We spent Thursday driving north to Mt. Adams, with a couple stops to resupply. We finally got our burger and pint at Everybody’s Brewing in White Salmon (it was delicious, and I would highly recommend a stop there). We made our way through the breathtaking While Salmon river valley and my poor little car survived the bumpy forest road climb up to the Mt. Adams trailhead. We arrived just before dark and found a spot to camp amid snow piles and mud pits.
We hit the trail around 5 am after a breakfast of coffee and oatmeal under a dark, cold, star-filled sky. After a series of late-morning starts, the pre-dawn wake-up call was a bit rough, but before long, the eastern horizon was getting lighter and Mt. Hood to the south became bathed in alpenglow. We made our way up to the “Lunch Counter,” a long, almost-flat table that sits between 9,000 and 10,000 feet. From there, we ascended a steep slope to Mt. Adams’ false summit, about 11,200 feet, before the final ascent to the true summit at 12,276 feet. It was a long day with a few short breaks, taking us about 6 hours to complete the 6,600-foot climb. As we kicked our crampons into the snow, I kept glancing up at the false summit, and it never seemed to get any closer. But, somehow we made it to the top. Then, the final push to the summit felt even more unattainable, like an endless slop on a snowy treadmill. The altitude affected me in the last thousand feet, making every step feel like a huge effort, although perhaps it was just how legs are supposed to feel after six hours of climbing.
Either way, we made it to a snowpile on the top and whooped for joy. I immediately almost got blown off the snowpile and decided to step back down to try to take in the views while not quite so exposed to the wind. We could see south to the Three Sisters and north to the North Cascades. Directly in front of us were our next two objectives: Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier.
The cold, wind and altitude were quickly zapping our energy, so we ducked behind the snowpile summit and swapped out our crampons for skis. The top 1,000 was rough: We were basically skiing down rime ice and by then, the altitude was definitely affecting me, making my legs scream for oxygen with every turn. However, the going was much easier below the false summit, with softer snow, warmer sun and less wind. We skied all the way back down, almost to the car, but the snow had melted during the hot day and the final half mile or so was a muddy mess. Everything was muddy. But, we didn’t care. It was sunny and we had climbed our biggest mountain yet. We threw our muddy gear into the car and got on the road to Mt. St. Helens.
Never take a “shortcut” on forest roads. We wanted to avoid going all the way back out to highway 14, then over to 205 and Interstate 5, yet many of the passes between the mountains were still closed for winter. On the map, roads always look simple and direct, but in reality, that is not always the case, and in our case, the road quickly diverged from the map and we had no idea where we were. Using our intuition and best guesses, we eventually got to Marble Sno Park at Mt. St. Helens at about 9 pm, after a 3+ hour drive from Mt. Adams. The parking lot was busy with the next day’s hikers and climbers, but we found a quiet place for the tent.
We took the morning to dry out our gear in the sun and enjoy our coffee, starting on the trail around 9:30am. We were looking at another long day of climbing, this time about 5,500’, but unlike Mt. Adams, where we immediately hiked on our skis, we would be hiking the first 2500’ in shoes, with our skis and boots on our backs. While not the most comfortable or efficient way to hike, it’s not unlike carrying a heavy backpack. However, the climb up Mt. St. Helens involves steep scrambling over lava rock. To top it off, it was hot and there aren’t many trees to offer shade. When we finally reached a continuous snowfield, we stopped for almost an hour to eat snacks, drink water, and recoop.
From there, we made quick progress 3,000’ up the softening snow, skinning past the line of hikers and reaching the rim within a couple hours. Looking back and forth along the rim, the first thing we noticed were giant cornices. So, at first, I was too nervous to step up and look over the edge. Luckily, moving along the rim, we found a spot that wasn’t corniced. I was still nervous, but I stepped up to the edge and examined the crater. It has a glacier, many crevasses, and a dome with steaming vent that has been growing ever since the 1980 eruption. It was mind blowing to glimpse the geographical changes happening before my eyes. To the north stood Mt. Rainier in all its glory, and Mt. Adams loomed to the east. South, Mt. Hood looked like a tiny white triangle hovering above the haze.
Once again, we stepped into our skis and I felt the excitement building for the descent. The corn cycle over the past few days had finally presented perfect spring snow. I never wanted it to stop, but alas, after a quick 3,000 foot drop, we had returned to the hiking trail and the pile of lava rock where we had stashed our skis. We hiked out off Mt. St. Helens in deepening evening light, once again viewing the alpen glow on the mountains around us. Reaching the car around 8pm, we made a quick meal and got on the road to Mt. Rainier. We decided not to experiment with forest roads and headed for Interstate 5, a less direct, but perhaps faster route. We arrived at the gate to Mt. Rainier National Park after midnight and, barely awake, parked at the first pull-off we found, setting up our tent on a fortunate flat spot alongside the road.
In the morning, we took our coffee with us up to Paradise Lodge, around 6,000’. The parking lot was quickly filling with other skiers and mountaineers, all getting ready to embark on the route up the John Muir snowfield to Camp Muir, a popular basecamp for those hoping to summit. We joined the line of people streaming up the mountain, a drastically different experience after to getting used to having the mountains to ourselves. After awhile, however, the line spread out and we had some space to ourselves again. We got off the highway of post-holes created by mountaineers booting up the snow and made our own skin track. However, It was hard to focus on the hike with the massive glaciated face of Mount Rainier so close. Instead of going to the building itself at Camp Muir, we veered over to the aesthetic Anvil Rock, around 10,000 feet, where we kicked off our skis and enjoyed lunch in the sun on our last day of the Volcano Tour. Once again, the snow consisted of perfect spring corn, and this time, we looked forward to skiing the entire way back to the lodge.
It was a hot day, and I skied in jorts and a hoodie. It felt like summer. It was a perfect way to end the Volcano Tour, though neither of us were ready at all for it to end. I guess we’ll just have to get planning on the next one.