Mt. Adams is a gift to the outdoor community of the Pacific Northwest. You can climb to the second tallest peak in the state without setting a foot on a glacier or needing any sort of technical climbing gear. Fit people will be capable of climbing up, camping, summiting, and returning over two days without difficulty when the weather is good. And from the top of Mt. Adams you have views of all the major mountains in the area: Mt. Rainier, Mt. Hood, Mount St. Helens, and Mt. Jefferson as well as the entire countryside. Worth every step.

I have done this climb in June, July, August, and September. As a personal preference, I like it with more snow and less rocks, which makes for a cooler and arguably easier climb with a pretty substantial glissade on the way back down. If you are new to Adams or just climbing mountains in general, I suggest July. If you want less crowds and enjoy snow, try late May or early June, though you might find yourself hiking in a few extra miles if the road is not yet clear.

When I am by myself, I have a tendency to knock this off in a day by camping at Cold Springs Campground (right at the trailhead) and heading up around 4:30-5am the next morning. When I am with a friend who has not experienced Adams, I do an overnight up on the mountain. On a clear night, the views, sunset, and stars are simply not to be missed.

On the way home, consider stopping at the Station Cafe and reward yourself with a burger and milkshake. The huckleberry milkshake is highly suggested.

Finally, there are many words that can be said about safety on Mt. Adams. The Forest Service has numerous warnings in all of its literature for the climb, and I suggest you read it. What it boils down to is that you should Respect the Mountain. You are climbing up to 12,276'. The weather patterns are more fickle up there and foolish mistakes can create problems that put you in uncomfortable or dangerous situations. Take the right gear, be prepared, and make good judgments base on your comfort and experience.

Sun appearing over Suksdorf Ridge, which is part of the "Winter Route"

MAPS/GUIDEBOOKS
PERMITS

A Cascades Volcano Pass is required to climb above 7,000' and also serves as your required Wilderness permit for Mt. Adams. Good for a single climb.

  • $15 per person on weekends
  • $10 per person on weekdays, Monday-Thursday.
  • Free to people under 16 years of age.

The permit must be purchased at the Mt. Adams Ranger Station in Trout Lake as they are not available at the trailhead. You can purchase during normal business hours or there is a self-issue climbing register just outside the front door. The climbing register also has basic road maps, a current weather report, trail conditions, and kits for packing out solid human waste.

AVAILABILITY/SEASON

May until October. Technically, one can climb Adams year-round, of course, but the snow and weather are most stable during these months. Cold Springs Campground, which is where the South Spur Trailhead begins, is often car accessible by early June depending on snow melt. Even before it is accessible by car, you can reach it by hiking up the road.

Recommended: June to mid-July for best climbing conditions.

GETTING THERE

Drive to Trout Lake, Washington (map). Take a left at the Y junction and head half a mile up Highway 141 to the Ranger Station. Purchase your permit and check conditions at the Climbing Register.

Go back to that Y junction and this time turn onto the other option, Mt. Adams Road. Continue about one mile and take a left onto Forest Road 80, signed South Climb. Stay on Forest Road 80 to where it ends at the intersection with Forest Road 8040 and 8031. Make a right turn on to Forest Road 8040 (dirt and gravel) and continue driving north past Morrison Creek Campground to the trailhead located at Cold Springs Campground. The last couple miles of this road are pretty rough thanks to erosion, so drive with care.

This is a popular area so you may have to park further down the road if going on a weekend. Cold Springs has two outhouses available but may or may not have TP, so bring your own just in case.

Rock Cairns and Posts Guiding Climbers to Ridge along the "Summer Route" [3 June 2016]

ROUTE DESCRIPTION

The South Climb Trail #183 starts at the West end of the parking area and is well signed. Depending on the time of year, you may start in snow or you could be lucky and have a few miles before you hit snow. On some climbs I have actually started in trail runners and did not put on my boots until above Crescent Glacier.

In 1.2 miles, after climbing up an old road, you reach the junction with Round-the-Mountain Trail. Continue following the trail up and to the left for another 0.8 miles, where you will head down to Morrison Creek. In July, this is usually an excellent place to stop and fill up water bottles. In early June, it is likely to be snow covered and inaccessible.

Now you start heading up the mountain via this drainage and in less than half a mile, you should reach a flatter, treed spot just below the bottom most part of Crescent Glacier. There are a couple campsites in the trees here. Next, you head up the ridge to your left via a couple switchbacks. Alternatively, if you are here when there is still snow, you may need to climb the ridge by kicking steps with your boots. Mind the cornices.

Note: If you reach the ridge and the cornices or snow conditions do not seem surmountable, there is a Winter Route that ascends via the South Butte and is safer.

Once on the ridge, you follow it up until you reach the wide snowfield that takes you up to Lunch Counter. Along the way you will see numerous wind breaks made of lava rocks where people camp. If are intending on spending the night and there are significant crowds, there are a few windbreaks off by themselves at a rocky area near the top of Crescent Glacier (46.1690559,-121.4899995).

The Snowfield Leading to Lunch Counter, which is located near that line of rock in the bottom right. [3 June 2016]

Once you are a bit more than halfway up this snowfield, you will see up and to your right the rocky area that is Lunch Counter (46.17853,-121.48086). On most days, you will see at least one tent up here and perhaps on a busy weekend a couple dozen. The area is relatively flat, has numerous wind breaks, and on warm days water may be flowing off the snowfield above.

