Mt. Adams: Get Down Alive

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Before the hike.

October 23, 2016. Four of us mountaineering noobs and our master guide had an intent of summiting the 12,276 foot high peak of Mt. Adams but to our unpleasant surprise that was not going to be happening. We hid in our tents for about 12 hrs where we had set up camp 9,400 feet up at the normally popular location called Lunch Counter; right before the false summit of Pikers Peak. Imagine waking up at two in the morning hearing 60mph winds causing a -30° wind chill, speckles of icy snow plummeting against our tents creating drifts in our vestibule, burying our boots, crampons, and other items in snow. Some snow even came inside our three season tents. We woke up multiple times warm but discomforted by the thoughts that the fun and games were over on our very first mountaineering trip. The fact was “If you haven’t figured it out already we’re not going up. We need to get the hell off this mountain alive.” as our guide and friend, David Adlard, said to us at six in morning.

Tip: Bring extra water and some car snacks for the road trip over. if you’re feeling adventurous you can even bring a pee bottle that you can use in the car and on the mountain.
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Mt Adams Sunrise.

October 21, 2016. Long time friend Sam and my brother Jerry both met me at a local gym to head out to our first mountaineering over-nighter. We had been yearning for this trip since our white water rafting trip for Jerry’s Bachelor party. We headed out at about 8:30 in the morning and chatted up a storm until we got pulled over for speeding right before Hood River, Oregon. We got off with a warning thankfully because tickets suck! As we crossed the river and entered White Salmon, Washington we grabbed some sushi at The Loggs restaurant where we waited for Dave who was picking up some blue bags and permits. We met him at a local burger joint a little further up the road and followed him to our base camp where we enjoyed glamping. Stacia met us at the camp site a little later that night just in time for some of Dave’s fresh cooked pasta and fire roasted sausage complete with some homemade mole sauce. After eating, Dave carefully explained how we were going to be packing our bags and the basic itinerary of the next couple of days to come. Our plan: wake up early, eat some food, divvy up some community gear, pack our bags, and head out at 8am to lunch counter; about a six hour hike for us.

Tip: You should always listen to the expert; his advice is to start cold so you don’t get all sweaty which then leads to you becoming more cold and dehydrated quicker.

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October 22, 2016. Awakening from my Subaru, I could hear the fire crackling at 6 in the morning. I tried opening my door and I actually had to try because it was iced shut. I walked out to the fresh aromas of Dave’s fresh egg, potato, sausage scramble. What a nice guy! After eating we cleaned up our camp area, got our gear in our bags, and we were ready to go. And we’re off! We began our trek snapping a couple photos first for the books. We took many breaks along the way to consume plenty of nutrients and water for our systems. Let me tell you, I enjoyed all of those breaks. After taking many breaks, Dave gave us some more tips: “hike 25 steps and take 3 breaths”. Another tip: “try pressure breathing”; which is when you inhale deeply using your stomach and push the air out quick through your mouth. It opens up the lungs and allows more oxygen to enter. After many hills and ridges, “It’s gotta be after this hill” we all said after each one, it seemed like it would never come, but we ended up making it to Lunch Counter after a grueling 6 hours. It actually wasn’t that bad after all. The views of Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens and being above the clouds with wonderful company, made it worth it.

Tip: Keep some snacks handy in your hip belt so you can easily access your calories. Also don’t bring a hydration bladder; the hose will likely freeze and it just becomes extra weight.
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Boiling up some water at Lunch Counter.

Once we settled in at Lunch Counter we began to set up camp; and let me tell you that putting tent stakes in the icy snow is the worst idea anyone has ever had! Dave and Stacia are already asleep and hunkered down somehow within like three minutes of arriving, Jerry and Sam are pretty much done but I fudged with my tent for so long. Holy shit. The stakes would not go in due to us being on top of ice and rocks! And I HAD to stake it down with the hubba style tent I was using in order for it to work properly. Can you sense my frustration? You think you can but just wait till you actually try doing that, then you’ll feel me. I ended up just putting the stakes in horizontally instead of vertically after many ice axe hits. I felt like a genius. Finally after setting the tent up we hid behind a tarp and snow berm to block the wind while we boiled snow for our dinner. I myself ate a nice turkey sandwich with some chocolate covered almonds. After eating we kind of lost track of time and didn’t get time to practice safety techniques like how to self arrest. That would have been nice considering what is to come through the night. But also slipping into our nice cozy sleeping bags and puffy jackets felt pretty good too! Win win in my book.

Tip: Crampons and snow shoes work wonders while hiking up a mountain. Especially the snow shoes that have the heel raised bar. The bar reduces calf fatigue by keeping your foot more level, and can improve your traction.
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The tarp we hid behind and our camp set up at Lunch Counter.

October 22, 2016.

It was two in the morning as I yelled “Jerry..Sam!” so they could hear me over the 60mph winds.

“yeah?!”

“Do you guys have snow in your tents too?”

“Yeah, a ton!”

“Frick! Have you guys seen it out there yet? My boots and shit are buried!”

“No, but our shit is buried too!”

“Frick, dude!”

