“Misery Builds Character” –A lot of people
I gained a lot of character running around Mount Adams. The plan originally was to complete the loop in the morning, under 12 hours, then immediately transfer into a light and fast summit bid, also under 12 hours. It did not go as planned. This blog will be more focused towards other ultrarunners interested in running the loop as well, but I’ll have some of my own experiences thrown in.
After camping in my VW van the night prior at the Cold Springs trailhead, I headed up Trail 183, the trail typically used for climbers on the South Spur standard route. Weather forecast for the day wasn’t great, but I honestly didn’t care too much; I was going to run the route one way or another. I started at daybreak, 5am, carrying my Peter Bakwin Ultimate Direction pack stuffed with food and water, plus another bag of food and climbing supplies (full list below) to stash at the intersection of the loop trail. I chose to go counerclockwise to knock the off trail section out first while I was fresh. From the intersection to Bird Creek Meadows was very runnable where you could get a great flow down, full of tiny gorgeous little stream crossings. Outstanding way to start the day off, and it wasn’t even raining yet!
The interesting and challenging part about the Mount Adams Around the Mountain Loop is the section of land on the Yakima Indian Reservation on the east side. I had heard it was a five mile section of no trail, but it honestly turned out to be closer to seven or eight. I also figured there might have been a “goat trail” or “climbers trail” in some sections, something that was not an official trail, but had grown worn in from enough people using it. NOPE! From the Hellroaring Meadow viewpoint at 6,500′, I was beating my own path, my favorite. I attempted to follow the “approximate route” shown on the Green Trail map No 367S, where it climbs up to Sunrise Camp at 8,300′. But the pouring rain started, the fog laid in, and I found myself running up a completely different ridge. That’s the problem with route finding with no visibility and no trail. I eventually managed to make my way to Sunrise Camp about the time the lighting was pounding all around me. Soaked to the bone, already cold, on a ridge with lighting, not exactly the place I wanted to be just three hours into my 24 hour adventure. Unfortunately, during my route finding, I accidentally stopped my GPS watch, so not sure the total mileage/elevation gain for the whole route.
To get off Sunrise Camp ridge and down into the Big Muddy Creek basin, the only way I could find was to slide down north, a 60 degree shale slope. Besides this little face, the rest of the ridge ends in a cliff. The descent was extremely sketchy, and a good portion I ended up sliding on my butt (not on purpose). I have heard of an alternate way around this obstacle: From Hellroaring viewpoint, don’t even climb up to Sunrise, but instead drop down into Hellroaring Meadow, then climb over the saddle west of Little Mount Adams. You completely avoid both a major climb and a horrible cliff to descend.
The rest of the section was pure fun, if you like that sort of thing. You have the freedom to run anywhere you want, pick out your own footing, and decide on your own where to cross ridges. The creek crossings were nothing to be concerned about, and this was all during a rainstorm too. Even on the worst ones I barely got my feet wet. Which didn’t matter, since I couldn’t have been more drenched if I had jumped fully in. Lots of fun hopping from giant boulder to boulder, some snow patches, mixed in with running through the lush green meadows. Navigation was easy, and soon you saw the north ridge where the trail picks back up. While fun, do NOT underestimate the amount of time it will take to figure this section of the trail out, even if you are an experienced backcountry navigator!
Back on the trail, about five hours in now, the sun finally peaked out for half an hour, miles of downhill running, I was on top of the world. Earlier I had contemplated turning around, but those thoughts seemed so far away and long ago now. That was the last I would see of the sun, or my motivation. The cold rain, the narrow path turning into a flooded little river I had to splash through, prolonged snow covered sections, and mosquito swarms every time I stopped, turned the day into a sufferfest. I only had a light rain jacket, hat, gloves (ripped from the cliff descent), and by the last ten miles, I couldn’t use my frozen hands to operate the zippers on my pack. So I decided it was too much trouble to get food out and eat, compounding all my problems with a lack of fuel.
Despite all this, the north, west, and south sides of Mount Adams are some of the most beautiful trails I have ran. Everything was so incredibly lush and green, interspersed with sections of forest that had been hit by a fire back in 2012. But even those sections were fascinating in their own strange way. Most of the trail was along the Pacific Crest Trail and well marked. And best, it was all very RUNNABLE! Mount Rainier’s Wonderland trail is just a serious of climbs to ridges, then descents to valleys. Somehow Mount Adams does not have the same massive erosion pattern in action, so all the trails are relatively flat and extremely easy to keep a good flow, even when tired. Water for drinking is plentiful everywhere.
Back at the intersection with the climber’s trail by 10 hours into the adventure, I had decided long before to can the climb. It was late afternoon and weather was not supposed to improve until the morning. I have a few summits of Adams anyway, and the beer and leftover pizza in my van was much more appetizing. Some climbers were on the trail down, and they affirmed my decision when they let me know they had not been able to summit either. A few hours of shivering in my sleeping bag, some food and I’m good to drive back to Tacoma. I only have Mount Hood’s Timberline Trail left and I will have made all the volcano circumnavigations! Maybe next week….
GPS Track of it (email me if you want the file): http://www.strava.com/activities/171187478
Run equipment: UD PB Vest, 4,000 calories, Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Jacket, Hat, Gloves, SPOT, Suunto Ambit 2, Garmin Etrex, iodine tablets, salt tablets, Body Glide, Black Diamond Z-Poles, camera, map, Petzl emergency light.
Cached equipment for climb: Another 3,000 calories, Black Diamond Whippet Pole (trekking pole with an ice axe head), Microspikes, Black Diamond Polar Icon headlamp, Patagonia R1 Hoody, pants.