Fiery Sangre Sunset! (L-R): Humboldt Pk, Colony Baldy, Columbia PT, Kit Carson, Challenger PT, Little Baldy, Mt Adams, Little Horn, Fluted Pk, Horn Pk
Peak: Mt Adams 13,931’ Distance: ~12mi (plus distance getting to 2nd step on traverse) Elev Gain: 5100' (plus elev gain/loss on traverse attempt) Time: 12:00 (5:00am - 5:00pm): Summited Mt Adams @ 11:45AM (6:45 to summit) Technical Gear: Ice Axe, Microspikes (had crampons but didn't need them) Travelers: Geojed (Jed) Wildlife (other than the climbers ): Mole?, on summit of Mt Adams!
Started researching this route several weeks prior, trying to get as many pics of the traverse to Fluted Peak from PT13,325 as possible. RyanS from SP and jdorge here on 14ers.com were great helps with pics looking at the 5 steps of the traverse. Ended up turning back on the traverse at the 2nd step due to uncertainty of the avy danger of a slab that I would have to take a short "leap of faith" step into freshly-drifted snow to get down.
Sturm and Drang
One of the reasons I was attracted to this climb was the fact that the TH is plowed in Winter and Mt Adams E-Ridge looked to be an exciting climb that would match and push my abilities perfectly. Received great beta/pics from SGladbach, who did Adams 1.5wks prior to my climb, and critical route info for climbing the summit block from Mad Mike's January TR on Adams from 2yrs ago. Also got a great "current conditions" pic from EmmaM who had climbed Humboldt several days prior and kindly sent me a pic looking towards Adams. Thank you all so much! 8)
A storm that hit a day prior to my climb looked to throw a wrench into the plans but fortunately it only brushed by the Sangre's and deposited about 2-4in of snow that had already been blown around by the time I got to Adams' E-Ridge.
First View of Little Horn's rugged South Face
So I drove down to the Horn Creek TH Friday night and slept in my Pathfinder. Woke up at dark-30 and had breakfast, geared up and was on the trail @ 5AM sharp. Wore microspikes and made quick work to the Rainbow Trail. Turned left at the Rainbow Trail and hiked about .5mi south to where the Horn Creek Tr. headed west. Wore Microspikes for the next mile or so until the snow deepened and the post-holing consequences of stepping off the "packed track", which was hidden under 2in of freshly fallen and drifted snow by now, became direr.
Donned snow shoes and continued up the trail, following the newly hidden trench as best possible, which was easy up until about 3mi in and elev 11,000ft or so. Along the way I stopped to get a drink from my Camelback and discovered, much to my chagrin, that I had forgotten to blow out the tube before I started and that it was now completely frozen! I pushed the tube back in the reservoir sleeve in my backpack hoping that the warmer water in the reservoir would melt the ice in the tube. Unfortunately, I forgot to close the bite valve on the tube which would lead to morbid hilarity later on….
View of PT13,325
Anyways, Steve had warned me about the trail disappearing around here. He said he headed south/left and traversed by some cliffs that took him to the basin. I couldn’t even spot HIS track and didn’t feel like climbing up to the cliffs/talus area so I decided to push my Spidey senses to the MAX by attempting to follow the now completely invisible track/trail as best as possible; which I did remarkably well if I say so myself. I spotted one blaze on a tree and one fallen tree that had been cut by a chainsaw which told me that I was still on/close to the trail and I was able to make it the next mile to the 2nd creek crossing @ 11,440’ without too much trouble. 8) I followed the frozen creek the rest of the way up to the lower lakes/ponds where I got my first view of the Horn Creek Basin. And my, what a view it was! I only wish I had gotten there an hour earlier to see the sunrise on the peaks at the head of the basin. Gorgeous spindrift was streaming off the peaks above me adding to the drama of the view.
Spindrift-y awesome Upper Horn Creek Basin
Eye-popping cliffs of unlabled PT~13,520 at head of Horn Creek Basin
As I headed across the ponds area the snow was very crusty and it was a quick traverse to a small ridge with prominent outcrops of the Sangre de Cristo Conglomerate that looked like it would lead me up to the base of the ridge to PT13325. I could also see the route up to PT13,325 that I had scouted out from Mad Mike’s TR from two years prior.
