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Mt. Adams - South Spur, July 22-23, 2004

We piled our gear into Kevin's Explorer June 22 and headed south into the heat of the summer, bound for the Columbia Gorge enroute to the state's second highest volcano. Several hours later, we pulled into the Hood River Safeway and got our first look at Mt. Adams glistening in the distance, one good-looking snow-covered chunk of pumice. After a 25 mile route-finding challenge on the wrong road (we realized something was amiss when we could no longer see the SW Chutes), we arrived at the Cold Springs Campground at about 5:00 PM and chatted with a group of skiers who had just come down.

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Pausing long enough to bury some beverages in the snow and slather on sunscreen, we set off up the Cold Springs Trail in pursuit of continuous snow. Something like two miles later, we found it and started skinning up to around the 6,700 ft. level, where we set up camp for the night. Kevin's new Mega-Lite went up, the bivies went inside, snow was melted and turned into soup, and we chowed down by the light of a spectacular sunset.

Adams has a peculiar desiccated character, as if a sorcerer had cast a spell on its water supply. Piles of gnarled grey wood lie piled on the forest floor, and we couldn't find a source of running water anywhere; it seems that the porous nature of the volcanic soil soaks up moisture like a sponge. Certainly the heaps of dead vegetation are a tinder keg just waiting for a spark - I would hate to see a fire here.

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The steady 45 mph wind that began to kick up at sundown proved to be our bane during the night, as the tent took flight twice before we decided to bag it and go with just bivies. Kevin, who hadn't been able to sleep due to the flapping of the shelter, was somewhat annoyed as I woke at 5:00 AM and started stuffing things into sacks, not to mention when his loaded coffee filter imploded into his Nalgene, but we managed to consume some calories and get the camping stuff cached in some trees by around 6:15, and started skinning toward the summit around 6:35.

With the ferocious wind continuing, we found the South Climb trail and made good time up the hill. My decision to go with harscheisen on my Dynafits turned out to be a good one, as I was able to cling to some pretty steep side hill traverses that Mike and Kevin had trouble getting traction on. We caught and passed a couple of snowboarders in trailrunners whose ascent wasn't destined to last much longer, and I gave them the standard Alpine Touring sales pitch, which they listened to with interest.

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The remainder of the climb was uneventful except for the times when gusts of wind knocked us over (both O'Brien and myself) - did I mention that the wind was pretty strong? Above 10,000 ft. skinning turned into a contest of will, and I fell into a rhythm of fifty skin steps followed by an aerobic recovery period of 15 deep breaths. Unfortunately the wind at the summit was really strong and the temperature not all that warm, so that hanging around the top and enjoying a leisurely lunch was not to be; I descended back to the false summit at Piker's Peak and ate with Mike while Kevin continued to the top.

A woman who had been a cyclist and was wearing an Aurora Cycles jersey put us all to shame with her uphill pace and shared some turns with Kevin from the top - she remarked that she was really a snowboarder, and kind of new to skiing, but she and some friends had been turned back from the summit by an electrical storm on the mountain the week previous and on a whim she decided to come back solo this week and finish off the job. She proceeded to bomb the downhill portion as well while we applauded both her fitness level and audacity on two planks.

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Skiing down from the true summit was excellent, with a couple of inches of warmed corn over a firm base. The next pitch down from the false summit was already turning to slop in places, but there were good stretches here and there - no real pattern, some places with the same aspect and elevation were just better than places a few feet away. We decided against skiing the SW Chutes from the false summit, as they didn't look nearly as steep up close as they did from the road and we didn't really want to deal with the traverse over numerous rock ridges back to our gear at the bottom - maybe next time. From the Lunch Counter down to camp, the same variable conditions prevailed, but there were still some good turns on some of the steeper sections in and around the slag heaps from the old sulphur mine (hey, they even built some kickers here)! - the last two thousand feet of vert was pretty much easy cruising with turns optional. We arrived at camp around 3:00, packed up and headed back to the trail, where the two miles of hiking in ski boots felt like five. Back at the car, the Gatorade and beer was left semi-exposed by the heat wave's melting of the snow, but the sparse crowd had shown more mercy than the vermin at Paradise two weeks before, and our stash was intact.

All of us struggled to keep our eyes open on the way down the mountain, and I took the wheel after Kevin's rally drive on the dirt into Hood River. We did the obligatory fast food stop at the Golden Arches, gassed up remembering not to fill the tank ourselves, and were blessed with clear sailing all the way to Seattle . . .

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