We continued to yell back and forth. I heard Sam unzip the tent and I was thinking what the hell is that guy doing, it’s a freaking windy as hell out there! He was indeed going pee. I was then thinking, dude..pee in a bottle! Sam is a road trip master with peeing in a bottle but wouldn’t pee in a bottle up on the mountain? I was bewildered, not sure what happened there. Then the thoughts of peeing got me needing to pee. I was not about to hop out of my warmth. I knew I had two Nalgene bottles both filled with water. I thought to myself, I need a bottle so I consolidated them together and just went for it. This was my first time peeing in a bottle out in the wild. Score! I was actually super worried the bottle was going to overflow; I’ve never peed so much in my life. I filled 3/4 of a liter up. TMI? Well, that’s just part of the experience. We all tried getting some more sleep but it was hard because I felt like I was in the movie Everest or Vertical Limit. Thoughts ran through my head as I tossed, turned, stared at my vestibule. Thoughts like: “How much food do I have?”, “This is actually a blizzard right now.”, “How long am I going to be up here and will we even get down?” This is my first experience on the mountain and to deal with 60mph winds, -30° wind chill, snow in my tent, not going to the peak, being solo and stressed was mentally challenging to say the least.

Six in the morning rolls around as Dave comes near our tents to yell “If you haven’t figured it out already, we’re not going up. We need to get the hell off this mountain. Just hunker down for another hour or so and wait for the sun hopefully.” That’s when I knew, shit just got even more real. As we waited, more thoughts flowed through my mind, thinking back to all the survival shows I had watched and if someone could actually make it up to rescue us if we needed. I don’t know what anyone else is thinking or doing; I’m merely just laying there trying to get one more hour of sleep. That did not happen so I just start eating my food and packing up my shit to get ready to hike out. Dave had a plan, he is a master and knowing that made everything a little better. As I was packing my stuff I had been trying to hold off going to the bathroom until we got down because there was no way I was pooping in a bag. There was also no way I was going to hold it anymore, so I scurry to get my blue bag, get all my gear on and hunker down behind a snow berm. I can now say I have shit in a blizzard. That moment was kind of like how you have to pee but you can’t get your house door unlocked. The pressure! Shortly after everyone was ready to go. We all threw on our packs and clipped in to the ropes. We were about to get those safety techniques we wanted to practice figured out with hands on experience. The best way to learn!

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Geared up. Last shot before we clipped in to the rope.

We all clipped the figure eight knot into our carabiners with about a 10-15ft of rope slack in between each of us. Dave leading, Jerry second, Stacia third, Me fourth and Sam last. The white out made it difficult to see the person in front of us as we started our decent from what used to be our campsite now turned into a snow blanket. Crampons, all our clothes, glasses and buffs all on as we proceeded through the intense wind. I could barely see Dave checking his compass every 25 steps or so trying to get us going the right direction. About fifteen minutes in and my glasses were fogged up and starting to get ice on them due to me breathing into my buff that covered my neck, mouth and nose. It was like a funnel of moist air going straight to my glasses. We eventually started to get lower and see what was actually happening. The problem after we got out of the white out is we took a small breather and Stacia dropped her Nalgene bottle and it rolled like the meatball in the meatball song. “And then my poor meatball rolled into a bush” except now it was “and then my poor bottle rolled down a mountain”. We walked down towards it and eventually found it but it made us go the wrong way, well not the wrong way just a different way than we knew.

Dave led us to a what was a big bowl like area or should I say the bottle made us go the wrong way. The bowl was so steep you could glissade down easily but there were too many volcanic rocks and boulders. We were sure to wipe out, but in my head I was thinking this has to happen but it didn’t. We hiked around the ridge which was quite difficult on the ankles. I could remember stomping my crampons into each step for more traction but it was so icy they barely went in but they went in enough. The bowl had probably a 60° incline.

We eventually came to a dead end and took a break to regroup and figure out a strategy. Climb up rocks, walk back to where we came from, or go straight down into a sketchy area. Our choice? We went back halfway and trekked diagonally down the hill into where we found and even more steep slope. Dave told us, “get your ice axes out.” and taught us how to use them. He’d been giving us tips the whole way on various skills like self arresting. We made our way down the slope step by step, slipping on a few steps but nobody fell and slid down the hill which was a great relief. Finally, at the end of the hill and little short hike we unhooked and got to glissade down one of the last big hills. It was kind of like “YES freedom at last!” We made it back to the cars after another hour or so following the cairns and some other hikers snowshoe steps. When we made it back we stripped, hit the bathroom, loaded up and got some burgers! The best burgers ever.

Tip: Glissade when you can. Definition: slide down a steep slope of snow or ice with the support of an ice ax. So much fun!

My favorite part about the trip? I loved the fact that I got to experience something that Dave said was probably some of the worst weather he had ever been in his mountaineering experience as well as one of the first times he did not get to make it to the peak with the intent to. Let me just say Dave is very experienced. I got to do this all with my brother, long time friend Sam, new friend Stacia and awesome adventurer/ friend Dave. My least favorite part? Taking a poop in the blizzard. I want to give a HUGE shoutout to Dave Adlard for taking us noobs out into the wild, cooking for us, and teaching us techniques for future adventures. Could not thank him enough. Up next, Mt Rainier.

If you’d like to know more about our guide Dave, click here!

I rented and borrowed a lot of gear to save money. Another huge shout out to North Idaho College and Terry Brinton for the gear. They gave me so much gear it was awesome!

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