Mt. Adams: Adams Glacier (Grade III, Steep Snow, AI2)

Mt. Adams: Adams Glacier
(June 29 – July 1, 2014)

Mt. Adams (12,276’) is known as “Washington’s Forgotten Mountain.” Less than 50 miles from the legendary Mt. Rainier, poor Adams is often lost in the shadow of its larger cousin. It doesn’t help that the standard South Side walk-up route is the Pacific Northwest equivalent of Quandary’s East Ridge, one of the easiest climbs to the top of a major Cascade peak. Mountaineers are quick to dismiss Adams. Even Mt. Hood, more than 1,000 feet lower, garners more attention.

But for those willing to venture to the more remote North Side, the second-highest mountain in Washington offers bountiful rewards. The crown jewel is the Adams Glacier, a tortured 4,000-foot icefall that requires diligent routefinding, steep snow climbing and several pitches of alpine ice. Sam and I began targeting this climb in early 2014.


We departed Denver at 10:20 a.m. Sunday, June 29. The original plan was to have a leisurely day Sunday, hike in Monday and summit Tuesday. Record-breaking high temperatures in Washington on Monday/Tuesday, complete with overnight lows in the upper 40s, spooked us into an audible. Falling rock and ice, tumbling seracs and collapsing snow bridges already had us worried enough; we didn’t need those threats amplified by baking heat.

Instead, we rushed straight from the airport to the trailhead, beginning the approach hike at 5:45 p.m. Sunday. As luck would have it, a snow drift blocked the otherwise dry road about two miles from the proper trailhead. Hooray for impromptu road slogs! At least the promise of a solid overnight freeze partially allayed our fears. The negative was we had to stop about 500 feet short of our planned campsite due to impending darkness.


Here we experienced another setback. Despite brand new batteries and being in lock mode during travel, both of our Black Diamond Storm headlamps died almost immediately. I still don’t know what went wrong. I carry a spare 35-lumen Black Diamond Gizmo in my emergency kit, but that wasn’t going to do us much good trying to negotiate a tricky route in the dark. We agreed to start around first light at 4:30 a.m. instead of the normal 2-3 a.m.

We followed a patchy trail past the traditional camping area and slogged toward the start of the glacier at around 8,000’. As with most of the Pacific Northwest volcanoes, the scale on Adams is immense. Features we thought we’d reach in 15 minutes took 45. We eventually found ourselves roping up about two hours after setting out, just as the sun was starting to hit the upper glacier.



The climb started with 45-degree snow slope followed by a 50-degree chute of hard snow, which had been called the crux by prior trip reports. The normal line stays right up most of the glacier, followed by a long traverse left to access the summit plateau. Tracks from a Sunday party veered left way early, and having spoken to them on their way out, we knew they were successful. A teetering serac looming over the right-hand option convinced us to follow the bootpack left. This option immediately led to much more technical terrain.

The Adams Glacier is described as a moderate-to-steep snow climb with perhaps a few steeper sections of alpine ice, depending on varying conditions from year to year. Most guidebooks put the maximum angle at 45- to 50-degrees. The left-hand line, however, put us on a rolling hump of 55- to 60-degree neve and alpine ice. In some areas the ice probably touched 65 degrees. We were comfortable simul-climbing it, with the expectation the steep stuff would only come in short bursts punctuated by moderately angled snow. We couldn’t have been more wrong.

The middle of the route was a sustained 500-foot section that never relented to less than 50 degrees. The only rest we found was a T-slot someone had chopped out for a belay. With some careful maneuvering, we were able to sit in it for a few minutes to eat, drink and rest our screaming calves.


Finally, just when I thought my calves were going to start cramping, the angle laid back. We were able to walk again rather than frontpointing. Hallelujah. Of course, we still had about 1,000 feet to go over snow bridges, under seracs and around crevasses, and the day was becoming stiflingly hot. Our tensions were eased, however, by the end of technical difficulties and the mostly obvious route to safety.

We took the time to admire the stunning environment. Glaciers have to be among the prettiest natural places on earth, and our previously neglected cameras found themselves in overdrive. Some of the crevasse and serac formations high on the route were simply spectacular.



