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Ascent of Mount Adams on 2004-07-17

Climber: John Gowan

Others in Party:Joan Lowry
Hou Pho
Date:Saturday, July 17, 2004
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Adams
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:12276 ft / 3741 m

Ascent Trip Report

ICC Alpine Climb #3
Instructors: Brent Craig and John Gowan(scribe)
Students: Joan Lawry and Hau Pho

Route: North face of the NW ridge of Mt Adams

Plan: Meet at 7AM at the 65th St P&R, drive to Killen
Creek trailhead. Hike to high camp. Get up at 3AM and
start the climb of the NW ridge. Descend via the North
Cleaver.

We talked about the weather the week leading up to the
climb, the forecast didn't look promising to go high
and on a volcano. And I am just coming off Denali
last month where I had more than I cared for of bad
weather high up on a big mountain. Brent scrambled to
get enough ice tools and screws for all of us the
Friday night. Without his efforts this climb would not
have been possible. We met and drove to the Killen
Creek trailhead. It was pretty warm and humid on the
hike up the trail to high camp. As we got to camp, we
met two rangers, who were there mainly to check that
everybody had climbing permits. They said a party had
attempted the Adams glacier the day before and had to
turn around near the top because the glacier was too
broken up. We choose a campsite at about the 7000'
level and set up camp about 1:30PM. The mosquitoes
were ferocious and swarmed around us, we had to seek
shelter in our bivy bags to avoid being devoured as we
napped. Joan was bitten on the forehead, and since
she is allergic to mosquito bites, it swelled up.
Brent brought some binoculars that we used to look
over the route. We could see patches of exposed
glacial ice and knew we would be needing tools and ice
screws if were to make it to the top. Also, once we
traversed off the Adams glacier and onto the NW ridge,
retreat would be very slow because of the steep
terrain if the weather moved in and we had to turn
around. This would be the point where we would be
committed to the summit.

We decided to judge the weather when we woke up at 3AM
and make the call then. The skies were clear as we
went to bed. When we woke up, Brent said he wasn't
feeling too well. He had been up since midnight with
an upset stomach and vomiting. He then turned around
and puked all over the ground. Wonderful! Brent would
not be going on the climb and Joan, Hau and I set off
up the snowfield towards the Adams glacier at 4AM.
There were clouds above the mountain but the summit
was visible. We decided if the weather looked poor we
would at least climb to the base of the ridge before
turning around. On the way up the glacier it started
raining on us, but this was only a brief shower. We
also talked about going up a snowfield on the north
cleaver, as retreat would be easier if the weather
moved in, but we saw rocks tumbling down it so decided
against that.

We roped up at the bottom of the Adams glacier and
started heading up the 45 degree pitch with Joan in
the lead. Joan looked comfortable on this pitch and
had no problems. When we got to the point where we
were to traverse onto the NW ridge, I took a look
around at the weather. There were still clouds above
the summit, but off to the west it was clear and there
was no wind. The summit of Mt Rainier was covered in
clouds.

We decided the weather was good enough for an attempt
and traversed onto the ridge with Hau in the lead.
After the traverse, the route takes an immediate left
up a steep 15ft wide ice chute between a rock band and
a crevasse, this is the crux of the route. Joan said
she had no previous two tool or ice climbing
experience. Hau has been ice climbing eight times and
climbed on Weeping Wall. Hau moved fast up the chute
using two tools and placed a screw as protection.
Joan seemed to pick up ice climbing skills was we made
our way up. Hau made fast progress up the face,
placing pickets as protection, all his placements were
fast and solid. Rocks were falling down around us as
we climbed, one hit Hau's ice axe before he saw it
coming. In the middle of the face Hau ran out of
pickets. We had six pickets and eight ice screws with
us for running belays. I think if we had 8-10 pickets
we could have saved one or two gear exchanges/lead
swaps on this route. I told Hau to keep going up the
face and to skip the gear exchange until we got above
the rock band. Hau was very solid leading and I
explained to Joan and Hau that I did not think it was
worth the risk of getting clobbered by rocks while
grouping up to swap leads or make a gear exchange.

Hau progressed up a short, narrow chute of rotten ice
to get above the rock band, set up an anchor and
belayed us in. Joan then took the lead. Joan was a
little hesitant placing pickets and was noticeably
slower than Hau. Below a section of exposed glacier
ice, Joan dug through the thin snow cover and placed a
screw as protection in the ice. The glacier was
melting out pretty fast, in a few weeks I think large
sections of glacial ice will be exposed on this route.
Rivers of snowmelt were running down the glacier.

Joan and Hau swapped leads about four times. Joan is
in great physical shape and was dragging Hau and me
sometimes as we approached the top. Hau really
started to slow down as we neared the summit, where
the slope of the glacier begins to ease up. He said
his knees were bothering him and took some pain
reliever. I keep checking the weather on the way up,
we were showered on a few times but never for long.
It was quite warm with little to no wind until we
neared the summit, I was comfortable with only a shell
layer and no balaclava or fleece hat on. We reached
the north summit of 12,100 ft at 12:45PM. All three of
us had been to the 12,276 ft south summit before so
decided to skip the half-mile walk over to it. We
could see people who had come up the south climb
waiting in line 10 deep to get their picture taken on
the top. We were the only party climbing the NW
ridge.

I relied on Hau to lead us over to the north cleaver
for the descent as he had climbed up it before. As we
were unroping and taking our crampons off at the top
of the cleaver, I noticed that Hau had lead us onto
the wrong cleaver! We had to
head back up the glacier a short way and traverse over
onto the correct cleaver. Hau continued to slow down
as we descended and stooped over to catch his breath
frequently. Also as we made our way down, the weather
began to move in and clouds surrounded the mountain.
It got quite windy and we were pelted with hail and
heard thunder, but it was off to the east. As we
neared the bottom of the cleaver clouds encircled the
mountain and the rain intensified, we had gotten off
just in time. On the way down I noticed some nice
campsites at a lake at about 7,500 ft. This would have
been the best place to camp for this climb.

Back to camp at 6:00PM and Brent was there to greet
us. He had recovered from his food poisoning a little
and been watching our progress all day through the
binoculars. He had seen another group climb up the
snowfield on the north cleaver and then immediately
make a u-turn and head down the cleaver for fear of
the weather moving in.

We suffered through mosquito attacks all the way down
to the car. The drive back to Seattle put us at the
65th P&R at 11:00PM.

Student Evaluations:
Hau: Great ice climbing skills and moves fast on a
glacier. Picket and ice screw placements were all
solid. Trouble with physical conditioning on a 15
hour climb and sore knees slow him down.

Joan: Excellent physical condition. She will leave you
in the dust or drag you up the glacier if you let her.
No previous two tool experience or placing ice pro.
A little slow placing pickets for running belays.

A great climb considered how things were going until
we got on the route with the questionable weather and
Brent's illness. I was not optimistic we were going
to go for it, but the weather held and we all had an
enjoyable glacier climb and summit of Mt Adams.

- john gowan
Summary Total Data
    Grade/Class:III
    Route Conditions:
Snow on Ground, Scramble, Glacier Climb, Ice Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope



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