From Lunch Counter, I typically head straight up the middle of the snowfield between the two ridges. Early in the season, you may require crampons and have to make all of your tracks yourself. Late in the season, the snow may be mushy or even completely gone requiring that you hike up lava rocks. Now, if you are lucky, there is firm snow and some enterprising souls have been there before you so you can simply follow their boot steps, saving yourself quite a bit of energy.

You have 2000 feet of vertical gain until you reach the False Summit (aka Pikers Peak), which is a perfect place to take a break and admire the summit ahead of you. From here, you head towards the summit and drop into a shallow saddle before beginning your last climb. The first part can be icy but if you curve around left a bit while heading up, it is not too steep. Finally, you reach a snowfield with a more gradual climb and the summit comes into view.

There is an old building at the top of the summit that may be visible and you should make a beeline for it. Later in the summer, the snow melts and the final push to the summit is a fairly simple hike on rock with flowing water off to the side.

At the summit, take your pack off and admire the view. Straight ahead to the north, you will seen Mt. Rainier. St. Helens is off to the west and Mt. Hood is right behind you to the south. On clear days, you likely will see Mt. Jefferson far to the south and possibly the Three Sisters.

Now, on a normal hike, I would just stop here and say "return the way you came" but the best part of Mt. Adams is coming up: the glissade!

Return to the False Summit and eye that expansive snow field you spent a couple hours ascending. Take off your crampons and stow them in your pack, put on your rain pants, and ensure your pack is ship shape with nothing hanging off that could be torn loose. Holding your poles or ice axe in your hands, sit down, and start your slide down the snow. I find that I can use a combination of my legs and boots to keep my speed right where I want it. The ice axe or poles are merely there as a backup. You can easily descend all the way to Lunch Counter in only 20 minutes.

Later in the summer enough people will have glissaded down Adams that the tracks are rather deep and you are essentially luging down the mountain. Gods, it is fantastic fun. Once back at Lunch Counter, return the way you come.

Mount St. Helens at 6am from Mt. Adams [3 June 2016]

Recommended Gear

Clothing

  •   Warm Socks – Wool or synthetic.
  •   Underwear – Lightweight wool or synthetic
  •   Long Underwear Bottoms – Medium weight, wool or synthetic.
  •   Hiking Pants or Shorts — The approach hike can be quite warm.
  •   Waterproof Pants – Gore-Tex or similar pants that fit over other layers. Full-length side-zipper is handy for putting on over boots.
  •   Lightweight hiking shirt – The approach can be warm
  •   Long Underwear Top – Medium weight, wool or synthetic.
  •   Softshell Jacketinsulating, breathable, windproof
  •   Insulating Layer — Optional, depending on conditions. A second warm layer for cold nights. Puffy, sweater, etc.
  •   Waterproof Jacket — Should fit over all other top layers combined.
  •   Lightweight Gloves — For warmer conditions, should be windproof.
  •   Warm Hat – Wool or synthetic. For cold nights and mornings
  •   Buff, or Balaclava – Face and neck protection from wind, cold, and sun.
  •   Sun Hat – Optional. A lightweight cap when in bright sun
  •   Gaiters – Optional. For soft, slushy snow conditions. Outdoor Research's are the gold standard and fit well over mountaineering boots.
  •   Hiking Shoes – Optional. For the approach, I enjoy using trail runners instead of mountaineering boots.

Personal Gear

  •   Snacks – Tasty, high energy foods. Edible when cold. 1500-2000 calories worth.
  •   Water Bottles – Two 1-liter bottles.
  •   Sunglasses or Glacier Glasses – Should be high-quality, dark, and fit snugly or have side-shields.
  •   Sun Block – SPF 30 or higher, zinc-oxide is best, just a small one.
  •   Lip Balm – SPF 15 or higher
  •   Personal Hygiene — Toothbrush, toothpaste, handiwipes, tampons. Also, plastic bag for waste.
  •   Toilet – Blue bags or wag bag.
  •   Headlamp – Check batteries before you leave home!
  •   Small First Aid Kit – Blister pads, ibuprofen, aspirin, antacids, personal prescriptions, band-aids.
  •   Map and Compass – Know your route before you start.
  •   Phone/Camera — Keep warm, in an inside pocket.

Climbing Gear

  •   Mountaineering boots or solid hiking boots – Must work with crampons.
  •   Crampons – 10 or 12-point crampons. Should be fit to boots BEFORE climb.
  •   Ice Axe – Optional depending on conditions, poles may work fine. 50 to 65cm long depending on height.
  •   Climbing Pack — 25 to 60 liters
  •   Trekking Poles with Snow Baskets – Highly recommended for saving energy and your knees.

Camping Gear (if staying overnight)

  •   Dinner and Breakfast – High calorie food if camping overnight. Oatmeal works wonders for maintaining energy.
  •   Stove – For melting snow for water and cooking food.
  •   Bowl/utensils
  •   Water purification – There is frequently running water on Adams. It is up to you if you want to purify.
  •   Sleeping Bag – A 20 degree bag is usually about right.
  •   Sleeping Pad
  •   Tent – Optional. If the weather looks good, I sleep under the stars.