A final challenge was presented in a heavily broken section directly underneath the largest serac band on the face. We nervously crossed a few thin, sketchy snow bridges and had to reverse a couple times when we came upon an insurmountable gap, but before too long we’d escaped the threat of the ice cliff and were starting up the mellow unbroken snow slopes to the summit plateau.

The final slopes, though completely safe, brought their own degree of difficulty. What we’d thought all day was the summit turned out to be a very minor subpeak, and a second false summit taunted us as well. We took a long break to eat, drink and improve morale. The true summit eventually made itself known when we saw small dots of people who had come up the South Side.

Like on Mt. Hood in 2013, I was lucky enough to enjoy a bluebird summit with clear views and no wind. Rainier was just to the north, with the Kautz Route (our next objective) obviously visible. Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters were all easy to make out to the south, along with the remnants of Mt. Saint Helens to the west. We only shared the top with about four or five other people during our 45-minute vigil.



The descent was via the infamous North Ridge, a steep and sometimes exposed cleaver of shattered pumice. It ended up not being all that bad, probably because we were able to stay on snow most of the way. Even the few sections of rock we negotiated weren’t as terrible as advertised. I guess us Coloradans cutting our teeth in the crumbling Rockies translates well to other areas, haha.

We bailed off the ridge about three-quarters of the way down, glissading a gully to reach our morning tracks. An hour-long walk saw us returned to camp, but relief was not to be had. The previous night had been cold enough to ward off another huge negative aspect of this route: mosquitos. Now, in the early evening of a muggy day, they were out in full force.

The sheer number of the damn things was mindblowing. At times it was hard to inhale without swallowing one or more. Sam had bought some Jungle Juice (98% deet), which the salesman said was illegal in some stores and and should be applied conservatively. He suggested a dab or two on a bandana should do the trick. Having done this and still wearing a coat of bloodsuckers, we threw caution to the wind and showered ourselves in the toxic liquid. It still didn’t really help.

Seeking relief, we dove into the tiny Black Diamond Firstlight tent and stripped down to our skivvies to make the heat tolerable. It was extremely romantic. We passed a long few hours until nightfall, boiling in our own juices, counting the mosquitoes on the tent wall and trying not to touch each other. I escaped the tent to take some sunset photos and melt more snow once the temperature dropped and the buzzing assholes disappeared.

Mt. Adams: Adams Glacier (Grade III, Steep Snow, AI2)

Not to worry! They were back with a vengeance the following morning, even at the early hour of 6 a.m. We packed our gear as fast as we could and got the hell out of there. The hike out went fairly quick to the actual trailhead, but the remaining two-mile road slog to the rental car was soul-crushing. What had appeared flat on the hike in turned out to be largely uphill on the return. We probably gained 500 feet on the way out in the rising heat of one of the hottest Washington days on record.

Mt. Adams: Adams Glacier (Grade III, Steep Snow, AI2)

The sufferfest was worth it when we rolled in to Morton, Wash., just in time for the USA vs. Belgium soccer match at The Bucksnort Pub. It took a little charm to get the bartender to warm up to the two smelly cityfolk asking to watch a Euro girl-sport, but after a while she and the other bar patron at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday, a fellow called simply Skeeter, embraced us like old friends. The beer probably helped. We even summoned the courage to order burgers after about an hour.

All in all, the Adams Glacier was an amazing route that was definitely one of the finest of our lives. Surely our next objective, the Kautz Glacier on Mt. Rainier, would be a comparative cakewalk. We even had two full days to recover! Basking in the afterglow of Mt. Adams and regarding Rainier as halfway in the bag, we contentedly passed the next 48 hours visiting the Wylam family in Centralia, Wash., and putzing around the touristy areas of Seattle. As it turns out, the Kautz wouldn’t be so easy…

Chasing Ice: A Dress Rehearsal (Longs Peak / The Flying Dutchman)

MOUNTAIN: Longs Peak
ROUTE: Flying Dutchman (Steep Snow, WI2)
RT GAIN: ~4,100′
RT DISTANCE: ~11 miles
RT TIME: 10 hours
CLIMBERS: Keegan, Sam, Jeff

Sam, Keegan and I had never climbed together as a team. Keegan had a little jaunt to Alaska to worry about, I was recovering from shoulder surgery and #SSSala was always busy trolling Facebook. With only two weeks before our trip to the Pacific Northwest, we figured at least one dress rehearsal probably wouldn’t be the stupidest thing we’ve ever done.

