the plateau becoming tinier and tinier, I pushed a little bit harder, knowing that the false summit (and, therefore, the true summit) was close at hand. We reached Piker’s Peak just after 6 am. The sun had just risen and we could see the final boot path leading up to the summit. Although we hadn’t felt the forecasted 30 to 40 mph winds on the way up the slope, we definitely felt it at Piker’s Peak and took cover behind a rock wall in an attempt to stay warm while we ate a few snacks and hydrated. Neither of us could feel our fingers after a few minutes, so we packed up and hit the trail for the final stretch. Just 800 ft of gain to go!
The last portion was a cakewalk compared to the push to Piker’s Peak. One saddle, one ridgeline, one last snowfield, and you’re there! Less than an hour after reaching the false summit, we were standing on the true summit, looking out towards Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, and Mount Jefferson. At 12, 276 ft, Mack and I were standing on the highest point either of us has ever reached by foot. The sun was shining, skies were blue, the wind was merely a breeze at this point, and there were only three other people on the summit. It was a peacefully exciting moment and the perfect end to our very first climbing season.