Mt Adams and PT13,325 with route up (red)
Once I made it to this low ridge I stopped to take my snowshoes off. As I was sitting down to take my snowshoes off I noticed that the back of my snow pants, all the way to my boots, were completely covered in ICE! (I immediately thought of the scene in the book “Seven Summits” where one of the guys gets out of his tent at night while camped on the South Col of Everest, with temps at -50F, howling winds, and had to crap REALLY badly. He could barely get his pants down in time and finally did get them down, but then got diarrhea all over them. It froze solid immediately, and was easily brushed off in the wind.) I was really confused at first , and was wondering what could’ve done that until I checked my Camelback reservoir and noticed that 2/3 of the water (2 quarts worth!) was gone! Since I hadn’t closed the bite valve earlier, once the tube melted, all the water down to the level I had shoved the bite valve to had drained out of the reservoir and coated my pants with ice. (facepalm) So I drank several gulps of water and had a GU packet. I thought, "maybe I should just drink the rest of the water right now." "Nah," I thought, "I’ll be more careful about blowing the tube out." Little did I know that that was the only water I would drink the whole day! (Some rogue water froze in the tube again!)
PT13,325 w/ spindrift
I found my way through the low cliff bands and onto the snow covered tundra of the SE ridge to PT13325’s summit. I even got to enjoy a little knife edge scrambling 8) along a curve in the ridge! About 50ft below the summit of PT13325 I had to cross the only snow slope with avy danger that I encountered along the standard E-Ridge route. The snow patch was only 20ft or so long and as I traversed along the base of it I thought I heard a “crack” over the sound of the wind. Well, that got my attention! I then made sure I stepped from tuft of grass to tuft of grass or rock as much as possible as I circumvented this snow patch. The shape of the ridge right here was such that if this patch of snow “went” it wouldn’t slide down the SE ridge towards the Horn Creek Lakes, but it would be caught by and then slide into a couloir/cliff on the east side of PT13325!
Halfway up PT13,325
All in all, the whole ascent was joyful and surprisingly quick, with great views of Fluted peak to the north across the basin.
Once I reached PT13325, @ 10:15AM, I had jaw-dropping views of Kit Carson and the Crestones.
Kit Carson Peak peaking through pass at head of Horn Creek basin
Crestones peaking out to the south
Once I tore my eyes away from those views I turned my attention to the main objective of the day, Mt Adams East Ridge. After ogling the spicy-ness of the ridge for awhile, I descended down the pass between PT13325 and Adams and began the ascent in earnest. And wow, what an awesome ascent it was! I scrambled directly over the first “catwalk” section and then bypassed the first cliff band on the right to climb up above it.
Mt Adams amazing East Ridge
Here I reached the second “catwalk” section of the ridge prior to the 2nd pinnacle/cliff band that I was able to bypass on the right and regain the ridge.
2 obstacles down 3 to go on Adams' East Ridge
From there I picked my way up to the third obstacle, another pinnacle that had a delightful line directly up the middle of it with fantastic Class 4 moves along the way. 8)
Class four scramble up the middle of the cliff to Adams' shoulder
Above this pinnacle I reached Adams’ shoulder where I was able to follow easy/crusty snow up to the summit block.
Near Adam's shoulder looking towards summit block
There are two options to gain Mt. Adams summit from here on the East Ridge. The normal route that is done in the Summer and that Steve Gladbach did 1.5wks earlier (with safer, more stable snow conditions) is to traverse a snowy ledge to a 40 degree couloir that takes you up to the top (you can actually see his tracks in this photo). The other option to gain the summit block I got from Mad Mike’s TR. It is to climb up a glorious 25ft long Class 5 crack that starts from right where you gain the ledge. The couloir was freshly loaded with snow from the storm the day before and was looking very sketchy in the AVY department so I decided to go for the Class 5 crack. It was sweeeeeet! Lot of adrenaline + great handholds/ice axe pick holds + great footholds (that my Microspikes stuck to like Velcro) got me to the top of the crack. Holy crap that was awesome! A wonderful crescendo/”icing on the cake” way to finish the climb and gain the summit.
Adam's summit block w/ normal route (blue) Class 5 crack (red)
From the top of the crack it was a quick scramble to the 13,931’ summit of Mt. Adams! I reached the summit around 11:45am, 1hr 30min from PT13,325.
