I’ve never really been interested in climbing Mount Adams. It just looked like a boring, long snow slog. And I would have to learn how to use my ice axe. And maybe wear crampons. And walk up and down steep snow…I really hate steep snow.
Still, when JK asked me to join him on the trip that would complete his Washington Volcano Quest, I couldn’t say no, especially since it was a long holiday weekend with a perfect forecast.
We drove down to Randle to pick up our permits on Friday afternoon, then took the long but pretty forest road to the trailhead where we slept in our car. It was surprisingly comfortable, definitely something we’ll do again. It was so nice to have our packs ready to go in the morning, no messing around with a tent.
The hike up to camp was straightforward and pleasant. Flowers were popping up between the charred trees of last year’s burn, Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens were amazingly crisp and clear, and Mount Adams above us looked prettier than I had ever seen her.
We found a great campsite at 9,400 feet that offered privacy (this was important, given what happens to my digestive system when I’m nervous) and views at the same time. The only drawback was that the route up to Piker’s Peak – the false summit – looked insanely steep from that angle.
I had actually felt pretty confident until I saw those tracks going straight up the mountain, but now I couldn’t silence the panic monster in my stomach. Ugh.
The sun was strong at that altitude, so we hid inside the tent for hours, reading, talking, and listening to podcasts. Once in a while I would hear hooting and hollering from the glissade chute and stick my head out to look at the mountain, and I swear, every time I looked up there, the hill had gotten steeper. The panic monster grew.
Some clouds blew in in the late afternoon and offered relief from the sun, so we used the opportunity for JK to melt snow (a tedious chore) and me to practice glissading and self-arresting with my ice axe. I love glissading, but this would be my first time on something long and steep enough to necessitate an axe, and I really, really wanted to avoid impaling myself on it if I slid out of control.
We cooked up some dinner (mashed potatoes for me, the only freeze-dried meal I can stand these days) and watch the world turn pink. Sunset was beautiful, the volcanoes all around us painted in soft, warm alpenglow. It was almost enough to calm my stomach.
I only got three hours of sleep that night, worrying about the climb. I kept having visions of myself slipping and breaking an ankle while wearing crampons. I hate my vivid (and intensely negative) imagination.
Breakfast consisted of strong coffee and black bean soup, which is quite possibly the worst combination of foods you can ingest when you have a nervous stomach…especially when you have a limited number of blue bags with you.
I procrastinated and procrastinated, procrastinated a little more, then realized that I was just making myself even more nervous and that it’s better to just get it over with.
Hiking up really wasn’t so bad. My crampons gripped the crunchy, icy snow like a dream, and all I had to do was keep breathing and moving my legs. I got into the groove, and slowly but surely, the panic monster started to fade.
JK and I discussed the concept of “Type 2 Fun”; the kind of fun that’s not actually that much fun until after you’re done with it. You know, like slogging up a steep, seemingly never-ending slope in thin air. We could have saved some energy by using the established steps off to the side, but we didn’t want to be in the fall line of the guys above us who were hiking up without traction or poles – they looked like they would slip any minute, and one of them took to crawling up the steepest parts.
Despite all the talk about Type 2 Fun, I actually felt pretty good. I got a little lightheaded above 11,000 feet, but I didn’t really feel physically tired. Still, it was slightly demotivating to crest the false summit and realize that, hey! More hill! Significantly more hill! Gaah!
I needn’t have worried, since summit fever took over shortly after. JK got an extra spring in his step too, knowing that he was so close to finishing his goal. Before we knew it, we were on top – 12,276 feet!
I felt proud. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I had challenged myself and accomplished something. Never mind that there was also a dog on the summit who had made it up just fine, as well as a group of young boy scouts. For me, this was huge.
We snapped a bunch of hero shots, then sat down to enjoy the view and eat some mini Snickers (I’m so sick of any kind of granola bar at this point that I bring candy bars instead. Nutrition schmutrition.)
I couldn’t relax quite yet though; I still had to get back down to camp without impaling myself or doing anything else dumb.
To my infinite joy, the snow had softened up by now and was perfect for glissading. It was so much fun. So much. I didn’t want it to end, even though my butt froze – I couldn’t feel my hindquarters for half an hour after we returned to camp, and then I had to endure the painful pins-and-needles sensation of warmth returning to very delicate flesh, but still. So much fun! Type 1 Fun!! Panic monster annihilated!
Back in camp, we ate a hot lunch (more mashed potatoes!), then packed up and headed out. We snuck in a couple of bonus glissades on the way down, and made pretty good time back to the car.
To keep JK awake on the long drive home, I entertained him by reading him old trip reports from Mount Adams (Mark gets electric, Jo’s “weather window”) on nwhikers.net. I came across this quote by forum member Jim Dockery which I really wish I had read before our trip.
I used to tell students in rock climbing courses that if you don’t have a fear of heights you’re an idiot (it is dangerous up there). Climbing is all about raising your skills and knowledge to mitigate the danger, then telling your mind you have it under control (the hardest part).
Telling my mind that I am capable is definitely where my problem lies – and not just when it comes to climbing. I’ll have to remember this quote the next time I can feel the panic monster stirring in my stomach.
*celebratory trumpet salute for JK for summiting all five Washington volcanoes*