I must admit an error. When I reposted the “Special Auction” post the other day, I was working on my phone, from a free campsite on the flank of Mount Adams and I neglected to remove the paragraph about this being my 24th auction. I didn’t make it home for the auction this year. I was back east for the first two weeks of September, traveling from Maine to West Virginia, visiting friends and family. But I couldn’t leave my dogs with friends in Seattle long enough to stay for the auction and so I missed it; only the second auction I’ve ever missed. On auction day I didn’t want to be sitting around, pining for whoopie pies so I made some pretty epic plans: I climbed Mount Adams!
At 12,280 feet, Mount Adams is the second highest point in Washington, after Mount Rainier. The route is 13 miles round trip, gaining over 7,000 feet of elevation. Above 9,000 feet there is no trail; you must pick your way up vast snowfields and endless scree slopes to the false summit at Piker’s Peak and then slog up another 1,200 feet of switchbacks to the top. The effort requires an ice axe, crampons and constant route finding. It’s not really a mountain I’d want to tackle solo.
Lucky for me on this trip I had partners: the Silagy Brothers! I met Mitchell and Ryan on the summit of Mount Thielsen a few weeks ago and after I beat them both up to the summit and almost beat them back to the parking lot, they invited me to join them on Adams. “You set a pretty fast pace,” Mitchell told me. “We always pass everybody and we never caught up to you!”
Mitchell and Ryan just caught the mountain bug this summer. Both avid rock climbers and competitive boulderers, they hoofed it up Mount Saint Helens this spring and then summited Mount Hood and have spent all their summer weekends since tagging high points in the Cascades. They climbed Adams in July, but wanted to take a training run up the mountain before tackling Mount Rainier.
I met the brothers at a free campsite the night before. We set our alarms for 4am and carpooled up to the trailhead in their Jeep with AC/DC blasting Highway to Hell. We got on the trail by 4:45, still full dark. I found my pace behind Ryan and ahead of Mitchell and switched off my headlamp, my good night vision making due with the ambient light from the brothers’ lamps.
We reached Lunch Counter, a shoulder with many semi-circular rock shelters where most Adams climbers spend the night on the way up, just after dawn. Most of the tents we passed were still occupied. So much for their Alpine starts! The Silagy Brothers really do pass everybody, even the people who sleep on the mountain!
Here we split up: Ryan, who didn’t have snow spikes, headed up a shoulder of loose rock to bypass the snow while Mitchell and I strapped on our crampons and wielded our ice axes and started up the first of two long, steep snowfields.
By the time I made it across the second snow field, I was beat. Ryan was waiting for us at the edge of the rock and Mitchell assured me I was over the icy crux of the climb: the rest of the way up was on rock. Rock sounded better than ice, but then it turned out to be loose scree: for every step up, I slid half a step down. I took to hopping from one boulder to the next, trying to pick rocks big enough that they wouldn’t roll underfoot. I thought a bit about quitting but every few minutes, Mitchell and Ryan would holler encouragement to me, waving their ice axes like wild mountain men. By the time I reached the false summit Piker’s Peak, I had caught a third wind.
At the summit, the bad news is that you’re only halfway home. The good news is that it’s all downhill from there. Between skiing down the scree slope on our boot heels and then sliding down the snowfields on our butts, we had a blast on the descent! Adams is famous for its glissade: a snowy chute over a mile long! You slide down on your butt, using your boot heels and ice axe as a brake.
We got back down to the Lunch Counter by 2 and back down the trailhead by 3, making for a 10 hour day on the mountain. If only I had a whoopie pie waiting for me at the bottom!
*Update- Mitchell and Ryan climbed Mount Rainier the Monday after our hike up Adams! They figured they were acclimatized to the altitude so they might as well take a crack at it. They summited via the Disappointment Cleaver route. Congrats!