Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Climbing Mt. Adams - Day 2

We woke up bright and early the next morning at 4:00am. I can’t say that I was particularly glad to wake up that early, but that night’s sleep wasn’t what you might call restful; I’m still struggling to get used to this foam sleeping mat I bought. Pulling on some warmer layers, I crawled outside and was greeted by a beautiful starry sky and hints of the sunrise on the horizon. Jonathan took a little longer to stir himself, and I used that opportunity to capture a few photos of the tent with the lantern inside (the truth is, I’ve been wanting to get this shot for a long time!). We both kind of wished we had decided to use the rain-fly since it would have provided some extra insulation to compensate for our warm-weather sleeping bags.

The town of Hood River to the south, and Mt. Hood

I quickly fired up my little MSR Reactor stove and began boiling some water to make coffee and oatmeal (yes, the dreaded instant oatmeal was back). The coffee needed more sugar and quite a bit more cream, but I forgave it for its inadequacies because it was so stinkin’ good at that time in the morning! The oatmeal? Not so much... But you have to get your calories somehow.

Stitched Panorama

It was a gorgeous sunrise!

Neither of us wanted to haul any more gear than necessary up to the summit so we stowed what we weren’t going to need inside the tent, locked it, and by about 5:45am we had begun the final part of the climb. I think my pack weighed about 20lbs at this point — perhaps a bit less.

The snow was significantly more icy than it had been the previous evening, making it ideal for crampons. I felt really good at first and kept up a pretty good pace — which would have been better were it not for the rocky moraines which kept forcing us to remove our gear to cross them — but I could feel my energy flagging by the time the sun came out in force. We still had a long way to climb, so I attempted to fuel up on a Clif bar and some other snacks, but my appetite was largely gone due to the elevation. Candy still sounded good though!

The false summit from Lunch Counter.
The false summit (Piker's Peak) as viewed from Lunch Counter

Panoramic view of the false summit from Lunch Counter.

The sun began softening the snow, but it remained pretty firm until about 8:30am

The steep slope up to Piker's Peak.
The climb up to Piker's Peak - that was a steep slope!

The climb up to Piker’s Peak was brutal. From Lunch Counter (9,000’) it’s another 2,700 feet to reach the top of Piker’s Peak, and that’s the false summit! The altitude was causing shortness of breath and overall sluggishness, which became rather frustrating. It was a struggle to find a balance between breathing normally and going too slow, and pushing too hard for the oxygen I had available. It was a good feeling when the climbers at the top of Piker’s Peak began to look larger than those just starting the ascent down below.

Looking down from Piker's Peak at Lunch Counter.
Looking back down over Lunch Counter from the top of Piker's Peak

Standing on top of Piker's Peak.
"We got this thing!"

Finally I reached the top and was treated to a fine view of the real summit. We had to cross a saddle to reach the final 750 foot ascent to the summit, and that forced us to lose about 250 feet of hard-earned elevation gain. This didn’t thrill me but I wasn’t about to become another example of why the false summit is called Piker’s Peak — a “piker” is one who turns back. I don’t remember exactly when I began climbing the headwall up to the summit, but it must have taken me at least an hour. The slope was at least as steep as that up to the false summit and I was running out of energy. Attempts to refuel with a Snickers bar, Clif bar, Clif bloks and candy were helpful, but didn’t seem to give me enough momentum.

At long last I reached the summit, arriving at 11:20am after 5.5 hours of hard climbing. It felt good!

At the summit!
Climbing buddies

My pompous mountaineer pose

There was Rainier to the north, Baker barely visible on the northern horizon, Glacier Peak to the northeast, the North Cascades, St. Helens to the east, Goat Rocks, Hood to the South, then Jefferson, the Three Sisters, and finally, Broken Top. And we had just accomplished our highest climb yet!

Mt. Rainier.
Mt. Rainier to the north

It was an incredible day to be standing on top of Adams! I thumped down in the snow to snack on some jerky and another Snickers bar while waiting for Jonathan to finish the climb (he was dealing with some really painful blisters). We hung out for a while, shot some photos and portraits, then packed up and prepared for the descent.

View to the north.
If you click through on this image and view the largest size, you may be able to spot Mt. Baker to the right of Rainier.

Jonathan was on skis and I was planning on glissading on my little homemade roll-up sled. The idea was to capture some footage of each of us making our descent, both with our borrowed helmet-cam and DSLRs, so Jonathan began his ski run first while I captured some video, then I began my glissade while he filmed from below. You remember what I said about my glissades on Mt. Hood? Well, these slopes were a whole new adventure! I used my GPS app to clock my max speed on each run. The first time around, I reached 23.8mph — that was fast! However I was convinced that I could top 30mph on the way down from Piker’s Peak, and I actually managed to hit 32.9mph! It was crazy, and certainly one of the highlights of the trip!

We reached camp around 1:00pm and got everything packed up. I was not thrilled to hoist my loaded pack again! It was a beast, but we didn’t have that far to go and it was mostly downhill.

Once we reached the lower slopes of the mountain, Jonathan had a distinct advantage over me with his skis. I must admit that I was a bit envious of his ability to cruise around on the snow (though the sun-cups made it pretty difficult at points) while I just had to trudge along on foot. I caught up with him while he was taking a break and he said that his blisters were killing him and he wanted to get back on dry trail so he could switch his ski boots out for flip-flops (the only alternative footwear he had brought); we planned on meeting at the car. Off he went and I kept slogging.

Finally I found a guy who told me that the trailhead was only “10 minutes away.” 10 minutes, my foot! That gentleman owes a personal apology to my feet... I didn’t have any blisters but I was sure footsore, and didn’t care to be boots any longer than I had to.

At least 30 minutes later I finally reached the trailhead, having taken every little detour to stay on the snow as long as possible. The car was parked another 1/4 mile away, but when I reached it Jonathan was nowhere in sight. There weren’t any signs of him having been there at all — strange, because he was well ahead of me. I thought he must be waiting for me somewhere so I stashed my gear and ran (if you could call it that) back to the trailhead where I met some climbers who told me he was a good mile up the trail. I kept on running and had one guy ask, “you gonna run all the way to the summit?!” Yeah, right...

I met Jonathan a little while later. He was in a lot of pain from his blisters and had to take a very slow pace. It was weird that we had missed each other on the trail, but then I realized that, whereas I was trying to stay on the snow, he had been trying to get off of it onto dry trail. We must have taken slightly different routes.

All ended well and we were soon descending the crowded gravel road back to Trout Lake, where we picked up some PowerAde and a few legendary Jolly Rancher sticks. Highway 14 was a parking lot around Washougal so we re-routed through some backroads and made it to Jonathan’s place around 9:00pm. I hung out for a bit, had some supper, and made it home myself around 10:30pm.

In the aftermath of these climbs you usually experience some side-effects like sunburn and soreness, but those little inconveniences quickly fade away and all that remains is an incredible sense of accomplishment and gratitude. God didn’t have to give us mountains like Adams, or Hood, or St. Helens, but He chose to do so, partially because they magnify His name, and also so we can enjoy them. For some people, their main take-away from mountaineering is a sense of personal accomplishment and satisfaction, but for me it has more to do with an increased satisfaction in God and His Creation.

O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? (Deuteronomy 3:24)

1 comment:

Jenna D. said...

Wow...Those are some beautiful pictures! Those mountains seem to cry out God's name! Sounds like you both had a great time! Thank you for sharing your experience!