Adams: Ridge of Wonders

Discussions and Trip Reports for off-trail adventures and rediscovering lost trails
Post Reply
User avatar
Chip Down
Posts: 2606
Joined: November 8th, 2014, 8:41 pm

Adams: Ridge of Wonders

Post by Chip Down » September 30th, 2020, 3:46 pm

Although it's tucked away on the Yakama Reservation with no trail access, RoW is well known, because:
1. It's visually striking from several vantage points.
2. Little Mt Adams, a well-known satellite cone, sits just off the crest of lower RoW.
3. Visitors to Sunrise Camp often take a little side trip up to the high end of RoW for an amazing view of the glaciers/cliffs/ridges on the SE face of Adams.
4. The ridge is a formidable impediment to circ hikers, who have to either pass over the ridge, or bypass it via Sunrise Camp.

Start with my first visit to Little Mt Adams, and follow RoW up to the high point overlooking Sunrise Camp. At 8100' where the ridge suddenly broadens onto terraces, veer right and follow the rim overlooking the immense Klickitat/Big Muddy canyon. If a safe/fast descent is necessary, return via Iceberg Lake, finishing with a one-mile downhill road walk to complete the loop.

Several online opinions say any route from Hellroaring Meadow to the crest of RoW is miserable, steep, brushy. And the the narrow straight steep section of RoW looked tricky.

To get to the crest of RoW, I hiked into Hellroaring Meadow, where I lost the trail (took wrong fork, and it faded). No problem, headed straight towards Little Mt Adams cross country. Hit a creek and a cliff. Consulted map. Perfectly clear, just follow creek upstream until cliff fades, then continue to meadow. Easy peasy. Meadow was beautiful, but saturated with dew, so I got soaked to the waist crossing through, and then had to contend with the marshy spots I was warned about, then riparian brush along steep-banked creeks. I had been dreading the climb up towards LMA, but by the time I was headed up the ridge, I was happy to be out of Hellroaring Canyon.

The ascent to the crest of RoW was fine, no problems. Some spots were downright scenic. I briefly followed a creek, but veered away for open grassy slopes. I wonder why people complain about this slope. Maybe I just got lucky and picked the one route that works well.

There's a little knob between LMA and the crest of RoW, around 6600'. I was surprised at how dramatically it soared out of the forest. It looks so gentle on the map. I skirted around to the easy side, and scrambled up. The view was amazing, far better than expected. And it gave me an opportunity to size up my route options. From here, I could see how brushy the RoW crest is, so rather than gaining elevation with no reward, I followed open slopes to gain the crest at a broad gentle saddle at 6800'. Sadly, it was still pretty brushy here, so poor views.

Finally on crest, I followed the ridge up, but frequently had to drop left through pleasant terrain, periodically looking for clear spots on crest. Came to a nice open spot, around 6870', facing the mountain. That was the best part of the ridge. After that, it was still brushy, and at 7045' I was on a high point looking down on a knife-edge ridge with terrifying exposure.

What now? Maybe drop way down on the right and work around, then back to crest. Or left, across a series of steep crumbly brushy gullies. But for what? It didn't look any easier above. Everything looked outside my comfort zone. I considered dropping all the way down to Hellroaring here, but I couldn't verify a safe route, and I wasn't willing to start down a deadend.

Tail tucked, I retreated. I wasn't as disappointed as you might think. I knew this would be tough. I was grateful I got shut down abruptly. I prefer failures where I suddenly realize I'm done, no equivocating. I do regret that lower RoW was so overgrown, not the scenic amble I had anticipated.

My early retreat gave me time to tag Little Mount Adams. I even considered trying to follow the fieldguide ascent route, but realized I hadn't saved a copy on my phone.

On the way back out, the meadows were free of dew, and it was fun walking through the high brown grass in search of Heart Lake. I found the top of the cliffs that blocked me in the morning, and I followed the rim down to the lake.

Started up Trail 20, the route to Iceberg Lake and Sunrise Camp. Work has been done, but it's still a terrible trail. I mostly gave up and picked my own route. As the trees thinned, the route was marked with blue tape, so that helped. As I approached Iceberg Moraine, I stayed low, intending to pop over the low end of the moraine.

Iceberg Moraine was steep and crumbly, but not as bad as some moraines. A little care was required, but soon I was at the top of the waterfalls that plummet into Hellroaring Canyon. Traversing up and over towards RoW was initially an unpleasant struggle, but not horrible. It got really fun after the second creek crossing, after which the terrain was more gentle, there were braided creeks and cascades, and some vegetation. I aimed for the top of a cliff, where my jaw dropped. Relatively flat, green, creeks fed by a snowfield. Amazing. Later in the day, I realized I had spotted this from above on my last trip, but lacked time to visit. I dawdled here, explored a bit. I'm dubbing this Hellroaring Park. Also, because it's situated on a bench, it's literally a "park bench".

The parkland was near the bottom of the moraine that curves down from the WoR high point over Sunrise Camp, so I was making great progress. From a distance, it looked like the snowfield dropped into a deep canyon. But no, the moraine was easily accessible, so I popped over the end of it, just like I had with Iceberg Moraine, but this one was easier.

