Weekend weather windows have been scarce in Washington this May and June. The dedicated and flexible are left with no choice but to take what they can get. I wanted a four- or five-day trip to Mt Adams this year, but two good days there are better than none. Corey and I were conspiring to maximize the value of his vacation time and a plan evolved. Aspiring guidebook author Amar Andalkar wanted to take a look at some routes on the north side and he was willing to drive. Cyril would meet us at the trailhead.
We were thrown off track by the likelihood of Cyril getting stuck on the wrong side of a snow drift on his route from Breitenbush. Luckily, we made the right decision and drove directly to the troublesome section of Forest Service road, where we found Cyril, who had just hiked a sixteenth of a mile after his car got stuck. Amar and Corey were nice enough to excavate Cyril's car from the snow. I sorted my gear and offered sage, unwanted advice like the prima donna I am. By the time we finished our antics and reached the end of our road, it was two in the morning. We decided to sleep beside the cars and head for camp in the morning.
Hiking commenced around eight. Making great time to camp, we reached the lake at 7505' by ten thirty. It was time to ditch gear and take a break. Between resting, eating, and arguing, we wouldn't head up the North Ridge until almost one in the afternoon. Amar had decided not to go for the top until Friday. Cyril and I were both eager to make the push and get a full descent. Descent routes were debated. Corey was interested but exhausted. Finally we all began climbing together, with the outcome unknown.
The weather was beautiful as we skinned snowfields toward the ridge. I was really glad to have brought both tennis shoes and a day pack. The North Ridge packs about as much fun as any volcanic choss toss could, with really great scenery, some relatively good rock, and access to unbelievable skiing. Cyril and I took a break somewhere near 10,000' to wait for Corey and Amar. We heard them and we waited. Then we decided to continue. Before too long I could see them far below us on the Lava Glacier. They skied a nice little line off the ridge to the east toward the Lava Glacier.
The wind was getting stronger as we reached the gentle upper crest of the ridge. There were some clouds that appeared persistent. We began to fear our soft, beloved corn snow would become crust. I got a little cold. I had foolishly made myself dependent on the unbelievably perfect weather by bringing no jacket, just a wool sweater. I began to think fondly of skiing from where we were.
We didn't know what was below us. Unlike Stormy Monday and the South America-shaped Northwest Face of the North Ridge, we could not see these slopes from camp at the lake. Naturally it had the characteristic feature of the north side of Mt Adams, such that it began convex and slowly rolled to a steep pitch, invisible from above. The next sight is the flatter slopes two- to three-thousand feet below the roll. But alas, such features correlate strongly with distinct impressions of adventure, for which Cyril has tastes matching mine.
The line we chose consisted of a series of linked gullies between steep bulges of dreadful volcanic rock. A few spots felt too much like a bowling alley. We really wouldn't have enjoyed climbing up these slopes; thus we were hoping to find a graceful path all the way down our route. I took pictures and Cyril did most of the route surveillance. He did a good job. This left us with a tense traverse and trundlefest over the previously-mentioned frightful rock. We threw our skis onto the snow on the other side; we were relieved to see them stop in the forgiving slush. We were about fifteen feet above some moderately steep snow.
Cyril skis into the unknown.
Cyril plays dodgeball.
Cyril excels at dodgeball on skis.
What's around the corner?
We agreed that it would be easy to climb a bit to where the rock came closer to the snow. I immediately backtracked a few steps and climbed to a nice exit, where I walked onto the snow with ease. I looked up and saw Cyril doing a sketchy traverse high above the snow. We had misunderstood each other. I must say that I was happy with my interpretation. In the end I got a sweet photo of Cyril jumping for freedom. He jumped past the forgiving slush, landed in some hard snow, and made a brilliant boot-toe self-arrest.
Cyril could go his own way...
...and he did. You can see the dirty, hard snow where he finally landed.Cyril and I skied the red with a foray through the "fifty-degree scree" in blue.
We finished the descent to the lower Adams Glacier with enjoyable turns on steep-and-heavy muck. It was an easy downhill shot to camp where we found Corey and Amar nestled in their sleeping bags. We had way too much food, Corey and I both drank some beers, and it was time to hit the hay. There had been much debate about Friday's objective, but I was steadfast in my belief that we should all head east.
4 June 2004: South Lyman Glacier
There had been rumors of Canadians coming to join us, but Sam Avaiusini and Jason Hummel were the only ones to join us by the end of breakfast. It was windy and cool, but we made our preparations in a leisurely fashion and were rewarded with calm winds and warm sunshine by the time we departed. Amar was talking about skiing the Adams Glaicer or White Salmon, but I knew that I would have company on the South Lyman Glacier with the arrival of Jason and Sam. Cyril and Corey did not want to miss the excitement, so Amar was forced to join the team or go solo. I reassured him about our preparations and possibilities. I had high hopes for him to overcome his fears and join us, really. Why not?
I can't begin to explain how cool this picture is.
Cyril ran up the North Ridge like a champ. I stopped to take breaks since the six pack (of people) was getting so spread. Better to wait lower where it's more likely to be calm. Cyril had been waiting for twenty minutes by the time I reached the ice cap. Corey and Amar followed fifteen minutes later. Another ten minutes for Sam, then the original Fat Boy anchored the pack by a healthy ten minutes more. I walked down some to greet him and talk some smack.
Jason and I were the first to traverse past the bergschrund. We made a rising, skinless traverse below the bergschrund, then went all the way across the glacier until we reached crevasses. Jason and I speculated about where to go. The others joined us. It was a little icy on the flatter summit slopes, but I knew soft snow awaited us on the steeps.
Amar starts the party.
I thought we were well past the north lobe of the glacier. I skied the next section past everyone quickly, following my instincts to the left. I found a forty-five degree ramp between crevasses that led to what looked like never-ending forty-degree fields of corn. There were corn, crevasses, and seracs in a most pleasant ratio. Everyone was ecstatic with the scenery and conditions. Seracs began to look like favorable terrain features.
Jason finally gets busy.
Below one such favorable terrain feature I stopped to take a picture of Cyril jumping off an icy bump. I had to get below a big ice cliff to get a good angle. I tried to stay out of its way and stopped below its nearest edge. Immediately after I clicked a photo of Cyril in the air, I heard a thundering crack, and looked up to see a house-sized section of the ice cliff collapse! I snatched my pack and traversed to safety as quickly as I could. My camera case went a few hundred yards down the slope. Luckily, it stopped, and my ski poles stayed put the whole time. (I hadn't had time to grab them.)
Jason had been flirting with skiing next to the serac just before it collapsed: crazy Hummel. Ha ha ha, like I have room to talk! Well, as long as I'm breathing I'll still be talking that s....
The rest of the ski was relatively uneventful. We had to make a long traverse below an even larger ice cliff to head toward the Lava Glacier and North Ridge at the bottom. I did not linger.
I neglected my own advice ("Jason's been here so many times!") and followed the tracks of a Hummel in the woods. There was no sign of a trail, but we were close to a creek and I thought it was Killen Creek. It was, so we were able to follow it right to the vehicles. Sam and Jason drove up the road just as we reached it. Corey and Amar were only ten minutes behind us. We said our goodbyes to Cyril and made the long drive home. I was happy to see it rain the next day. I would have been happier to have stayed at Mt Adams skiing steep corn in the sunshine, but we take what we can get.