Leader: John Stevens
Participants: Jess Coady (Co-lead), Andy Doig (Co-lead), Vaughan O’Neal, Dave Lazar
The Adams Glacier is notoriously steep, fickle on route finding, and becoming even more challenging as it peels away bit-by-bit on the ice cladded firmness of its slopes into all to frequent volcanic rock showers. I’ve led steep routes on the Kautz Route on Rainier in the past, but the Adams Glacier was much more daunting in 2023. Lower on the mountain it was heavenly as we climbed through tranquil breezes as you’d expect as the warmth of the lower elevations roll up into the heights; this brief interlude was followed within hours by the reality of a glaciated peak and exposed and unrelenting slopes, ice fall, and inclement weather.
June 24, 2023 – Day 1
I picked up the rental car after a short wait and picked up Jess, Andy, and Vaughan just as they were getting their baggage. We grabbed lunch at Sharp’s Roast House before checking into Summit Sensations favorite Seattle Hotel, the Red Roof Inn. Afterwards, we checked gear, then headed out to REI for meals and last minute gear needs. For the second year in a row, we could not get MSR Reactor fuel for our stoves. For dinner, we all met at Luigi’s, and then back to the hotel to get a head start on sleep before the climb.
June 25, 2023 – Day 2
We left the Red Roof Inn around 6:30 and grabbed McDonalds on our way southbound to the Mt. Adams trailhead. Dave met us early after being dropped off. Our stove fuel crisis continued as we looked for fuel at Home Depot, Walmart, and ultimately diverted to Whitaker Mountaineering. Luckily for us, Whitaker was fully stocked and they are a great outfitter for Rainier and the Cascades in general. We continued our journey to Mt. Adams, following the GPS through paved to gravel roads and eventually got lost down a forest road to a forest bridge. We backtracked, then drove too far East before getting back on track.
All told, we only took an additional 45 minutes besides our brief breakfast, fuel, and bridge outage stops.
We arrived at the trailhead at 11am to a multitude of bugs bug also a climbing party of two who had just made the Adams “Go”. Both gentlemen provided us additional confidence that the route was still there if we wanted it. With our spirits buoyed by the good news, we hit the trail at 11:30am with barely a cloud in the sky we left the bugs in our dust. We enjoyed a beautiful 6 mile hike up through a classic Cascade Forest until breaking out into the meadows.
We ran into one party that was coming down from above and made small talk. They had just spent the morning on a small morraine lake in the higher elevations, having fun. Thinking not much of it, we said our goodbyes and headed uphill but immediately ran into a USFS Ranger moving downhill pretty quickly. Come to find out, the previous group had partied on the morraine and had left behind an inflatable Unicorn Floatie that they then abandoned as they departed. The Ranger asked us for our backcountry permits, and we showed him. He was in a mood to lay down the law out there and I don’t blame him.
After a minor 150′ headwall we navigated in approach shoes (with very poor footing), we established our high camp by 3pm by the lake. We relaxed, lounged, divided ropes and got situated for our summit attempt. We huddled down for around and hour as some rain and thunder came through the area, which was a precursor to our summit day. We were pleased with our new Nemo Kodiak tents, which performed tremendously throughout the trip.
June 26, 2023 – Day 3
Alarms were set for 2am and were roped up shortly thereafter with clear skies. On Rope Team One was Andy and Dave followed closely by Rope Team Two; John, Vaughan, and Jess. Very early on we dealt with an annoying section of snow that led through a short rock section, which caused a slight delay, but we were quickly back onto the snow in the pre-dawn light. As we approached the base of the Adams Glacier, Jess took the lead and led us through the first set of crevasses.
Once we reached the Adams Glacier, the terrain became very steep, and Dave took the lead with Andy in trail. Both teams stayed in close contact physically as the terrain rose to about 60 degrees in steepness with some ice climbing required.
Andy Doig led both rope teams in a lateral traverse across a major crevasse. Subsequently, he set up a belay station that he brought in Dave and Rope Team Two. The entire traverse ran beneath a very exposed and hazardous rock face that was showering rocks upon the team. We moved as quickly as we could. The sun was out at this point and with the exertion, we were all brutally overheated. For the next 15-20 minutes we climbed up a 60 degree snow slope under the crumbling rock wall and finally traversed leftwards to get out from underneath it. After clearing the hazard, we were all feeling great about our prospects for the rest of the climb.
After the crux, we climbed through more moderate terrain and moved at a nice pace between 10,000-11,000 feet. By this time, I had been watching a thunderstorm build on the opposite of Mt. Adams from where we were, on the Northeast side.
We could see the storm and hear the thunder. Since we were in an area of the mountain with more numerous crevasses and ice caves, we decided to hunker down to let the storm pass.
Dave went down into the ice cave to explore and the rest of us stayed outside to observe the weather.
After around an hour, and with most of us getting cold, we decided to continue climbing upwards, especially with the summit being less than 1,300′ from us vertically. I then took the lead and traversed left underneath a massive eroding serac.
We all could see the fresh debris and precarious nature of the hazard above us, so we sprinted as fast as possible across the debris. Just when we were catching our breath, the thunder started again.
A towering cell was growing behind us along the route we had already climbed. For the next 30 minutes, both rope teams were fully engaged in trying to outrun a lightning storm. We had no choice but to climb as quickly as possible to then descend back down the escape route on the North Cleaver.
Once the thunder abated, we completed a methodical and slow-going descent of the North Cleaver. There is no easy way to descend this route as it is volcanic in origin and very broken and steep.
Ultimately, we maintained the ridge descent and found high-camp. We were all exhausted and turned in early.
June 27, 2023 – Day 4
We broke down camp and headed downhill – we hiked out in just under 3 hours. On our drive back to Seattle, we grabbed some artisan pizza at a food truck in Morton, WA. We celebrated our trip at Pikes Place in Seattle then headed back to the Red Roof Inn just to run into a police blockade due to a hostage situation a block up the street!
It was a memorable trip, one that had lots of moments to learn from and I’m grateful for the camaraderie and strength of the entire team. My hat is off to all for a job well done.