September 12, 2010 - East Ridge
G, Bob, and I tried to reach the summit of Mt. Adams in April 2010 but the spring snow conditions presented us with an avi slope but a hundred yards or so from the summit. I knew that when Ed and I returned in September, there would be no similar issue. The route would be familiar and obviously more clear as we would be hiking on the summer trial and not trying to follow the trail cut in deep spring snow on snowshoes.
We camped the night before at the Alvarado Campground, which I am pleased to say must be one of the nicest USFS campgrounds that I've stayed at in years. We were post Labor Day, hence there was no shortage of sites. In preparation for a full day of climbing and hopefully the summit of Adams, we'd had another great dinner at the Uruguayan restaurant in Westcliffe.
The climb from the east is a good hike and promises at least a five mile approach before the climbing, albeit class 1, starts in earnest. Our course followed the same route as we'd taken in the spring but this time we were on the trail proper and we did make time, much better time than before. We left the truck and made the zigged course to arrive at the trail register, a good half mile from the parking area. Then we knew we had only to cover about 5 more miles to get to the lake below the flank of Adams that we would ascend. We hiked and chatted and I recalled familiar points as we worked our way up the Horn Creek Valley. We crossed the wilderness boundary after about 2 miles, i.e. an hour and change from the register. From the boundary it was up along the creek and the through the woods until we broke out into the open upper valley. This time the creek was running and we were soon hiking past alpine lakes and wetlands that had been an expanse of frozen white on our earlier attempt.
We took a break at Horn Lake and filled the water bottles for the climb up the broad flank of the mountain to reach the ridge above. This would surely be the worst part of the climb and it proved to be exactly that. Back and forth, first through willows and short headwalls and then on up through the less vegetated higher slopes that offered a talus field here and there as the best means to avoid the scree. We topped the ridge and then made our way west toward the summit. Where the course this past spring had been class 3 and 4 as a result of snow and ice forcing us onto the ridge top proper, now we could traverse the flank of the ridge and hold the climb to a class 2 ascending traverse at worst. We took to the ridge here and there for variety and soon reached the point that had stopped us in the spring. Where there had been an avi slope not to be messed with in April, now lay a grassy couloir that we crossed in a minute without second thoughts in September.
The summit block proved to be a class 2 climb up a series of grassy ledges that eventually funneled us to a weakness the proved to the class 2+ summit pitch. Once atop, we looked out on the rest of the Sangre de Christo range, knowing that although we were alone on Adams, there folks, probably many folks, enjoying this same wonderful weekend at Willow Lake and the Colony Lakes in their quest for the Crestone group 14'er summits. We remained on top for about 20 minutes and then reversed our course back down the ridge to the drop point and then on back down to the lake, well over 1000 vertical below us. It proved to be the expected knee jarring descent but once we hit that lake, we knew that we had only to hike a bit over five short miles to reach the truck and the cooler within.
It took two tries, but I'd scored the summit of Mt. Adams and in the course of doing so had the opportunity to climb the peak in opposite seasons, each of which painted a very different picture of climbing on this high 13'er.