Mount Adams

Stormy Thursday, North Face NW Ridge and NW Ridge

July 6-11, 2012

PHOTOS AND STORY by Jason L. Hummel


Now that the mosquitos have carried me back home, I can tell you about my adventures on the North Side of Mount Adams.

There were, simply put - amazing.


Every season feels so short like there is never enough time. There isn’t. I guess that’s the beauty of time. If it were forever what reason would there be to hurry, to rush, to be young and foolish, to do anything?

Or for that matter to climb Mount Adams more than once.

With Hannah Carrigan and Juya Ghanaie stuffed into my VW diesel Jetta Wagon, we ducked and bobbed through pine forests on a narrow dirt road inelegantly named FS 2329. No one got sick. No mufflers were left in a ditch. Life was good. And the girls were happy to be alive after my rallying up the road.

Parking at Killen Creek Trailhead was a surprise. Yeah, it’s nearly the middle of July, but even at 4600-ft, the final snow patches had just melted out over the previous few days. We were off to a great start that is until, “Ouch!” Slap. “What the heck!” Slap. Slap.


Bowron Lakes Provincial Park, Canada...lots of bugs. The Wind River Range in Wyoming? Yeah, you got it, lots of bugs. At Banff National Park I killed dozens with my eye lashes. Feel free to pepper your meal with mosquitoes and any freeze dried is quickly made sufficiently nutritious (and perhaps even better tasting).

All we could do at the parking lot was hope. Higher is usually better, right? That’s how our logic went, so with heavy packs we set off toward high camp up Killen Creek Trail #113.

In less than half an hour we hit snow. With the trail lost beneath the snowpack, we are making our way through the forest. But no matter, just as fast the trees partition into clumps separated by snowfields, the mountain comes into view and our skis aim for it.

Darkness came quickly as we arrived at high camp (7,000’) due to our very late start from the trailhead. Stars crept overhead and settled in. At the same time, we crawled into our tents and went to sleep.

Morning rose to the low harmonic hum of ravenous, blood sucking mosquitoes. Go time meant packing breakfast, gear and making a break for the snowfields as soon as possible. Anyone laggards are left behind. Anyone who trips, gets no hand of help from other. There are no friends when you are nose deep in bugs. It’s everyone for themselves.

Once we flossed the mosquitos out of our teeth (really we did brush our teeth on the snowfields), we quickly progressed to Lake 7500’.

At the base of the North Ridge, another 1000’ above the lake, we cried foul at whomever had turned the thermostat up. Like the chocolate and cheese stashed in the depths of my pack, I felt as if I were melting into a puddle of sweat. I wanted to be like a dog and bury myself in the snow.

Making matters worse is the North Ridge. It is a choss pile. If you pull out just the right rock, there is a chance that the entire mountain would disintegrate with a puff of dust. “Where’s Mount Adams,” some visitor would inquire. A local would answer, “Oh, another volcano fell down.” That happens I’ve heard. They just fall down.

Fortunately we didn’t scuttle the peak in our scurry up the North Ridge.

At 12276’ we are on the summit. Big smiles are shared by all before we descend.

On the menu was the West Face of the North Ridge or so we had thought. No ones perfect. Yeah I’ve skied Adams a LOT, but I still am addicted to vertical. After thousands of feet of perfection on 35-45 degree slopes, we ski up to a waterfall. Whoa, that doesn’t look skiable. In fact, we are way off route?

A waterfall and off route. Falling rocks by the dozens are loosening in the late day’s sun. Right? No go. Down? Definitely a no go. A few more dead ends and we finally find a weakness. Up and to the left. Perfect. In moments we ski free from final slopes over a bergschrund onto the Adams Glacier. Woop.

And before we know it we are back in camp and in the tents without so much as a breath. Our late start meant that there wasn’t much daylight left anyhow, so no loss there.

That night was full of stars. Later a rising moon cast shadows. Wind brushed the white pine like a painter does his canvas. Each stroke filled my imagination with images.

