Mount Adams, Elevation 12,276ft
Lava Headwall, 45 degrees
July 6, 2002
Ben, Jason, Josh
Author: Jason Hummel
Lava Headwall from the North Ridge. Our ski descent is in red. This photo was taken one day after our descent.
We were stoked to have skied Stormy Monday on Friday. Heck, everything came together… we climbed, we skied, we lived and, you know, we wanted some more.
Day 2: Ascend North Ridge, descend Lava Headwall
Waking-up presented the usual nuisances. The most annoying, of course, was the act of embracing daylight and resolving to ‘rise from the dead’. What can I say, I enjoy my nesting time and saw no reason to be out and about until 6:30ish. That said, I shrugged off my sleeping bag and crawled out of the tent in shorts and a T-shirt. Oh yea baby, a blue-blazing-windless-wonderful day. The kind I have come to expect on our annual hits to the North Face of Mount Adams. Gotta love it!
That morning, Josh and I ate some sausage, half of which the snafflehounds greedily consumed. After huntin’ a string of varmints and roasting them over my MSR stove, my hunger was satisfied. Indeed, yummy for the tummy. I didn’t envy Ben’s oatmeal that’s for sure (FYI: No snafflehounds were killed in the writing of this story).
Packing up was simple enough. I filled my pack with a coat, fleece, nutri-grain bar, gloves, helmet, ice axe and some water. The rest stayed in the tent. I headed out from camp with boots on skis, skis on pack, feeling relaxed and focused. We raced ahead like dogs let out of a cage, intent on getting to the summit before the snow softened to mash potatoes. Views of the Lava Headwall followed us most of the way, keeping our minds alive with the eventual descent. Fact is, there are no easy routes down. You either ski a difficult route or you walk back down the North Ridge.
About halfway up the way up the ridge, we stopped to throw on ski pants, fleece, and gloves. Stealing one last look at the headwall, I sketched the line in my head. Ski the upper headwall, take a left at the icicle cliff, ski the narrow chute, proceed to haul butt through danger zone, find a way over the bergschrund somewhere in the center, and ski out of the driving range before a rock enters the back of my head.
We met up with a guy who spent the night behind a boulder. Must’ve been quite a view. I know he mentioned he had quite an experience getting his small tent up though.
Continuing up the ridge, we soon reached the most scenic part of this climb. This is where the ridge becomes solid and about as wide as a sidewalk, except this one teeters, curling up to the climber’s right. This was our yellow brick road, the only passage with sneakers on our feet. We raced along this path with a constant breeze from the west blowing at our sides. Too soon, the boring slog across the summit cap begins. I’d say 20 or 30 minutes before that is over for a total of just under 4 hours from camp.
Ben and Josh were already pulling their boots on when I sat down behind the summit mound. Determined to catch up, I hurried to get my boots on. After 10 minutes, we were gone. We cruised across the summit cap and headed for the upper headwall. The snow was perfect and the exposure captivating, we ate up the upper slope thinking only of the next turn.
Josh skiing the upper headwall looking north.
Josh skiing the upper headwall looking east.
Suddenly, we found ourselves perched above a cliff with no way through. Looking up, we could see that we had missed the traverse so climbing was the only option. I reached the narrow band of snow that cuts beneath the icicle cliff first and in the minute or two I was there I saw many rocks tumble down the hill. When Ben arrived I snapped 2 photos of him before I made steadfastly through the danger zone for the closest safe spot. This was the crux of the route and not a good time to dillydally.
Jason skiing below the icicle cliff.
Ben skiing below the icicle cliff.
Below that, the skiing took a turn for the worst. Not only was the slope full of runnels, but rocks were also encrusted in a tomb of snow. Like mines they bombarded the underside of our skis. I took the lead through most of this section, not wanting to spend anymore time than necessary on this part of the route. Ben and Josh met up with me and we tried to decide how we were going to get over the bergschrund. I did some scouting (getting as close as I dare and looking over) and decided that right was the best way. Taking the lead I skied across a snowbridge to the finish line.
Josh skiing the middle headwall while Jason waits below (seen above Josh's ski tip).
The bottom of the North Ridge was just to our left, so we headed across debris and suncupped snow, traversed a boulder field until we reached some more snow on the west side of the ridge. From there, we cruised the flats to camp.
Josh at the base of the headwall.
While resting, we discussed what we should do the following day. Go home or climb again. The next morning we awoke to fair skis. Just as in the day before and the day before that. We were stoked to have skied Stormy Monday on Friday and the Lava Headwall on Saturday. Heck, everything came together…we climbed, we skied, we lived and, you know, we wanted some more.
Day 3: Ascend North Ridge, descend North Face of the Northwest Ridge
I also want to note that I believe this would be a great route to ski during a future year when it has better snow covering. We skied this face late season on an average year.