I didn't know what to expect on the other side of that moraine, but I figured it would be a jumbled mess. Indeed, I encountered the Mountaineer's Dilemma: Sometimes when you're on the ground, it doesn't look like it did from a distance or on maps. A partner with binocs and radio could guide me, but I couldn't see where to go. I decided to take a risk, staying closer to RoW rather than the moraine. It would be trickier, but held more opportunity for rewards. I aimed for a streak of green above a talus field, and at the top I came into a nice little basin at the bottom of a snowfield. Lovely. I needed to ascend the snow, but had no axe/traction. The 6" of new snow offered great security though, and I ascended quickly. Above the snow I followed a rocky gully. It was boring, so I kept my head down and metronomed my way up, determined not to stop until whatever was at the top of the gully. Well damn, the top of that gully was a little saddle on the crest of RoW! Which I discovered when I nearly tumbled into Klickitat!

Now on crest, I turned right, away from the Sunrise overlook, and enjoyed the views from the abrupt dropoff. When I reached the top of the spur ridge to the NE, it was a satisfying end, rather than a gradual steepening. From there I turned right again, following the rim, now headed towards the main RoW crest. Again, it plunged off steeply, so there was no question how far I should go down. From here, it was obvious nobody in their right mind would try to climb the crest of RoW from Little Mount Adams. It was insanely steep, exposed, interrupted/crenelated. Turning right again, I continued up, now essentially parallel to my snowfield route, until I could safely drop back to snow.

I explored and wandered back to Hellroaring Park, stopping to visit a charming verdant rockgarden and a hanging meadow. At the park, I saw I was ahead of schedule, so followed some braided mossy cascades up, until I spotted a distinctive boulder that told me I was on the route I previously took from Iceberg Lake to Sunrise camp. Therefore, the fastest way down was via the lake.

Iceberg Lake wasn't on my itinerary, but I'm so glad I ended up there. It was radically different from my visit a week or two ago. There were actually icebergs, freshly calved. There was a breeze, so waves were lapping the shore. There were creeks feeding the lake, including one that portalled out of the face of the glacier snout! Most importantly, the water level was higher, so there was an outlet creek where before there had been just a sandy bed. On my previous visit, I loved that lake, but now I realize I had seen it at its worst, drab and lifeless. Still ahead of schedule, I walked around the lake both directions as far as was sensible, gaining an elevated view. After dawdling as much as I could justify, I headed down.

My descent time was amazing. About 1:15 from Iceberg Lake to car, including a detour through the trail network of Bird Creek Meadows. If I had known that was possible, I would have climbed to the top of Iceberg Moraine. Oh well, I've been all around that area, and I can't imagine that specific view would have been anything special. Overall, I was amazed at how fast this hike was. I don't think I've ever packed this much alpine adventure into nine hours.

Curious paucity of goats. I now realize I had a mosquito encounter. Saw a grouse that didn't do it's usual heart-attack inducing thing (you know). Grand total count humans seen: 2, in my last hour, coming down the trail.

The iconic view from Little Mount Adams is enticing, but continuing up RoW is barely worthwhile. If you do, stay left of crest to avoid brush, but look for clearings where views are good on the crest. If I were to hike to Little Adam again, I think I'd try to go further up into Hellroaring to avoid the swamps and riparian brush, then angle up RoW towards LMA. Not sure that would be better, but that's my hunch. Final tip: You might look at the map and think the south ridge of LMA could be fun. No, don't even think about it, it's not a hike, maybe not even climbable.
Regarding my day-two non-standard route to Sunrise: It's fun, but the standard route is fun too. If you want to try the low traverse towards RoW, know that the hard part is at the beginning. Once you're past Iceberg Moraine and the first couple creek crossings, that's where the good times roll.
Littler Mount Adams rising out of the forest.
Littler Mount Adams in foreground, Little Mount Adams behind.
A knob on the low end of RoW crest. Worth the bushwhack/scramble? Maybe, but I didn't bother.
Looking down from waterfalls spilling into Hellroaring Valley.
Hellroaring Park. RoW moraine at right. Goat on highest point, probably not visible by the time this appears on your screen.
Snowfield tucked next to RoW. This looks similar to the previous pic, but smaller, less variety of vegetation, less water flowing.
Looking down Muddy, standing on RoW, with lower RoW to right.
Lower RoW seen through gap in upper RoW.
Would have been possible to follow creek to upper portal, but not safe. I just dashed in for a minute. Brrr! Felt good.

Posts: 1
Joined: May 25th, 2017, 8:05 pm

Re: Adams: Ridge of Wonders

Post by eastond » October 1st, 2020, 6:15 pm

I circumnavigated a few years ago and it was the most beat up I think I ever got trying to go through that section on the Yakima with no trail. I went down into both the Muddy and Hellroaring creek valleys if I remember right basically going up and over the ridge of wonders. Lots of climbing and route finding to be sure. I think I spend the night next to Muddy even before hiking back to the climber bivouac on my last day. I considered staying high up on that ridge but all the other info and routes I could find wend down where I went. Its a beautiful area and getting up to that ridge above Hellroaring meadows where the trail starts again was such a relief.

User avatar
Chip Down
Posts: 2606
Joined: November 8th, 2014, 8:41 pm

Re: Adams: Ridge of Wonders

Post by Chip Down » October 1st, 2020, 11:57 pm

Hey eastond, nice to see a debut post from you, three years after you joined. Welcome! :D

Post Reply