Skamania County High Point Trip Report

liner on the west ridge of Mount Adams (8,920+ ft)

Date: September 21, 2003
Authors: Bob Bolton and Dean Molen

We got the asterisks off our lists by becoming the last known county highpointers to visit the new Skamania County highpoint who had previously climbed pre-eruption Mt. St. Helens. To all of you who compared the Skamania situation to the change in the Michigan state highpoint, fahhgetaboutit - there is no comparison! We did a very reasonable route for a one-day attempt, and even then it was at least 17 miles RT, with nearly half of that being off trail, with much of that on mobile boulders and/or Mt. St. Helens ash scree. Second, this route had a total elevation gain of just over 5,000 feet. There were three other routes with very similar total elevation gain (including the one from Cold Springs - by the time you consider the ups and downs on the Round the Mountain Trail, it would have been very close to 5,000 feet but with considerably more mileage). To put it mildly, this is a major effort no matter how you slice it.

When we got to the trailhead on Saturday evening, the only other vehicle in the parking lot was one from Wisconsin. We immediately thought "county highpointer" - who else from Wisconsin would be at this trailhead? We had hoped to encounter the owner of the vehicle, but alas it's a big place up there, and where there are no trails, it would be very easy to miss each other. By the time we got back to the trailhead, the car was gone.

GETTING THERE: Drive north from Washington SR14 on Alt. SR141 from the junction on the east side of the White Salmon River just west of the Hood River Bridge across the Columbia River. This road then connects to SR141 after climbing high above the river. Then drive SR141 north to Trout Lake. A $15 permit is required to hike above the 7,000-foot level on Mt. Adams, and the permits can be purchased 24x7 at the ranger station, which is west of the little berg up in the forest. After purchasing your permit, retrace your steps to the gas station in Trout Lake, and turn left just past the station to head north toward Mt Adams. At a Y, turn left on FR23 and drive this road for about 8 miles, all on pavement. At another Y junction, turn right on a gravel road, FR 8031. Stay straight at the first junction, then turn sharp right onto spur 120 at a sign to the Stagman Ridge Trail. Drive to the trailhead at the end of the spur and park.

The other approach that seems to make sense is from Morrison Creek campground. It is 1.2 miles shorter (one way) than the Cold Springs approach and, even though the trailhead is about 900 feet lower than the Cold Springs trailhead, this trail avoids a bunch of downhill on the Round the Mountain Trail, making it less total effort by quite a bit than Cold Springs. We chose Stagman Ridge because the elevation gain and mileage were similar to the Morrison Creek approach, but the off-trail route from Stagman Ridge seemed easier than it would have been for minimal distance from the Morrison Creek trailhead.

We slept in our vehicles on Saturday night, and got up in time to start hiking at just after 7 AM. The first junction was at about 3 miles. Turn left toward the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail climbs sometimes rather steeply to its junction with the PCT. Turn right onto the PCT, and in about 0.4 mile is the junction to the Round the Mountain Trail. Walk a few steps on this trail and turn left, cross country, into Horseshoe Meadow. At this point you can pretty much pick and choose your route. We climbed the little ridge to the north of the meadows, then to the east of "The Bumper", then on toward the north-northeast, heading toward the west ridge of Mt. Adams. Snow is a big help in avoiding the scree and moveable talus, however this late in the season there was too little snow, and it was rather hard. Dean's boots didn't have a sharp enough edge or tread to provide adequate traction where the snow was somewhat steep. The mobile talus was a major hindrance on this climb. Several times upon stepping on a seemingly stable rock, the boulders on the hillside above stated sliding down toward us, a very disconcerting sensation to say the least.

After much effort on that junk, we used our GPS to locate the highpoint, then descended using as much ash scree and snow as possible, more or less retracing our steps back to Horseshoe Meadow and the trails. We had to use head lamps for the last 20 minutes or so, returning to our vehicles at about 8 PM.

Some items of interest:

1. While we were at and just below the HP, we were able to see the upper reaches of the Pinnacle Glacier just northeast of us. The glacier is covered by rocks and dirt all the way from the top to the base of the steep part of the mountain. There is a constant roar over on that glacier. It is reminiscent of the wonderful sound in the North Cascades of water tumbling from high snow and ice fields down the steep hillsides to the roaring stream at the bottom. But this wasn't water, it was constantly falling rock, and lots of it. I suspect that as the sun came around to the west far enough to warm the ice, the junk that had been held in place by that ice would give way as the edge of the ice became too weak to hold it. I'm sure there are other explanations. We couldn't even see it - we could only hear it. Not sure if it was simply out of sight, or if it was too far away to see it with the naked eye. Incredible! That is a VERY unstable mountain, as are all of the Cascade volcanoes.

2. On our descent, as we topped a little ridge on the very uneven terrain west of Mt. Adams, in the hollow beyond was the wreckage of a private plane. We took some photos, took a GPS reading, and then took some time to look about the area. Debris was scattered over a remarkably small area. It seemed that it may have actually landed somewhat intact, but was subsequently crushed by the immense snowfall. We assumed that the wreckage had been located by the authorities, but I still sent a message to the Skamania County sheriff with the details and photos.

3. Later while still in the treeless area north of Horseshoe Meadow, I nearly stepped on something bright blue and stopped short. There was a medium-sized Maglight flashlight. I picked it up and turned it on, and the batteries were fresh. We guessed that the person we surmised to be a cohper must have dropped it. But the amazing thing was that I saw it at all. We could have been walking anywhere, but just happened to walk there. I used the thing instead of my headlamp that evening!

4. After it got dark we encountered at least two elk (we thought) just off the trail. They both made tons of nearby noise as they tried to hide in the undergrowth. Made our hair stand up, to say the least!

5. On our drive down the mountain we encountered wildlife on several occasions: two bucks on spur 120, a cow elk running across the road on SR141 that we barely missed, and several more deer sightings on SR141. That is one dangerous place to drive after dark - I'm gonna have to buy some deer whistles!

In short, this cohp is a bear. Most folks would probably choose to backpack this one, but we didn't see any water up there. Earlier in the season with snow melting and snow to walk on, this might actually be a rather enjoyable backpack. But you probably won't be able to avoid at least some of the talus and scree, so it would still have its down side. If you're not planning to complete Washington due to other challenges like Rainier or Bonanza or Olympus or Adams or several others, I would suggest avoiding this one. I would especially warn against soloing this highpoint as it would be very easy to injure yourself on this unstable mountain, and there are very few visitors to the west side of Mt. Adams above the trails.