Mt. Adams is the second highest peak in Washington State, and is the third highest of all the Cascade volcanos. During summer months Mt. Adams provides a nice alternate to busier climbs on Mt. Rainier and Mt. Hood and can be climbed as either a long one-day climb, or a nice overnight trip. In the spring and early summer, Mt. Adams is also a coveted Northwest ski descent. We offer a wide variety of guided climbs and ski descents on Mt. Adams, ranging from relatively straight forward climbs of the South Spur route to more challenging routes such as the Adams Glacier. Mount Adams is also a good location for a basic mountaineering seminar.
South Spur (aka South Climb): This is the easiest way to climb Mt. Adams. All South Spur route climbs originate in the lovely small town of Trout Lake, WA, a 45 minute drive from the water sports mecca of Hood River, OR. Although the South Spur can be climbed in one long day from the usual trailhead at Cold Springs (5600’), most guided groups take two days to do the climb and place a camp just over 9,000 feet on a broad bench called the Lunch Counter. We meet in Trout Lake on the morning of Day 1 to do an equipment check, obtain our climbing permits, and organize group equipment such as food, fuel, tents, and stoves. The hike to the Lunch Counter takes most groups 5 or 6 hours and has a few short steep sections, but is basically non-technical.
From our camp at the Lunch Counter we have the option to do some training and are in good position to summit on day 2. On summit day we wake up early and climb up the steeper slopes above the Lunch Counter until we eventually reach Pikers Peak, a false summit at 11,657’ before climbing the final slopes to the summit of Mt. Adams at 12,276’. The total distance from Cold Springs to the summit is just over 5.7 miles, but a vertical gain of 6,676' makes this a nice challenge. Most groups then descend back to camp at the Lunch Counter, pack up camp, and continue down to the trailhead, arriving back in Trout Lake by late afternoon.
In the early season the route takes place almost entirely on snow, and as the summer progresses, this becomes more of a scramble/hike. The South Spur is the perfect climb for people looking for basic mountaineering training or as physical training for a larger peak such as Mt. Rainier. Ice axe and crampons are generally used and we often use a climbing rope for this non-glaciated route. The South Spur climb is best from June-early October. While we generally guide the South Spur in 2 days, we do offer one day ascents as well as longer trips. One day ascents are only advised for people who are exceptionally fit, while trips longer than two days are an option for groups looking for a more relaxed pace, or wishing to develop basic mountaineering skills. On early season climbs you may need to hike a few miles on the snow covered forest service road leading to the trailhead, which can also add an extra day.
Avalanche Glacier Route: An alternate to the more popular South Spur climb, the Avalanche Glacier provides a steeper climb to the summit of Mt. Adams. We still start at the Cold Springs trailhead, but then we use the round-the-mountain trail to traverse to the northwest until we are under the route. Once on the glacier, the route takes a very direct path to the summit, keeping the popular ski routes down the Southwest Chutes to the climber’s right. We generally place our camp somewhere above 9000, summit from this camp, and then descend either the South Spur route back to Cold Springs or down climb our route and retrieve camp. If gong over the top we need to carry all our camping gear up the route. This route is best climbed in June-July
North Ridge: All routes on the North side of Mt. Adams, including the north ridge of Adams, involve a 5-7 hour approach hike from the Killen Creek trailhead at 4600.’ Much steeper, and longer than the South Spur this route is most often done in 3-days. The first day is spent approaching the mountain and ends at a wonderful camp with spectacular views of Mt. Rainier to the north. This area is home to a large population of Mountain goats, and on most trips we see a large herd on the steep slopes above camp. The climb itself presents steep snow climbing in the early season and then becomes a loose rock scramble later in the summer. Although the North Ridge is the second most popular route on Mt. Adams, this side of the mountain has a much more remote feeling. The North Ridge is best in June and July. Eventually all the snow melts off the North Ridge Route at which point the route can still be climbed, but becomes less enjoyable. The steepest sections of the North Ridge are around 40 degrees.
