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Mount Adams Summit Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

This page is marked as Off trail. The route or sections of the route may be dangerous and hard to follow and is not recommended for beginning hikers without an experienced leader. Beginning hikers should check out our Basic Hiking Information page.
Mt. Rainier from the summit of Mt. Adams (bobcat)
Alpine smelowskia (Smelowskia calycina) (bobcat)
Camping on the Lunch Counter (bobcat)
Mt. St. Helens at sunset from the Lunch Counter (bobcat)
Old lookout building at the summit of Mt. Adams (bobcat)
Sketch map of the South Climb route up Mt. Adams (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: National Geographic Topo
  • Start point: South Climb Trailhead
  • Ending Point: Mount Adams Summit
  • Trail Log:
  • Distance: 12.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 6740 feet
  • High Point: 12,276 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Mid-summer through early Fall (for hikers)
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: Yes, especially on Summer weekends

Contents

Hike Description

In our area, Mount Adams, at 12,276', is the highest summit attainable via a day hike; however, most people do it as a backpack, stopping overnight at the Lunch Counter (9,400') and heading up the final leg early the next day. Indeed, an overnight might be necessary for acclimatization purposes. For fit hikers, this trip is eminently possible in good weather and views from the Lunch Counter at sunset and from the summit on a summer morning are the just rewards. Lower down on the route, there are alpine parklands, small wildflower meadows, and rushing streams.

WARNING: Only experienced hikers should attempt this route. There are no established trails above the Crescent Glacier although, during the busy climbing season, there should be plenty of boot tracks; some of these could be misleading, however. Bring crampons and an ice-ax as the mountain will freeze over most nights, even in the summer. There can be snowfall any month of the year. If the weather turns foul, turn around and live to climb another day. A Cascades Volcano Pass is mandatory and can be obtained from the Mt. Adams Ranger Station at Trout Lake, which also gives strict instructions about dealing with human waste.

The South Climb Trail #183 begins at a signboard and wilderness permit sign-in station. The wide trail heads into mountain hemlock, subalpine fir, lodgepole pine woods with a bear-grass understory. The tread switchbacks and curves gradually up an old road track. Whitebark pines join the mix of conifers. Soon you will reach the Round-the-Mountain-South Climb Trail Junction and the site of the old Timberline Campground.

Here, the South Climb Trail continues straight and enters the Mt. Adams Wilderness. The trail veers to the left and winds up through parklands of whitebark pine, mountain hemlock and subalpine fir. You will cross the braided course of Morrison Creek (If there is no water, that means the snows that feed it are frozen). The trail rises out of the creek drainage and the way, becoming steeper now, is marked by posts. It winds up below a bench under the Crescent Glacier; if you are not in a hurry, this bench offers a lovely, usually secluded, place to camp for a night or two away from the madding crowds. The trail heads to the left below the bench and switchbacks up a steep cliff on a rubbly tread to a ridge crest. There are great views of South Butte just to the east. Once on this ridge, the trail heads steeply up, winding in mini-switchbacks through stunted whitebark pines and past rock wind shelters. There are views south to Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson, the Cold Springs Burn and the Aiken Lava Bed. Only small clumps of whitebark pine remain as the trail continues up the black lava ridge and reaches a snow field above the Crescent Glacier. From here, it's best to stick to the snow, if it’s soft. There are many campsites on the exposed ridges; they offer space if the Lunch Counter is crowded. Keeping generally on the right side of the snow field, the trail heads up. The plateau of the Lunch Counter is visible above and the intersection of it and the mountain’s southeast slope is the goal. Mount Saint Helens hoves into view. Continue up the snowfields to the Lunch Counter proper and find a shelter to camp if you are planning to overnight here: at sunset, Mount Saint Helens and Mount Hood are lit up in the alpenglow. Often the wind will come up and the skies will clear.

To continue the climb, cross the eskers on the Lunch Counter, passing many more wind shelters. Then you have a choice: you can head up the steep snow field using crampons or scramble up the crest of rocky Suksdorf Ridge. Generally, the former is faster if the snow is hard. On the ridge itself, the old telegraph line is twisted along the rubbly slope. You may find smelowskia, hulsea, and polemonium blooming among the crannies. Eventually, you will attain a point where you get a view past the false summit to a saddle and then the final steep pitch, usually all snow, up to the summit itself. The going is much better from here, though, and you may not need crampons. Head across the southern slope of the false summit (Pikers Peak - 11,657’) or go straight over its top. Then there’s a drop to a saddle, from which a rocky, exposed ridge heads upward steeply, but switchbacking in places. The boot path reaches a snowfield at a more gradual pitch. The old lookout building should become visible up above. Head straight up towards it. The actual summit area is broad and the views are spectacular, from Mount Baker, Mount Olympus and Glacier Peak in the north down closer to Mount Rainier and Goat Rocks. Then south, one can see past Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson to the Three Sisters, Broken Top, and Mount Bachelor.

On a bright, sunny day, the return is much easier. The snow should be softer and, on steep sections, footholds can be made by plunge stepping. At the top of Suksdorf Ridge, look down to the southeast on the Mazama Glacier. Little white dots in the vicinity of Sunrise Camp are mountain goats. Descending, plunge step down the snowfield on the east side of the ridge if the snow is soft. Glissading is an option if you can dig in your heels to brake, but also remember that a coating of grit on the snow surface could scrape your skin and tear your clothing like sandpaper. From the Lunch Counter, head down above the Crescent Glacier to pick up the South Climb Trail for the return to the trailhead parking area.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Pick up a Cascades Volcano Pass ($15 weekend; $10 week days as of Summer, 2012) at the Trout Lake Ranger Station or apply by mail
  • Sign in and sign out at the Climbers Register at the Trout Lake Ranger Station
  • Northwest Forest Pass required to park at the trailhead
  • Sign in at the Wilderness Permit box at the trailhead

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Mount Adams, WA #367S
  • Green Trails Maps: Mount Adams West, WA #366
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Adams Wilderness, Indian Heaven Wilderness, Trapper Creek Wilderness
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Gifford Pinchot National Forest
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Adams Ranger District
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount St. Helens - Mt. Adams

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • Selected Climbs in the Cascades: Volume I by Jim Nelson & Peter Potterfield
  • Hiking Washington's Mount Adams Country by Fred Barstad
  • Day Hiking Mount Adams and Goat Rocks by Tami Asars
  • Climbing the Cascade Volcanoes by Jeff Smoot
  • Washington's South Cascades' Volcanic Landscapes by Marge & Ted Mueller
  • Day Hiking: South Cascades by Dan A. Nelson and Alan L. Bauer (route described to Crescent Glacier)
  • Day Hike! Columbia Gorge by Seabury Blair, Jr. (route described to Crescent Glacier)
  • Exploring Washington's Wild Areas by Marge & Ted Mueller
  • Washington Hikes by Scott Leonard
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Megan McMorris

More Links


Page Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.