Mt. Adams is 12,280 feet, the second-highest peak in Washington. There is no “trail” to the summit, and in this way it feels like the first “real mountain” that I’ve ever “climbed”. I went with Lia and Orbit, we camped at the “lunch counter”, a flat area of wind shelters made of lava rocks at nine-thousand-something feet partway towards the top, and then in the dark hours before dawn we set out for the summit in an attempt to catch the sunrise there. I didn’t bring crampons, even though they are recommended, and so while Lia and Orbit went up the slick, frozen, straightforward snowfields I was banished to a ridge far to the right- a ridge of big jumbled lava boulders, ravines, no trail, and water running everywhere. And it was dark and I didn’t have a map and so I just went “up”- the pace was excruciatingly slow- mountain climbing is a different sort of beast than hiking, it requires a sort of tireless patience, the patience to go at one mile an hour (or less), hand over hand sometimes, feet getting stuck in the rocks, picking your way in a meandering path around inconvenient obstacles, mileage not the goal but upward ascension, up towards the sky, up towards the highest thing you can find.
Eventually a little light bled into the landscape and the ridge of boulders turned to a scree field that paralleled the snow fields my friends had gone up- scree like loose marbles, I was treading it, my hands on the slope in front of me, dust everywhere, the dry cold wind beating my face and chapping my lips. I reached the false summit just as the small red sun appeared on the horizon and revealed the surface of the earth below. Everywhere was hazy with smoke, all the mountains we were supposed to be able to see. Lia was at the false summit and we set out together the last quarter mile or so to the top, alongside a cracked blue glacier and over lots of rosy sun-cups, to the little bit of actual trail that switchbacked up to the summit hut, where the freezing wind beat ferociously and we found Orbit, standing on the roof wrapped in her sleeping bag, watching the sky change colors. It was so cold there! After a few hypothermic moments we rushed back down, and when we reached the snowfields that Lia and Orbit had come up we tested the snow, found it tacky and steep, saw the tracks of people who had glissaded before us, and proceeded to slide down the ENTIRE MOUNTAIN on our butts. All the way back to our campsite at the lunch counter.
Epic Glissade 2014 was not without its perils- the snow was too painful to slide on alone, and we had nothing to sit on, but then Orbit had the brilliant idea to stuff our jackets into the backs of our tights. Thus cushioned we went flying down the mountain, over a drop-off wherein the slope became even steeper, and suddenly all three of us were hurtling downhill out of control, digging our feet in kicking up snow but unable to stop or slow down, faster and faster and faster, laughing outloud in the throes of sledding ecstasy yet simultaneously aware that we were, in fact, about the die. This particular glissade track ended right at a big pile of lava rocks jutting from the snowfield but someone, somehow, had piled up a bunch of snow there, so we went sledding harmlessly into it. Orbit and I did, anyway- Lia ate shit, flying off the track into the sun cups, catching air, pack flying open water bottle and sunglasses and chapstick skittering across the snow, elbows and hands skinned from trying to stop her forward trajectory. We stood up, assessed our injuries, saw another glissade track a little ways east on the snowslope, picked our way over to it, and down we went again. And this is how we got down the mountain.
Here’s a video I took of part of my glissade- I held the camera the wrong way. I am sorry.
The photos of our climb are on instagram.