Adams Glacier Route: The Adams Glacier is likely the best route on Mt. Adams, but it is actually not climbed as often a the others because it tends to only be in good condition in the early season, when the roads leading to Mt. Adams are snow covered, necessitating a longer approach. Nonetheless, the Adams Glacier is an excellent route and there is generally a window early each summer when the route is in good condition. The worst case scenario for a planned Adams Glacier route is that you can't get up the Adams Glacier and you are diverted to either the North Ridge or one of the routes on the Northwest Ridge.
Summit attempts on the Adams Glacier are made from the snow camps above Killen Creek Meadows and those who successfully reach the summit generally return to camp by descending the North Ridge route. The Adams Glacier is a complex glacier climb requiring a variety of climbing techniques as we wind our way up this steep and broken glacier. When in condition the steepest sections of the Adams Glacier are around 45 degrees, but as the glacier breaks up, climbers are often forced to negotiate steeper obstacles on the way to the top. This is best done as a three-day climb, with additional days possible if you want to train, or have alternate summit days in the event of bad weather. For the Adams Glacier is best done in May through early July and uses the same approach as the North Ridge.
Northwest Ridge: The Northwest Ridge of Mt. Adams is almost a variation of the Adams Glacier. For the climb we start from the same high camp as the Adams Glacier route. On the actual summit day we traverse the lower Adams Glacier and eventually gain the Northwest Ridge. This is followed to the top with forays off the ridge to avoid the steepest climbing. The route ends at the Pinnacle at around 12,000. From here we traverse over to the summit and then descend the North Ridge route. An alternate variation of this route is to climb the Northwest Face of the Northwest Ridge, which provides consistently steep climbing up to 50 degrees. While this is not often guided, we present it here as an alternate climb for those seeking a steeper, more technical ascent in the Souther Cascades. We only guide these routes at 2:1 or lower.
Guided Ski Descents of Mt. Adams: We offer guided ski descents of Mt. Adams in the spring and early summer. While the best skiing is generally earlier in the spring when snow covered roads block access to the Cold Springs trailhead, there is usually a period in the late spring when the road is sufficiently snow free and the skiing is still good. In most years the best time for this is sometime in late May or early June. The trip can be done in a day by those accustomed to 7000’ ski days, or more reasonably, is offered as a 2-day ascent with opportunities to ski various lines in addition to the descent from the summit. Most years the skiing is good in most spots with the exception of the section between Pikers Peak (11,657’) and the summit, which gets such consistent wind that the skiing conditions are rarely good. We often climb to this point and then either decide to carry our skis to the top (primarily so we can say we skied from the summit!) and ski down, or stash our skis, dash up to the summit, and then start skiing from the top of the steeper slopes above the Lunch Counter. There are several routes that can be skied including the popular Southwest Chutes, the Avalanche Glacier Headwall, or more often the South Spur route. If you time it right you can ski most of the way back to your car, but there is almost always a short section that must be hiked the end.
- Mt. Adams is the 2nd highest mountain in Washington and 3rd highest peak in the Cascade Range.
- Lewis and Clark spotted Mt. Adams in 1805, but it was mistook it for St. Helens.
- The first ascent of Mount Adams was in 1854 and was made by Aiken, Shaw, Birge and & Allen. It is possible that botanist David Douglas climbed the mountain soon after coming to the area in 1825, but usually credit for the first ascent goes to the 1854 party.
- A sulpher mine operated on the summit of Mt. Adams for a short time, put proved unprofitable.
Cowlitz Valley Ranger Station
10024 US Hwy 12
PO Box 670 Randle, WA 98377
Mt. Adams Ranger Station
2455 Hwy 141
Trout Lake, WA 98650
Portions of this program take place on US Forest Service lands under a commercial-outfitter and guide permits. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities and is an equal opportunity provider and employer.