I met Rex a few weeks ago. Either I managed to frame a 2am start and 10 hour climb in an appealing light or he is cut from the same crazy cloth that thrives off type 2 fun. It didn’t really matter; the result was that I had my climbing partner. I was not too sure what to expect from this mountain as the reviews are fairly varied in terms of difficulty ratings and route suggestions. Nevertheless, we decided that a one day push was a good idea and we moved forward with those plans.
From a flight in, Adams is an impressive beast but the drive in through Rainier National Park simply takes the splendor to new levels. Apart from a small navigation hiccup in the park (beware of the lack of cellular signal), the trip went smoothly and the time from Seattle is about 7h, substantially slower than the massively optimistic Google maps prediction of 4h30. We found the Trout Lake Ranger Hut without a problem and the mountain passes were simple to complete (and cost $15). Remember to collect your waste bags here! The last leg of the drive is to make it from the ranger station to the actual trailhead. This road was written up to be something serious but in dry conditions it really isn’t too bad. Views are spectacular, but the road is only wide enough for one-way traffic so take it slowly and be courteous.
At the “11th hour” before leaving, I had read a blog that suggested you bring earplugs if you plan to sleep at the trailhead. This was the best advice I received about the climb. The trailhead truly feels like a train station with people arriving and departing throughout the night.
2:30 came and we were up and on the go by 3am. A rushed oats breakfast, some boiled Trader Joes cold brew coffee (this was an epic idea by the way: the coffee tastes amazing) and we were on the trail. The trail is very well worn up to the snow level at about 7500ft and as a result it is fairly dusty. Crampons on and we were on our way up to Lunch Counter. Rex was wearing a new pair of La Sportiva Trango TRK boots and had rented some Black Diamond Contact strap on crampons for the hike. The boots really seemed to do him well but we struggled with the crampons in the first light of the morning: he had not had them correctly fitted and the result was that on the first steep slope his boots were slipping all over. Nevertheless, a quick adjustment and we were back on our way.
True to form, the climb through and above Lunch Counter was a slog. We put our heads down and trudged up. The snow conditions were perfect for it and the suncups gave some nice stairs to use on the upwards trudge. Needless to say, we were both quite happy when sunrise came around and again we were treated to excellent views - especially of Mt Hood across the valley to the South.
The rest of the climb to Piker’s Point (the false summit that you stare at all morning) was fairly uneventful. The snow was relatively gentle, rarely does it get beyond 30 degrees, the suncups provide good traction yet the hill does extend for a fair while. We rose over the ridge of the false summit to be greeted by a large scout group on their way down. They had slept over at Lunch Counter and an early start had them as (probably) the first summit of the morning. Another post I had read about this mountain was the general lack of respect for safety encountered and this scout group was taking a bullish approach to a very icy glissade (it was still fairly cold at about 8am). Judging by the roasties and ripped clothing that we saw on the way down, some of the scouts came off second best. They’re lucky that this mountain is really forgiving, but it serves as a solid reminder that you should not disrespect ice and gravity.
Rex joined me on the false summit after some time of watching the scouts shoot down the chute. He was knackered! Coming from sea level and climbing to an impressive altitude in one push really takes it out of you! However, his resolve was solid and it was an awesome effort to get up and trudge on :). The summit actually looks quite far off from here which was discouraging for him, but some chats to other climbers got us moving again and the mantra of “one more step” seemed to provide some motivation. It was actually a fairly easy hike to the summit from Piker’s Point and the views are well worth it! You get a panoramic view of Rainier as you reach the summit ridge and the 360 degree views are really special. Photos sadly just don’t do it justice.
Down was fantastic. We had timed it perfectly with a 10am summit so that the snow had just softened up for the glissade down. There was a chute leading down from the summit that I took while Rex chose to hike back to Piker’s Point. This chute was average but from the false summit to Lunch Counter was magic. The glissading was soft, well under control and very enjoyable. It took us about 20 minutes to descend what had us working for about 2h30 on the way up. What a treat.
The rest of the hike was fairly uneventful and we were back at the car just after 2pm after a solid 11 hours on the trail. The drive back on a Saturday evening was a lot easier: done in about 5 hours but still 30 minutes slower than Google’s optimistic outlook. The views of Rainier have me hungry for more Cascades climbing, so definitely watch this space for when Paul and Carlo are on the Pacific Northwest.