To the Top of the World (and back again)

8 08 2013

It has finally happened, people! I CLIMBED MOUNT ADAMS!!

I don’t even know how to tell you about it, I’m still in shock, trying to process it.

Ok, I’ll give it my best shot…

MAsh arrived Friday evening and we did some ritualistic chanting and sacrificial ceremonies to get us pumped up. (Ok, fine, we actually played a rowdy game of Settlers of Catan. Same thing.) Saturday we were in no rush and finally headed out for the mountain around 11:30am….just in time to put us right at the tail end of the Trout Lake parade! Since the parade route is right through town on what is pretty much the only main road in town, we just joined in and pretended we were part of it. Nothing like a parade in our honor to get our adventure started right! The fire trucks had apparently thrown absurd amounts of candy and parents started giving it to us through the open windows.

Finally through the throngs of people lining the highway (where on earth did all these people come from?!) we zoomed up to the trail head, hoisted our packs on our backs, and hit the trail. Today was a short day – just about 1.5 miles up to our campsite. Cake.

South Climb trail head, Mt Adams WA, North Cascades

Wooo! Ready to take on Adams!

girls up South Climb trail, Mt Adams WA

Look out, Adams, we’re coming for YOU!

We set up camp, admiring our super-sweet, out-of-the-way spot J-Rock secured for us. Once everything was set for the evening, we grabbed our snow gear and headed to a nearby snowfield for a quick little lesson of Saving Yourself If You Fall Off The Mountain 101, compliments of Professor J-Rock. We grabbed our ice axes, climbed up the snowy slope, then threw ourselves back down it, practicing our self-arrest technique. (Self arrest basically just means using your ice axe to stop yourself. It’s actually super fun, when it’s not for real…) The funniest part was listening to each person pretending they were falling for real: “Oh no! (grunt, fall in the snow) I’m falling guys! (scooting down on butt, trying to pick up speed) Shoot! Better self arrest! (Flipping over, self arresting like a pro) It’s cool guys, I got it! I’m fine!”

practicing self arrest south climb trail, Mt Adams WA

J-Rock demonstrating, Ash following his lead. Looking good!

Back at camp, we settled into evening camp duties like we do this together all the time. MAsh headed down to the melt-water creek to pump water, filling all our bottles and water bladders for the next day. J-Rock and I set about cooking dinner. We all ate, cleaned up, and played some wild Gin Rummy while practicing our Mountain Climber names: Mad-Dawg Davis, AssKicking Ash, Master J-Rock, and K-Rage. (You can’t climb a big mountain without an intimidating pump-you-up name!!)

South Climb campsite under Lunch Counter, Mt Adams WA

Chillin’ like villains in our camp.

We turned in early (like, before it was dark early). I snuggled down in my sleeping bag, cocooned next to J, the stars slowly appearing in the sky above our open-mesh-top tent. Four-thirty came early, but my eyes snapped open and J and I both launched out of our warm beds. It’s GO TIME! Mad-Dawg made breakfast while the rest of us packed up and got ready. The lights of other people’s headlamps could already be seen snaking up the trail – we needed to get moving! Finally, we set off across the rock fields towards the trail, excitement buzzing in the air around us.

We paused to strap on our crampons to tackle the first snow field. The air was chilly and we were all bundled up, but I was still excited to play in the snow all day. We headed up the cold slope, single file like little duckies.

snowfield on South Climb Mt Adams, WA

The sun was just starting to tint the sky.

The very top got really steep, and I wasn’t quite used to the crampons yet. Then the snow ended, and we had to scramble up over some rock to make it to the trail. I freaked out a bit, unsure I would make it – and this was the very beginning!! I nearly melted down in frustration, baffled at my decision to do this.

But once on the trail, we hiked over rock for a bit then hit another snowfield. This time we started relatively flat and gradually climbed to a steeper incline. We took a couple breaks to shed layers and grab snacks, but the climb is really just that – one foot in front of the other, slogging on. We reached the Lunch Counter first, a nice huge ledge that juts off the south side of the mountain. A lot of climbers make it to the Lunch Counter their first day, set up camp in the rocks, and start their second day to the summit from here. Tents littered the black volcanic rock and AssKicking Ash scanned for campfire smoke, hoping to catch someone’s illegal actions and write them a ticket. (No, she was not actually authorized to do this. But she’s been practicing just in case anyway.)

Lunch Counter on South Climb, Mt Adams WA

Almost to Lunch Counter! The steep slope of the false summit looms above us, taunting us….

After shedding more layers, we attacked the huge slope that goes from the Lunch Counter all the way up to the false summit, Piker’s Peak. The false summit is exactly what it sounds like: a cruel joke, a big fat faker and out-right liar. Almost the entire hike, we’re headed up towards what appears to be the top, the end, the goal. But in truth, the real summit is actually behind the false one, looming just far enough behind it that you can’t see it until you’re just about to reach the top of the false one. Thankfully, we knew the peak we were stretching for all day was not, in fact, the real summit, or the mountain itself would not have been able to stand up to my rage.

Because it was hard. The slope up to Piker’s Peak got increasingly steeper until we were climbing snow-stairs that were created from the hundreds of boots kicking their crampons into the snow to get enough of a foothold to step up and do it again. I couldn’t see well – I can’t wear my contacts any more and was forced to wear my glasses, meaning no sunglasses against the brutal glare of the sun – and I was extremely focused on getting one foot in front of the other. Only when I reached a spot big enough to fit both my feet side by side so I could stand up and rest my quads – only then did I take a peek around me. I was startled to see the expanse of sky behind me, to the left of me, to the right of me, above me. And I was even more shocked to realize the insane incline we had been pushing to climb. We were going up a damn cliff side!

