Mt. Adams Summit in One Day: South Route Climb

In less than a month, what was a long, two-day slog up Shasta became an enjoyable one-day climb up Mt. Adams. Totaling 6,700 ft of elevation gain over 11.1 total miles, we managed to get to the summit and back in just under 14 hours. And we had so much fun doing it.

After an unexpected three hour drive over to the trailhead and through a few potholes, we made it to the south side trailhead shortly past midnight. Mid-July is a bit late in the season to be climbing Adams, so the first few miles had melted from snow to dirt. Having the forethought to pack our hiking boots as well as our mountaineering boots was a game changer, allowing us to breeze through those first few dark hours with the almost full moon guiding us along. After walking through one field of snow, we made it up to the Lunch Counter – a popular place to camp for a two-day expedition or, in our case, an excellent location to gear up with boots, crampons, and ice axes.

Those first few miles in the dark on a dirt trail were undeniably comfortable. As soon as we started our climb again, the grade of the elevation felt oh-so-familiar to what we had experienced on Shasta and Hood. Firing up our calves, we trudged up the steep, snow-covered hill until we saw light begin to peak over the horizon. In reflecting on our experience on Adams, the time that we took to soak in those beautiful moments is truly what made our climb so enjoyable. Instead of continuing to slog up thousands of feet of elevation, we traversed over to a spot where we could watch the entire sunrise, lighting up Mt. Hood and St. Helens in the distance, while creating a prominent shadow of the mountain directly above us. For 45 minutes, we simply chatted with a couple new friends we had made and basked in sheer Pacific Northwest beauty. Pulled back into motion by the below freezing temperatures, we continued our climb with smiles brightened by the mid-summer sunrise.

Those steep, volcanic hills can seriously play tricks on your mind. It’s impossible to see over the top of them, and often the true summit is hiding behind what you think *must* be the top! After getting to one false summit, realizing we were still 1,000 vertical feet from the true summit, we forged ahead with our new climbing buddies. There was not a single cloud in the sky the entire time, and though that last hour to the top was as rough as it always is, our anticipation of the view powered us all the way up Washington’s second tallest peak.

There are few moments in this trip so far that have been burned as deeply into my memory as walking over the top of Adams and seeing Rainier, straight ahead, clear as day. Alex and I simply stared, silently, over to that mountain we had originally set out to climb. From the top of Adams, you can truly tell how massive of an endeavor that mountain is. While we had a bit of disappointment in not being able to tackle Washington’s tallest peak, soaking in the view of her from the safe distance of Adams almost seemed serendipitous. We still made incredible progress as mountaineers during that one day summit, furthering our ability to navigate with our tools and through difficult temperatures. At the summit, any lingering frustration over our failure to make a Rainier attempt happen dissipated with the views of Washington’s most prominent volcanic peaks. We took our time at the summit, spending over an hour taking photos, having the chance to interview one of our new climbing friends, and letting our hard work soak in.

We had to carefully step our way down about an hour’s worth of climbing, and then were finally rewarded with a safe path to glissade down a sizable portion of the route. Slipping and sliding the rest of our way down the snow, we finally hit dirt trail once again. That last hour through the woods was not very fun. No matter how good of a day we seem to have on a mountain, the last few miles we just want to get the heck off the trail. Collapsing into our car, we quickly refueled and got ourselves ready for the drive back. Every bone of our body exhausted, we thought our minds might be playing tricks on us as we saw what looked like a black bear about 10 minutes into the road. As it trotted off the trail and we assured ourselves that we were in fact sane enough to drive, we reminded ourselves to buy bear spray before heading to Montana.

It took a couple days for our accomplishment to fully sink in. I think part of why we didn’t walk off the mountain feeling as if we had just conquered the world is because we didn’t absolutely max out our physical and mental limits. The climb itself was difficult and tiring, but nothing compared to what we experienced pushing through on Mt. Hood. It was only upon some deeper reflection of the day that we truly appreciated just what Mt. Adams brought us – confidence and validation. Adams is very similar to Shasta, but the climb was wildly different and we did it in one less day. In less than a month, we turned a two day slog into an enjoyable day climb, deepening our love for the sport of mountaineering.

“In reflecting on how accomplished I felt summiting Shasta, with Adams being very similar both mileage and elevation wise, it’s interesting how different of an experience I had. I was enjoying myself, I felt really strong, and to get up there and realize that we had did it in one day as opposed to two, it was a powerful moment of noticeable self growth over the last month. Going forward, I really want to put the enjoyment and happiness that I get from climbing and mountaineering first, and then the suffering second.”

Katie, reflection post Adams

“Being on our third summit already and almost halfway through our trip, feeling so strong and comfortable on the mountain wasn’t something that I was expecting so soon. Especially because coming off of the emotional and physical experience that was climbing Hood, it felt really good to climb a mountain and just feel comfortable and happy the whole time.” 

Alex, reflection post Adams

Three Biggest Takeaways:

  • Update as if your life depended on it (it does!!)

We are fortunate enough to have the flexibility in our schedule that allows for us to make climbing decisions based on the weather. During the window of a few days we had for our climb, the temperature hovered around freezing levels, with the wind speed varying dramatically. It was COLD on Adams – and had we not chosen a day with 5 mph winds our experience would have been wildly different.

  • Talk to others who have climbed and take their advice

We arrived at Adams late in the season – meaning the first 2ish hours of climbing were through a forest. Taking advice from our rental gear employee, we started in hiking boots and packed our mountaineering boots / crampons for later. This SIGNIFICANTLY cut down our time on the ascent – the extra weight in our pack was so worth it!

  • Take your time and take photos

If we wanted to, we could have finished in 12 hours or less. Instead, we enjoyed the sunrise, soaked in all of the views at the summit, and chatted with nearly everyone on the trail. Looking back, both of us have such fond memories of this climb – fully attributed to the fact that we decided to relax and enjoy ourselves.

At the very beginning of the launch of our project, we offered an option to sponsor one of our climbs / towns with a donation of $1,000. Thank you so much to Mary Miller, who chose to sponsor Washington! Both your knowledge of Seattle and advice for us to simply “go for it” seriously made this leg of the trip that much more enjoyable. We have been so blessed to be surrounded by inspirational and trailblazing women, so thank you for paying your passion for travel and adventure forward to us. We’re soaking up every minute!

With three summits of the trip officially completed, it feels like it’s moving so fast! The days (especially ones where we climb a 13,000 ft mountain) can feel long, but the sheer amount of life we have packed into this summer is worth every hour of sleep lost. In addition to climbing Adams, we spent so much time in Washington exploring the landscape and of course, interviewing people! More blogs and videos will be released as soon as we can – there is just too much to share!

And, as always, thank you for taking this journey with us. Each word of encouragement and phone call with friends and family is what keeps these faces smiling as we plan the next step of our trip.


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