DAY TWO: North Face NW Ridge

More mosquitoes hatched during the night. They paraded on the mesh lining of the tent’s door like cars lining up at McDonalds. “A #2, blood puddin’ please.” Or a “#5, supersized blood-of-Jason, please.” That was popular.

A quick escape to the snowfields with our packs and skis and we are off again. Repeat. Rerun. Remix. And BAM, we are up the North Ridge of Adams for a second time. Okay, there are no BAMs in climbing. Just lots of sweat, too many steps to count and hours of effort. But hey, let’s get to the good part!

So fast forward to the beginning of the best day ever. I mean it...this was the best day of the year for me, Juya and Hannah.

Skis on, gloves on, stoke on...rock on. We are on the North Face of the NW Ridge, which by my estimate is one of the top 10 steep ski descents in the Northwest. Nuff said.

The skiing is a bit soft, but the views were awesome. For Juya this is her first significant steep ski route and she is happy. Hannah takes the lead into the main face as an army of sluffs slam down the rest of the mountain below her, thundering to a stop thousands of feet below. Like locomotives, it goes on and on, grinding and grinding. Juya takes over the lead and surges to a safe spot below cliffs at the bottom of the crux. Hannah follows suit.

Reminders of my descents of this route over the course of the last 12 years sweep over me. Memories are nostalgic and they make this descent even better. Yeah, the unknown is gone, but that’s fine. The joy of the turn and the spinning dizziness of being fully aware in the moment is enough thrill to dazzle the mind and spark the body to commit. To turn. To throw my body down the slope.

For the most part, Juya takes control to the key snowbridge that crosses onto the Adams Glacier. Whoops, hollers, howls emanate from three fools turning down the glacier. A token stop some distance from the base of the NFNWR gives perspective to our descent.

Fantastic weather, amazing skiing, incredible friends - how does a day get any better? A good start is when we ski out to the center of Lake 7500’. The ‘center’ of a lake you may wonder? That’s because it is frozen. It is then that Hannah kicks off the excitement by deciding that she is going to swim. I already have a jacket is around 6 o’clock and big sun-swallowing clouds can be seen marching in. Miss feet-of-iron walks to the edge of the ice where she begins to sink to her ankles, knees, then neck (!) in icy slush. A final push forward and she dives under the frigid waters. On shore she tells Juya and I how amazing it is.

Decision time. I decide to go for it. I have a rule, do one thing a week that you really, really don’t want to do...and that isn’t easy to do. Well, this is it. Unlike Hannah, I run across the ice covered lake, slam through the ice and collapse into the water like a breaching whale. The sheer awesomeness and shock of the water is fantastical and wildly like a body-high like nothing else. Not even the steep skiing of earlier could compare. I forget all that, though, when I rise to the surface with a sputtering of water and my inelegant rush for the opposite shore. There, on warm rocks, Hannah and I convince Juya to come.

And she does. And she loved it. This just goes to show you that a little extra can be the spice of life that makes the world spicy and yummy.

But how does it get better?

Cold drinks back at camp, quesadillas over the stove and an amazing sunset. Imagine shafts of light piercing through bubblous clouds and a pallet of color being washed across the sky.

As night came, so did the lightning. Like god playing the drums, the thunder boomed. Our yells of joy filled the air too. It was fantastic. Hundreds of strikes, sometimes a dozen at once, would streak across the sky. Shrouded in darkness Mount Rainier would light up like the dark curtains were being pulled open to present daytime. This, it was the top moment of my life. The best of nature’s power I’ve ever seen...and all in my own backyard. Our thill was immeasurable.

That night I fell asleep beneath stars. The buzzing hoards of mosquitoes had taken refuge from the cold. All was at peace.


END OF PART ONE - Part II NW Ridge with Tom and Evan....

>>>Previous Adventure: July 4, Magic 'S' Loop or the Da Magic SLoop


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Jason Hummel