Hero Summit Shot!!!!
The views from the top were nothing short of spectacular. To the south, Humboldt, the Crestones, Columbia, Kit Carson, and Challenger smacked me in the face with their rugged beauty.
There was also a dramatic little couloir on the south side of the summit block that had pillows of snow.
Couloir on south side of Mt Adams's summit with cool snow pillows.
But my eyes were drawn again and again to the toothy Crestones, Columbia Point, Kit Carson Peak, and Challenger Point.
The Krazy Kool Crestones!
Columbia PT and Kit Carson Peak
After resting and refueling (as best I could with no water to drink) for about 30mins behind a nice wind break on the summit. I began my descent. First order of business was to descend the Class 5 crack again as the couloir to the summit looked even more avy dangerous from above than it did from below. From Mt Adams’ shoulder I could see the 5-Step traverse to Fluted below.
View down Adam's East Ridge w/ Fluted (L), Little Horn (R), and Horn Peak (Center Back)
I went back and forth on whether or not to attempt it as I descended down the E-Ridge but I made such short work of the descent (45min) that I thought, “Oh what the heck, I’ll give it a try.” I ascended back up to the top of PT13,325 and worked my way down several sub-steps to the first large step which I was able to tip-toe along a ledge to get to a spot where I could get down. I then stayed at the ridge crest to the 2nd step. I had to drop 50ft elevation wise to get to a ledge that would take me down this 2nd step. From the end of this ledge I would have to make a BIG 4ft step down onto a ~35deg slab with some deep, freshly-drifted powder that was resting on a hard icy/crusty layer of snow. I stood there for 15mins contemplating all the route/maneuver possibilities to cross this slope but didn’t feel comfortable making that BIG step with the avy danger as it existed. Even if I did make across this snowy slope, if I got turned back by a subsequent “step” then I would have to re-cross this slope and get back up this 4ft step.
View down East Ridge w/ turn-back spot (red spot)
So I turned around and made my way back up to the 1st step, climbing back up it by the same route/ledge that I used to descend it. I stood back on the summit of PT13,325 around 2pm.
Watch that 1st step it's a DOOZY!
One side-benefit of attempting this traverse was that I got a uniquely cool perspective of Mt Adams and its East Ridge. You can see all of the obstacles, cliff bands, and pinnacles better from this side.
Uniquely awesome perspective of Adams' East Ridge from traverse
I followed my tracks down from PT13,325, avoiding the avy-prone snow patch I had skirted on the way up and stayed mostly on really crusty snow or snow that I could see grass poking through. I remembered to stop ¼ of the way down the ridge to just sit there and really “enjoy” and “soak-in” the beauty that surrounded me for 10mins or so. Afterwards, I quickly descended to the low “conglomerate ridge” and put my snowshoes back on for the traverse of the frozen ponds in the basin. Looking back in the afternoon sun the wind was really kicking up the spindrift machine, giving the basin an ethereal/dreamy feeling to it. As I approached the frozen creek gully I noticed another person’s snowshoe tracks. I thought: “Sweet! Someone else has packed the trail I broke this morning with an ascent and descent!” I never did see who it was, but I had my own personal/private death march down the seemingly loooooooooooooooong trail back to my car. I had only eaten 3 GU packets, a cupful of trail-mix, about ½ of a PB&J sandwich, with two gulps of water ALL day. To say my energy level was at rock-bottom would be an understatement!!!
Ethereal Beauty of Horn Creek Basin
The last ¼ mile from the Rainbow Trail to my car I kept yelling at the top of my lungs “Show yourself you stupid car!” Anyways, I made it back to the car at 5pm. Packed up my gear and called my wife and texted Aaron (andyouseeme) and Ryan (Dchild10) that I was back at the TH safely.
Astonishing sunset over the Sangres. Little Baldy (L), Mt Adams (C), Little Horn (R)
The Sangre’s, and especially Mt Adams (center) decided to bid their farewell with one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.
Fare-thee-well Mt Adams (C). Thanks for the AMAZING day!
Wow, what a day!!! Feel free to “poach” my trench up Horn Creek, and you, like me, will have one the “best yet” days/climbs of your life!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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