I turned my eyes back to my feet, plunged my ice ax into the ground ahead of me, and forced my burning legs to keep going. We had been climbing for hours, the blinding slope never changing in front of me, my shaking muscles screaming at every step. I knew I was close to the false summit, and the real summit was so close behind that, but there were a few times when I had serious doubts about whether I was going to make it. MAsh commented later how proud they were of the determination they saw in my face, but that was honestly the only thing keeping me going: the two friends I knew were up there somewhere in front of me. We had planned this trip months ago, and it was my own fault for not being more prepared. But dear GOD who let me do this?!

Pride is an amazing thing. My brain knew that I could just turn around, sit down, and slide on my back all the way back down. My muscles screeched at me like nails on a chalkboard, to just stop this hair-brained idea, turn around, and go home. Who’s idea was this anyway? Why did I need to get to the top? The views were great from right here. Why did I think I could do one nice hike the week before and be able to climb a 12,000-foot mountain? I’m not a mountain-climber, I’m not in shape for this, I have no business being up here!

But despite the protests of my body, my mind fought back. My pride slapped a nice piece of ducktape over my muscles’ mouth and cracked the whip to continue on. Pride declared me fit and able, pointing out that my lungs actually felt fine, even as we gained altitude. Pride scorned my muscles for being such pansy-ass whiny babies. Man-up, muscles! I deserve to be here just as much as anyone else! I deserve to claw my way to the top, to see the world in all it’s glory, to feel the wind in my braids as I conquer the second tallest mountain in the state of Washington! You shut your pie-hole, muscles, I will do this because I want to, because I can, and because so many have done it before me! And if they can, I can. Now MOVE!!

All the internal motivational speeches and smack-talk is what finally pushed me over the last little lip of the false summit, 2400 feet above the Lunch Counter. The real summit came into view briefly – swirling clouds had been building all morning and gave some relief to my tired eyeballs. We had a snack, reapplied sunscreen, and watched people leap into the glissading chutes. Strangely enough, I ran into a co-worker from Bend who was doing that just – small world! I rested my eyes, rested my legs, and tried to pump myself up to continue on. We still had 600 feet of elevation left to reach the top.

But the trail to the top was much easier, tamer and kinder than the trail up Piker’s Peak. This trail had switchbacks and much less incline. We made our summit at about 12:30pm, 7.5 hours after we left our campsite that morning. We were tired but jubilant, and I’m pretty sure I let out a primeival roar of victory that sounded like a wild animal finally making a long-sought-after kill.

summit Mt Adams in clouds, Washington


As you can see, we were totally screwed by Mother Nature and didn’t get the awesome views we were promised. We got big fat no views. In fact, we could barely view each other if we walked about 10 feet away. And with the clouds came a chilly wind that sent us scurrying for layers. We donned our rain layers and took just a brief minute to savor our victory before beginning the inevitable: the descent.

Thankfully, going down is much easier than going up, especially in snow! We sat our butt cheeks in the snow, readied our ice axes to serve as brakes, and pushed off! Glissading down was fast, fun, slightly painful, and a bit exasperating for me. The first bit down to the false summit was pretty mellow and quite fun. I got a bit of snow packed into the back of my pants, but a small price to pay for that kind of SPEED!

Then we had to descend over the false summit. It was crazy steep coming up, which meant it would be crazy steep going down. I watched as AssKicking Ash disappeared over the edge. Then went Mad Dawg Davis, waiting a decent amount of time to avoid collission. Then it was my turn. J-Rock gave me a thumbs-up and down I went, shooting through the tunnel made by so many butts before me. Soon, however, I was going too fast and was having a hard time braking. I managed to stop myself a couple times, but just kept repeating the terrifying experience of flying through ice and snow, bumping over hard chunks of ice with numb legs, not being able to dig my ice ax in deep enough to slow myself. Mad Dawg rolled out of my way as I barely avoided hitting him.

I got out of the glissading chute a couple times to walk. J-Rock stopped with me and at one point, we unzipped one site of my rain pants to dig out all the snow that had lodged itself in the seat and legs of my pants. I hurt, I was frustrated, my partially numb body stung with the pain of a thousand needles and I finally yelled “I JUST WANT OFF THIS STUPID MOUNTAIN!” J-Rock patted my arm, not feeling so hot himself in the high altitude, and told me to walk a while. Finally, when I was comfortable enough with it, I sat back in the chute and continued down the less-steep slope. The rest of the way after that was pretty much cake.

midday descent at lunch counter, Mt Adams WA

Texas repreSENT! Cowboy hats on the mountain just make us that much cooler.

We made it back to our campsite, packed everything up, and finished the day back at the car. We had covered around 10.5 miles that day, to the top of the world, with an elevation gain of around 5500 feet, then an elevation drop of about 6700 feet back down to earth. Every fiber of my being ached, but I was happy. Happy to be down, happy to be done, happy that I did it. I’m still pretty upset about the weather at the top, but maybe that will be the motivation I need to do it again next summer!!

*A big shout-out and special thanks to the beasts that are MAsh, for going with me, for not leaving me behind, for not giving up on me. These two power-houses are an inspiration for their abilities as well as their amazing attitudes. You both rock my world.
And to my main squeeze J-Rock, who had more confidence in me than I did, who stayed right behind every literal step of the way, and who encouraged me, pushed me, calmed me, and overlooked my very childish behavior on more than one occasion, thank you. Now, on to our next adventure!!




One response

10 08 2013
Staring into the mouth of the devil – Pucon | latin chattin'

[…] To the Top of the World (and back again) ( […]

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