High

Posted by Ken Campbell June 17, 2011 1 Comment 722 views

I didn’t make it to the summit, but I’m OK with that. I got what I needed to get at Mount Adams, which was to reacquaint myself with the alpine environment, and see how much climbing I can take. I’m pretty pleased with the way that turned out, even if I didn’t top out.
It was the wind that turned me around at the false summit, about 600 feet shy of the highest point. It had been blowing since I made camp on Tuesday, and the continuous gusts made sleep impossible. I thought the tent would explode from the lashing (I brought my light summer tent, like an idiot), but thank God and Mountain Hardware, everything held. So, at about 5:00am, with about 20 minutes of sleep, I broke down camp and got ready to go.
I melted some more snow for coffee and drank it while I packed. My boots were frozen hard and it took a few minutes of stomping around to warm them up enough to tie the laces. The wind continued strong as I set out toward the top of the Lunch Counter (a somewhat level area that many climbers use as a high camp.) I passed one other tent at about 5:30, but other than that, I had the entire south face to myself.

It’s a long slog up to Piker’s Peak, the false summit. One foot in front of the other, a physical monotony, the only way to get up there. The scale of the place and the near-uniformity of color – or lack of color – makes it a mental act as well. An act of will, every time I take another step.
At one point, I carve a small level platform in the steep slope, just big enough for my butt, and I stop for a pull on the water tank and a handful of nuts. I can see another climber gaining on me and I wait for him to get to my station. Rob is from Seattle and it was his tent that I had passed earlier. He had been going back and forth about whether to try the climb in the windy conditions, but when he stuck his head out of the tent and saw me, he decided to give it a go.
We climbed together from that point, each of us pacing the other, and we got to Piker’s Peak at about 10:00. As soon as I crested the slope and got to the level area at the false summit, I had to take to my knees to keep from falling over. The wind had been strong all morning, but the intensity here made it difficult to stand. The summit itself, about a half-mile away, was wreathed in blowing snow and it only took me a minute or so to weigh my options and start back down. Rob elected to continue, so we said our farewells and set out in different directions.

About halfway down the south face, I turned around and saw Rob descending as well. Apparently he had come to the same conclusion as I had. In extreme environments, conditions dictate. It is a mountain; it will be here tomorrow.
The calendar may say June, but this had all the hallmarks of an early spring climb. High winds, sub-freezing temps and a very long approach. In fact, even with me turning around where I did, I still climbed more than I expect I will on Mount Rainier. I went from about 4000 feet to 11,700, which is about the same elevation differential that Rainier has, but the distance travelled was almost twice as far because of where the access road is closed.
Overall, I’m pleased with the experience and I’m very happy to have spent the night on snow for the first time in quite a while. (Even if sleep escaped me.) I’ll be putting the climb in a more coherent account soon for visitrainier.com, and I’ll link to it here when it gets posted on their site.

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