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Mount Adams

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Mount Adams from the Cultus Creek Trail (Martell)

Mt. Adams is the often forgotten volcano of our area. Mount Saint Helens picks up the headlines, while Mount Hood sparkles east of Portland and Mount Rainier dominates the Puget Sound view. Seemingly, a little too far east, Mt. Adams has a history of being ignored.


Volcanic History

In spite of being often missed, Mt. Adams is a big mountain. Measured in terms of volume, Adams is second only to Mt. Shasta in the Cascade Range. Mt. Adams may be younger than some of our other dormant volcanoes, with the notable exception of Mount Saint Helens.

Adams is made up of several overlapping cones, from different eruptive periods. The oldest eruptions known are 250,000 years old. Most of the mountain above 7,000 feet is probably 20,000 years old or newer. The last known lava flows are the Muddy Fork lavas, implanted about 3000 years ago. It hasn't had a major eruption in the last 1000 years, but the volcano is merely dormant, not dead. A large slide started in 1921, was probably caused by a small steam explosion and steam vented from the area for three years. Hydrogen sulphide continues to come from the crater and several hotspots are known.

Human History

Native Americans called the mountain Pah-to, or Pahdo, a son of the great spirit.

The story of the current name of Mt. Adams might be the supreme case of the mountain being ignored. In 1805, Lewis and Clark, the explorers and usually great notetakers somehow missed Mt. Adams completely. They did notice Mount Jefferson and named it after the current president and the man that had sent them, Thomas Jefferson.

In 1839, a man named Hall J. Kelly came up with a scheme to name the Cascade Mountains the "President's Range". Jefferson, of course, would stay the same, and Rainier was scheduled to become Mt. Harrison. One version of the plan had the name Mt. Washington applied to our Mount Hood and Mount Adams applied to Mount Saint Helens. Another version had those two names switched. Neither version accounted for Mt. Adams at all, since apparently the Americans had yet to realize it existed. The confusion grew when a mapmaker placed the name Mt. Adams about 40 miles east of St Helens and 40 miles north of Hood. The entire scheme fell apart, of course, except for the naming of one mountain. Mt. Adams is located within five miles of the mapmakers error and the name was happily applied.

Ironically, this most remote of northwest volcanoes is the only one exploited for commercial means. Between 1929 and 1931, sulfur deposits in the summit crater were laboriously mined and hauled down to civilization on the backs of mules. Periodic attempts were made to reopen the mines until 1959.

A fire lookout was built on the summit of the mountain in the 1920s. It was only staffed for a few years, but the lookout survives, normally buried in snow. The snow seems to protect it from demolition by wind and the freezing temperatures minimize wood rot.

Climbing Information

The climb up Mt. Adams from the south starting on South Climb Trail #183, is generally considered a non-technical climb (See the Mount Adams Summit Hike). That means to climb the mountain, you won't need specialized gear. On the other hand, you will need full packing essentials, 12 hours, a lot of stamina and healthy doses of discretion and common sense. Weather on Mt. Adams can change at the drop of a hat. Light rain or overcast in the lowlands can mean blizzard conditions on the mountain.

Hiking notes

Mount Adams might be small when viewed from Portland, but it dominates the skylines of Indian Heaven and the Goldendale area. There are also many worthwhile hikes in the Mount Adams Wilderness.


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.