We settled on the Flying Dutchman because it replicates what we’ll be facing up in Washington (Kautz and Adams Glaciers) — a multi-hour approach, steep snow and a brief section of WI2/3. The Dutchman ended up being one of my all-time favorite routes. Better yet, we spent the day in solitude while party after party swarmed Dreamweaver. As an extra bonus, if you’re a teenage French-Canadian, you can climb it in tennis shoes!

We set off from the trailhead a little after 5 a.m. and reached Chasm Junction on a dry trail in about two hours. I’d been up that way several times before, but somehow this was my first trip ever taking a left and heading toward Chasm Lake. Always love treading new ground. Snow patches began to appear, but most of the route remained dry and easy to follow. We crossed around the left side of the lake on boulders and snow to arrive at the base of the route.

By the time we’d taken a break, geared up and discussed tactics, it was about 9:15 a.m. We decided to rope up from the start to practice glacier travel and pacing. Sam was to lead, so we saddled him with all the gear and rejoiced as our backpacks dropped dramatically in weight.

The fun started from the get-go with a small, low-angle ice and mixed patch  to enter the couloir proper. From there it’s an ever-steepening snow climb up about 1,000-1,200 feet to the ice crux. I’d estimate it started around 40 degrees and maxed out at 55 or 60 degrees on the WI2 step. Sam carried a couple pickets for protection, but we never felt the need to place any. We pulled off to the rocks a couple times when a good rest ledge presented itself, belaying each other in and out.

Finally, the ice step appeared. We weren’t really sure what to expect and were thrilled to find what looked like good ice, though a bit sunny and wet. It was much shorter and lower angle than we were anticipating. A few sticks saw us over and back onto lower-angle snow. Sam briefly considered building an anchor for a proper belay, but it looked easy enough that we just simul-climbed it. Sam placed two cams (one below, one above the ice step) and a picket for peace of mind. It was my first time swinging tools since shoulder surgery in January, and even though I was horribly inefficient, the stoke levels were off the charts.

We reached the exit and regrouped on easier terrain at 12 p.m. The wind had been annoying all day, and now dark clouds were building to the northwest. None of us really cared all that much about a summit after having so much fun on the route. With burgers and beers at Oskar Blues beckoning, we unroped and set off down Lambslide. The snow was still hard enough to warrant crampons. No glissade, unfortunately.

The Chasm Lake cirque is simply stellar. I found myself stopping every few minutes to just stop and look around. You hear about all these famous features, but it’s a totally different experience when you see them in person, close enough you can almost reach out and touch. We went around the opposite bank of Chasm Lake this time, hoping for good views of the Dutchman. We weren’t disappointed.

The rest of the walk was pretty uneventful, with each of us retreating into our own thoughts (mostly of bacon cheeseburgers and Dale’s) for the slog out. The snow is melting quickly up there. Go get after it while you can!

A Week Among the Clouds (Mt. Rainier / Liberty Ridge and Mt. Hood)


Liberty Ridge. The classic Grade III/IV snow-and-ice route on the insidious North Face of Mt. Rainier has earned innumerable superlatives; many consider it among the best climbs in the Pacific Northwest. An equal number of others, of course, dismiss it as overrated.

Featured in Roper and Steck’s prestigious Fifty Classic Climbs of North America, the ridge splits the rarely climbed Willis and Liberty Walls, providing a relatively safe line to the summit at the cost of an arduous approach across the Winthrop and Carbon Glaciers, sustained steep snow, at least one pitch of alpine ice (often more, as our team would discover) and an alternate descent route requiring climbers to carry heavy packs up and over the 14,411-foot summit.

North Face, Mt. Rainier

Immediately after summiting Rainier via the standard Disappointment Cleaver route in July 2012, I e-mailed my regular climbing partners about a big trip in 2013. The responses varied. As usual, however, Rob Jansen and I were on the same page. We knew it would take a year’s worth of dedicated training to make ourselves worthy of the challenge, but Liberty Ridge became the object of our obsession.

