Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mt. Adams

Hiking Mt Adams has been on our radar since we got here.  However, being above timberline, we had to wait for the weather forecast at the higher elevations to be safe for our hike.  Yesterday was the day.  The forecast was for clear skies with the peaks in and out of cloud, no rain, temperatures 40-60, and winds around 30 mph.  About the best weather conditions we could hope for.

There are about a zillion trails that go to the summit.  We studied the guidebook and read every description, finally settling on Lowe’s Path.  Lowe’s was not the shortest trail, but was only seven-tenths of a mile longer than the shortest.  We chose Lowe’s because the description repeatedly used the terms “moderate grades” and “good footing”.   Neither was anything thing said like knife-edge, ledges, or rock scrambles.  The thing that really caught our attention was “this is the easiest route to Mt Adams.”  The contour lines on the map were farther apart than on any of the other trails, so Lowe’s it was.

We got an early start and were at the trailhead at 7:50; better than we expected.  The first couple miles, although a gain of about a 1000 feet, was gentle and generally a dirt path without so many rocks.  We got to the first trail junction at 1.7 miles and took a nice break.  While we were sitting there, a gentleman came along.  During our brief conversation with him, we learned he was trying to hike all the peaks in the Whites which rise above 4000 feet (a total of 48).  Adams 4 and Adams would be his 42nd and 43rd.  I’m going to refer to that guy as Peak-bagger.  He would appear again as the day wore on.

From this point, the trail got much steeper and rockier.  Bless the trail crews.  They have put in rock steps where possible and we were truly grateful for that effort, especially on our way down.  We gained almost the same amount of elevation in the next seven-tenth mile and we were ready for another break at the Log Cabin.

The Log Cabin is a shelter very similar to other shelters we’ve seen up and down the Appalachian Mountain chain.  Instead of a 3-sided structure, it was nearly closed in on the front side with only a wide opening for an entrance.  Without the sky lights which are often installed in the newer and/or renovated shelters, the Log Cabin was dark and dreary inside.

We continued our climb all the way to timberline before our next break.  It was only eight-tenths of a mile, but it took forever.  Twelve hundred feet almost straight up, every step on or over a rock.  At 11:30 we popped out of the trees.  It was a good spot for a break with magnificent views and a good idea of how much 3000 feet is.

We felt pretty good about ourselves at that point.  We only had a mile and a half to go with 1500 feet of climb.  We could see what we thought was Mt Adams and it didn’t look too bad.  Besides, the really steep part was behind us now.  We took a few photos, ate a snack, and got ready to leave.

We had taken about three steps when Peak-bagger came up from the trail which led to Gray Knob Cabin.  He had chosen to take his break over there.  We talked for a couple minutes, then headed up the mountain together.  During this brief conversation, we mentioned that Lowe’s was a bit more difficult than we expected, but he confirmed that it really was the easiest way to the summit and described some of the other trails he had been on to other summits in the area.

After reaching timberline, the trail was marked by cairns.  They were relatively close together, so when we got to one we looked ahead to the next and made our way there.

We finally got to the top of what I had thought was Mt Adams.  It was an Adams all right, but Adams 4, not the one we wanted.  It just so happened that our trail went over this peak of 5355 feet before dipping down into a sag before heading up Mt Adams.

Mt Adams still 0.6 mile away
During this stretch, we leap-frogged with Peakbagger--we’d pass him, then he’d pass us.  That was encouraging to us because he was a decade younger and has been climbing a lot of these mountains.  It was taking him an hour and a half to do this mile just like it was us.

I was greatly distressed to have go down from Adams 4, but at least the hike across the sag was a little easier.  Then it was over the big boulders and up to Thunderstorm Junction.  This is where several of the trails meet and it’s marked with a huge cairn.

I had had a few misgivings about continuing on from Adams 4.  It was now 1 o’clock and we still had a hard climb ahead.  We knew that because we could now see Mt Adams.  Of course, it looked so far away, I thought it was Madison (or perhaps I hoped that was Madison).  When we got to Thunderstorm Junction, only three-tenths from the summit, I again wanted to turn back.  Gene was on a go, though, so I followed along.

The forecasted temperatures were right on, but the wind was a bit stronger leaving Thunderstorm Junction than 30 mph.  We could no longer wear our hats.  Gene put on his rain jacket with a hood and I just went without a hat.  That was a mistake because I couldn’t see well around all the hair in my eyes and blowing around my face.

Mt Adams, 5799 ft. Second highest peak in Presidential Range

We finally reached the top a little after 2 and the wind nearly blew us off there.  We’re guessing it was at least 50 mph.  Somehow, I managed to get my jacket on and my knit hat on my head to calm the hair issue.  The summit was about 5 feet wide; just a jumble of rocks.  There was a trail junction sign, but no summit marker.  How disappointing.

I don’t know where all the people came from, but there were crowds on and around the summit.  The only person we had seen on our trail was Peakbagger.  He had gotten to the summit just before us and was on his way down the last time we saw him.  Not only did we have to pick our way around the rocks, we also had to pick our way around all the people.  Whew.

We made our pictures and got off the top as quickly as possible.  The wind was just too strong up there for comfort.

We were back at Adams 4 a little after 3 o’clock with a very long way to go.  By the time we got back to the truck it was 7:15 and we were a couple of very tired puppies.

We’re gonna look for short trails to waterfalls from now on.

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