Mount Adams, Elevation 12,276ft

North Face of the Northwest Ridge, 40+ degrees

Spring 1999

2 days

Ben, Charlie

The North Face of Mount Adams from camp. The North Ridge ascent route is in green and our ski descent is in red. The Adams Glacier is in the center and the NFNWR is to the right (that's what we skied). This photo was taken in Spring 98.


Spring reminds me of one thing -- the north side of Mount Adams. The NFNWR needed to be skied and now seemed like the perfect time to do it. We figured the road would be open and the weather looked like it was going to clear.

Charlie and I took off from Yakima with our usual style. It was raining lightly when we left and by the time we reached Packwood things had gotten pretty wet. We stopped by the ranger station so see if the road was open. They weren't sure but they did inform us that we needed a climbing permit. Yea right.

We proceed along the forest roads. The rain continued but that was the least of our worries. We eventually passed a sign that said 5 miles to the trailhead. The road was snowed in 3 miles later. It looked like we would have to hike an additional 4 miles of road (to and from the trailhead). We were in the midst of a downpour so we decided to chill in the car for awhile. I began to wonder whether this was one of the 9 out of 10 times that the weathermen are wrong. Two hours later we decided that we could manage the leftover drizzle. We finished packing and took off up the road.

We both decided to wear our ski boots because it looked like we would be on snow the entire way. This was not an easy decision for Charlie. I'm sure he got a few blisters. Softer boots are one of the many advantages of telemark. They are also among the disadvantages when it comes to skiing steeps. There was more snow than the previous year and we ended up loosing the trail in spots. Seeing the mountain would have helped but we were engulfed by clouds so we had to feel our way towards camp. The higher we got the more we began to recognize. The rain turned to snow as we climbed the final slope below camp. There was about 4" of new snow that had blanketed the area. We found one of several flat spots and cleared the snow to pitch our tent. It was getting late and the visibility was poor so we decided to call it a day. We were glad to have a tent rather than bivy sacks because it drizzled most of the night.

We went to bed wondering if we would even be able to climb the mountain let alone ski the NFNWR. We had hoped to at least get on it and climb down it if necessary. It looked like we might not even get to see it.

The weather came through. We awoke to clear skies and cold temperatures.


Clear skies and cold temperatures just above camp.


Sunrise just below the ridge. The light was incredible.


The new snow provided great footing and we made it to the ridge in less than an hour. The sun had warmed things up so we shed some clothes. The first part of the ridge was a great scramble, even with plastic soles. We found the critical turn that we missed last time. This allowed us to stay on top of the ridge and avoid the unnecessary exposure. It also made for some great photo opportunities.


Charlie poses near the base of the ridge. Looks like the weathermen were right.


The climbing became more straightforward the higher we got. The new snow turned what is normally a loose scramble into a staircase to heaven. It was a little deep (12" or so) but that is nothing compared to winter staircases that we've dredged. Some of the rocks had just the right amount of snow (6" or so) which we considered to be a mixed blessing.


Staircase to heaven.


Mixed blessing.


We stopped a few times to scout our goal. The line down the face was pretty obvious. The snow was our main concern. Too hard and we might not be able to edge. Too soft and it might avalanche. Either way we'd end up sliding off a large cliff at its base. If we managed to ski the first 4000 vertical feet then we had to traverse onto the Adams Glacier and navigate our way through crevasses for another 1000 vertical. This was our second concern. We thought we saw a line but it was hopeful at best. Binoculars would have been nice.


Charlie checks out the NFNWR (right of the Adams Glacier).


We weren't about to give up for a second time (see Spring 98) so we decided to go for it. This would be our last glimpse of the face from below. After we reached the summit plateau there was no turning back.


Charlie on the summit plateau. The NFNWR begins from the West Peak seen in the background and follows the skyline north towards Mount Saint Helens.


Before we knew it, we were on top. There were a few climbers from the South Spur. We tried to explain what we were about to do but they didn't seem to understand. We were anxious to get going so we didn't bother. Skiing off towards the West Peak was the best explanation that we could give. They probably thought that we were lost.


Charlie on top. No need to explain.