Sadly, Rob passed away in late August 2012 in a rock slide on Hagerman Peak before the trip progressed beyond the planning stages. At the time of his death, we’d climbed more than 25 mountains together in a mere 10 months. The loss of my close friend and No. 1 climbing partner shook me to my core. His father told me during the memorial service to keep “carrying the torch” for his son, and I knew that meant going forward with our mutual dream of ascending Rainier via our dream route.

James Graham and Darrin Nicholas were my mentors as I transitioned from East Coast beach bum to 14er finisher, and I count both among my closest buddies. It was a special moment for me when they invited me to join their own Liberty Ridge attempt a few months later. I readily agreed.

The reality, however, was that James is a good deal heavier than us, and the crevasse danger on the Carbon glacier is real. Darrin and I might have had problems if James took a fall. For that reason we added a second rope team to the party, consisting of three other climbers: Nao Takano, Keegan Young and John Fatseas.

I applied for and was awarded a Live Your Dream grant from the American Alpine Club for the climb, and without such support this trip wouldn’t have been possible. A huge thank you to everyone at the AAC for allowing me to live not only my dream, but one which Rob and I shared. I’m also indebted to Eddie Bauer/First Ascent Park Meadows, which let us demo a First Ascent Katabatic when we needed a second three-man mountaineering tent.

Climbing expeditions rarely go as planned. The trip I’d imagined as we boarded our plane on the morning of Saturday, June 8 was vastly different than the trip I’d experienced by the time I was on the return flight Sunday, June 16. I can say without a doubt, however, that the vacation was a success for our entire six-man team, and everyone made the correct decisions for themselves. We came home alive, we came home friends and we came home with summits.


Weather windows in the Pacific Northwest are rare, especially in June, and we were graced with a beautiful one. Sunday and Monday were mostly sunny with no chance of precipitation during our approach, and Tuesday, our summit day, called for partly sunny skies with a small chance of precipitation toward the evening. A minor storm was forecast for Wednesday and Thursday.

The ranger at White River told us to bring snowshoes, which caused a communal groan heard as far away as Paradise. Previous parties reported chest-deep snow followed by bare ice from 12,500’ to 14,000’. The ice beta proved accurate, but the snowshoes stayed on our packs for 98 percent of the trip.

Setting off

The meandering trail from the White River Campground switchbacks ever upward, crossing streams and offering fleeting views of Rainier’s upper reaches. We started encountering snow around 6,000’ and finally popped out above treeline onto the Inter Glacier after 2.5 hours of hiking.

Some donned crampons here, while I opted for snowshoes because I figured the heel lifts couldn’t hurt for the slog up to St. Elmo’s Pass. We entered our own little worlds and formed a strung-out line on the crevasse-free Inter Glacier, ascending at various paces. Gaining St. Elmo’s Pass meant traversing onto the Winthrop Glacier and the removal of ~10 pounds each worth of ropes and hardware from our packs. Motivation came easy.

Roped to Keegan and Darrin and followed by Nao, John and James, we set off across the glacier. The Winthrop is hideous up high, but our line stayed flat and angled slightly down toward Curtis Ridge. We crossed our fair share of crevasses, maybe a dozen, but all were less than a foot wide that early in the season.

Crossing the Winthrop Glacier

The lower slopes of Curtis Ridge are wide and deceiving. To make matters worse, a cloud-and-fog layer rolled in and obscured our views. Time and time again, we thought we’d reached camp, only to see more ridge awaiting ahead. The best advice I can give to prospective parties is when in doubt, angle down (right). The best campsites are around 7,200’ to 7,400’. The Carbon Glacier is easily accessed by a 50-foot scree slope lower on Curtis Ridge, but you’ll become cliffed-out by ascending too high.

We pitched our two three-man tents in the only flat spots we could find. The fog occasionally gave way to teasing glances of Liberty Ridge above. Every time we climbed a nearby cliff to scout a safe path across the Carbon, clouds reappeared. The routefinding would have to wait for morning. Our bellies full and snow melted, we crashed as soon as we could, with alarms set for 4:30 a.m.

Curtis Ridge Camp, with Liberty Ridge partly shrouded behind

Cue the best sunrise I’ve seen in my life. It took a full 20 minutes longer than usual to get ready because I couldn’t pick my jaw up off the talus. Finally ready to move an hour and a half later, we were ecstatic to find the short scree slope onto the Carbon Glacier within a stone’s throw of our campsite. The early morning light on Liberty Ridge revealed our beta was accurate: everything above the Black Pyramid was a shimmering field of ice.

