Legends of the Puyallup tribe tell of two great warrior brothers, Klickitat and Wyeast, who fell in love with same woman. Her name was Loowitlatkla, or “Lady of Fire”. Loowit, as she was called, was known far and wide for her wondrous beauty as she tended to the Bridge of the Gods that spanned the mighty Columbia River. Klickitat and Wyeast began a tremendous fight over the beautiful Loowit, burning villages and destroying whole forests with their flames. The great chief Sahale could not stand for this destruction and struck down the three lovers. Where each had fallen he raised up a mighty mountain. Because of Loowit’s beauty her mountain was a symmetrical cone dazzling white. Wyeast’s mountain stands tall, his head lifted in pride. But Klickitat had a tender heart, and his mountain bows its head in sorrow, weeping to see the beautiful maiden Loowit wrapped in snow. Centuries later western pioneers would rename these peaks, Mt. St Helens, Mt. Hood, and Mt. Adams.
Although the summer climbing season has come to an end and winter is upon us, it is never to early to think about what you can do when the sun is finally shining again over the northwest. Mt Adams at 12,281’ is the second tallest mountain in Washington state, and the 3rd tallest in the Cascades. Despite its height and rugged appearance, reaching the top of this volcano is not too difficult. There are 2 separate Class 2 routes up the mountain making it one of the few non-technical cascade volcano climbs.
I climbed Adams a couple of years ago via the South Spur Route. Most climbers make this a two day climb, electing to camp at the 9,000’ plateau on the south side known as Lunch Counter. Not wanting to carry a heavy pack halfway up the mountain, I elected to go light and fast, completing the 12 mile, 6700’ round trip climb as a day trip. Getting an early morning start I set out in the dark from the South Climb Trailhead at 5600’. By the time dawn arrived i was clearing the treeline and beginning to see the stunning views i would get to enjoy for the rest of the day.
Before long I reached the first snowfield and equipped my boots with crampons. Since this climb is only across snowfields and not glaciers with hard packed ice, micro-spikes would work just as well. I would also recommend an ice axe to be able to arrest a fall if necessary. But know how to use it! If crossing snow makes you nervous, late in the season it is possible to make the entire climb without crossing snowfields. Just be warned that this is much harder as Adams, like the other Cascade volcanoes, is just a pile of loose pumice and ash that sometimes feels like walking in sand. The snow is much faster, especially if you climb in the morning before the afternoon sun has a chance to soften it.
Once at Lunch Counter you get to see the South Spur. A 2000’ snowfield climb to the top of Pikers Peak. Just know that once you reach the top of this false summit you will still have another 1000’ to go. Once on top of Pikers Peak, it's a short jaunt across the saddle to and up to the true summit.
The summit is also home to Washington State’s highest elevation fire lookout! The structure took 3 years to build between 1918-1921. But then was only staffed during the summers from 1921-1924. Could you imagine hauling all those building materials up there by hand? Now the building is partially encased in ice and buried in snow for most of the year but it is worth the visit to see this truly unique piece of history.
The route down is much more fun than the climb up. Adams is famous for its glissading. Most notably the 2000’ descent from Pikers Peak to Lunch Counter. It's so satisfying to descend in minutes, what took you hours to climb.
This is was one of my favorite and most rewarding climbs I have done. While strenuous the payoff is amazing. Plus everytime i see the mountain now I can reminisce about what it was like to stand on top of it. Maybe some of the native peoples stood on top of it as well, as they told their stories.