Liberty Ridge

Some consider the Carbon Glacier the most dangerous section of the entire route. It’s Rainier’s thickest, longest and most active glacier, with a reported depth of 750 to 900 feet. Massive crevasses yawned everywhere. The morning quiet was interrupted at regular intervals by the gunshots of collapsing seracs. A 30-second waterfall of rocks fell from the toe of Liberty Ridge itself, and hundred-foot-wide avalanches swept silently down the Liberty and Willis Walls, threatening anyone who got too close. It was time to focus.

Despite the surrounding dangers, we raced across the Carbon. The flat, middle part of the glacier was remarkably lacking in open crevasses. Above the 7,600’ level or so, the routefinding became more tricky. We routinely had to step over foot-wide crevasses, including one on an uphill slope that required the solid placement of an ice axe pick for most of us, and another that was actually two crevasses with a thin intervening platform. We also trod through a small icefall, weaving around seracs and over a wonderland of snow formations. It was dangerous, sure, but my God was it beautiful. Even now I smile in reflection.

Onto the Carbon Glacier

Above the icefall, the glacier once again flattened out and we stopped for a break. The entrance to Liberty Ridge was less than an hour away. Another serac collapsed on the Liberty Wall, starting a minutes-long avalanche that appeared close enough to touch. We started again, but stopped a few hundred feet later to have a group meeting that would change the course of my week.

Break time on the Carbon

For several valid reasons, James expressed that he was throwing in the towel. The rest of the group wanted to press on, including myself. Backtracking over the wicked Carbon and the milder but still broken Winthrop was inarguably roped-up terrain. James walking out alone, especially with the day heating up, would be taking an enormous risk.

I wanted the route more intensely than any I’ve attempted in my life and I couldn’t have felt stronger. I’d trained hard, given up drinking for months, learned a ton of new skills, read and re-read trip reports and route beta, sought grant opportunities with the AAC — it’s not an exaggeration to say Liberty Ridge dominated nearly a full year of my life.

I searched inward. This climb, for me, was as much about remembering my friend Rob as achieving personal success. Every step was one I should have been taking with him. I began to wonder what Rob would do in that situation. He was one of the most selfless climbers I ever met, and there on the glacier I recalled a memory I shared during his memorial service. Long story short, he once told me, “You’re my friend, and I’d do anything for you.” James is one of the better friends I have. I understand how cheesy it sounds, but my choice was suddenly made for me. With only a touch of reluctance, I opened my mouth and told James I’d head down with him.

Before another half-hour passed we had the ropes reordered, the gear redistributed, and the respective teams of four and two were ready to go their separate ways. Darrin was already ahead, but as John, Keegan and Nao trudged by, I shared a moment and a hug with each of them. I wished them sincere good luck and lent John my camera. Then, it was time to go down.


Mt. Hood, South Side

The plan was to take a rest day or two while waiting for John, Darrin, Keegan and Nao to come off Rainier and join us for an attempt on Mt. Hood. Unfortunately, the other members of our party ended up having such an epic on Liberty Ridge that they decided against any more climbing and caught early flights home. James and I headed down to Hood on our own. We were joined by good friend Bill Wood, who found a cheap last-minute flight from Denver to Portland.

While Mt. Hood’s standard Hogsback route pales in difficulty compared with Liberty Ridge, the highest point in Oregon is no slouch. Hood, simply put, is aesthetic. It’s often said that if you ask a kindergartner to draw a mountain, the picture you’d get in return is Mt. Hood. The slopes sweep upward from all directions to reach a perfect pinnacle, eternally capped with snow. From certain angles the mountain calls to mind Wham Ridge blanketed in white.

After waiting out a few days of imperfect weather, Friday promised to be better. It didn’t seem that way when our alarms went off at 3 a.m. Outside the Best Western, the world was shrouded in mist. A startlingly chill wind whipped us from all directions. Regardless, we were there, we were awake and this was our one shot. We piled into the rental car and drove up to the trailhead at Timberline Lodge.

I was on a mission. Most parties hit the trail closer to midnight, but we cocky Coloradans were lazy and aimed for a 4 a.m. start, which in actuality became 4:30. I was concerned about being forced to turn around by late-morning falling rocks or ice, or the cloudlayer rising with the day’s heat. As has been proven in tragedy after tragedy, the upper slopes of Mt. Hood are no place to be caught in a whiteout. Though we carried ropes and a small rack as a precaution, the likelihood of needing them was nil. I bolted for the summit as fast as I could manage, with the mutual understanding I’d stop to wait for James and Bill if conditions warranted.

Sunrise over a cloud layer on Mt. Hood

My personal goal was to top out by 9 a.m. Maybe it was my Colorado acclimatization, maybe it was my fear of leaving the Pacific Northwest without a summit, or maybe I was simply channeling my inner Rob Jansen (he was an exceptionally fast hiker and finished 33rd in the 2012 Leadville Marathon), but I was shocked to find myself on the summit at 8:30 a.m., four hours after setting out.

The first 2,500’ of the route is as boring as snow climbing gets. One literally walks up a ski slope, using a chairlift as a guide. The views we had that morning made even that portion enjoyable. The entrapping cloudlayer leveled off at about 6,000 feet, the same elevation as the trailhead. We were soon above it. Sunrise hit early because of our late start, and it presented an astounding scene coupled with the low clouds, nearby Mt. Jefferson and Hood’s own mountain shadow.

Hogsback and Mt. Jefferson

I caught a large group of several parties at the Hogsback, where everyone stopped to put on crampons. Here, only 700 feet from the summit, the route becomes spectacular. Fumaroles spewed wisps of steam that polluted the air with sulphur, singeing the nostrils; a single crevasse known simply as the bergschrund gaped wide; the Hogsback provided an aesthetic line of ascent and the final push beckoned as a fine snow-and-ice climb.

In years past, the Pearly Gates — a direct line from the top of the Hogsback to the summit — was the standard route. Recent shifts in weather have made this section steeper and icier, so most climbers traverse left to a snowfield known as the Old Chute. Now ahead of the masses, I took the middle ground, up a narrow tunnel of hard 45-degree snow called the Two o’ Clock Couloir, embraced on all sides by towering rocks armored in rime ice. The other parties, including a family of skiers from Aspen, followed up the same route.

Two o’ Clock Couloir

The top of the couloir revealed the summit ridge and views unlike any in Colorado. It was the Blanca Group on steroids. Mt. Hood, an ultraprominent peak, offers incomparable scenery in every direction. Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams rose proudly to the north, while Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters were only slightly less impressive to the south. The neutered mound of Mt. Saint Helens was a harsh reminder of the fate awaiting these active volcanoes. 

Summit ridge

After turning around on Liberty Ridge, my chest swelled with the elation of success. I put on my puffy and was soon joined by the other groups, including the Aspenites, who skied from the summit. Bill and James arrived a short while later. Standing at the apex of a mountain like Hood is an awesome personal accomplishment, but it wouldn’t mean nearly as much without friends such as these to share the victory. I spent a few minutes gazing longingly at Rainier, though I didn’t dwell; I was happy where I stood.

We lingered on the summit until about 10 a.m., then started down. A combination of glissades and a good climber’s trail saw as back at the lodge before noon, with beers from Mt. Hood Brewing Company in our hands by 12:30. A toast to success!

Mt. Hood summit


As I’ve said, the trip turned out very differently than I’d drawn it up. That doesn’t mean I’d change anything. With a team as strong as the one I had and as hard as I’d trained, I have full confidence I would have made it up Liberty Ridge. But as the cliche goes, the route will always be there. I gained more personal pride in helping a friend in need than I ever would have simply succeeding on a route. People climb mountains for many reasons, and I’ve discovered that I do it mainly for the camaraderie.

More philosophically, before the trip the prospect of succeeding on Liberty Ridge was almost a sad one. It was the last of many adventures I’d planned with Rob. Once it’s done, I have a feeling I’ll be a bit rudderless for a while. As long as Liberty Ridge remains a dream, something on the horizon and not yet behind, maybe I’ll continue to feel this strong connection to my friend. I’m sure I’ll be back one day. That trip will come when it will. Until then, I’ll continue living other dreams, remembering my lost compatriots in other ways and enjoying the friend that remain to me.

Thanks again to the AAC for allowing this journey to happen. I’m truly living my dream.