Mount Adams, Elevation 12,276ft
Stormy Monday, 50 degrees
July 5, 2002
Ben, Jason, Josh
Stormy Monday from the base of the Adams Glacier. Our ski descent is in red. This photo was taken two days after our descent.
A four-day weekend with good weather. Somebody pinch me. Thursday was spent heading south from Bellingham. I had a few chores to take care of so I agreed to meet Troy and the Hummels at the Killen Creek trailhead that evening. They were climbing on the eastside. I had a bagel and cherries before leaving Tacoma around 7pm. Normally, I'd prefer to sleep in a bed and get an earlier start but on this particular weekend a ridgerest was better than obnoxious fireworks. I might have thought otherwise had I know that I wouldn't even get a chance to lay down.
There are several ways to get to Killen Creek from Randle. I was familiar with FR23 so that is what I took. Darkness struck as I started to see snow. A few patches around Takhlakh Lake led to a chunk that required a look. It was quite deep but there were tracks so I gave it a go. 4-wheel drive and a bit of speed got me within 20 feet of its end. Unfortunately, it also got me highsided beyond belief. It seems that the 7200lb diesel handles a little different than the Mazda. I wasn't in the mood to dig 2-3ft down in either direction so I went for help. The trailhead was another 3-4 miles up the road so I switched to tennis shoes for a late night jog. The first mile wasn't so bad. The elevation peaked as I rounded a switchback. That's where it hit me. I'm not sure whether it was the consistent snow or the bagel and cherries, but I got a sick feeling in my stomach. It was looking to be a long night.
I reached the trailhead after a good 30 minutes of cramps. Troy and the Hummels could hardly believe my predicament. I explained that the shortest way back was blocked by snow. Troy asked if there were tracks and I said, "yea, but don't even think about it." I could only imagine the numbskull and rig that tempted me to begin with.
I knew there was another way around but I wasn't sure how long it would take. Troy, Josh and I set off around 11pm while Jason guarded camp (slept). An overgrown road between Takhlakh Lake and FR21 brought us to my truck around midnight. Troy made a few hapless tugs but it wouldn't budge. I pulled a shovel from the back of my truck and Troy pulled a paddle from his. Dig, tug, dig, tug, dig, dig, dig, dig. After several attempts to tug and several hours of digging, we basically cleared the road beneath and behind my truck. Only then, was Troy able to pull me out. Then happened to be 2am and we were still an hour from camp. We took FR23 back to FR21 instead of the overgrown shortcut. Troy and Josh were in bed by 3am. I curled up in the cab of my truck wondering how I was going to convince myself and the others to wake up in 2 hours to climb the North Ridge and ski Stormy Monday. For me, the best way was to stay awake. I feared that any sleep would result in too much.
By 5am I was feeling pretty crappy. Jason had over 6 hours of sleep so he was good to go. Josh wasn't in it to begin with. With 2 hours of sleep his list of excuses continued to grow. Nevertheless, we finished packing and were on our way by 7am. Troy woke up in time to join us for the hike. He had to work that weekend so his plan was to climb and descend the North Ridge in a day.
Ok, enough complaining. The weather was perfect and we were back on track. Despite no sleep and a 75lb pack I was feeling pretty good. Our first views came within an hour of the trailhead where we stopped for some drink and sunscreen.
We reached camp after another hour of hiking. I had yet to admit it but Stormy looked bad. The middle section was melted and there was quite a bit of rockfall down low. Josh's binoculars revealed more excuses but I had plenty of smack to silence them.
Our familiar camp was taken so the Hummels and I ditched our overnight gear at a more scenic, less sheltered camp higher up. I actually carried and switched to my Bomb pack instead of my heavier Astraplane. I didn't notice much difference with the rope, harness, crampons, ice axe, helmet and all. Seeing Troy with a 10lb pack didn't help. But, in tennis shoes, T-shirt and shorts I could hardly complain.
Jason, Josh and Troy heading towards the North Ridge.
I chased Troy to the North Ridge and ended up passing him while he waited for the Hummels. I stopped about halfway up to put on pants and we continued together. Troy and I reached the summit within 4 hours from camp, a few minutes ahead of the Hummels. Troy had to walk down so he left right away. We planned to meet him at camp if the ski went well. No plans if it didn't. Sometimes, the only way to get something done is to plan for the best.
At last, it was time to ski. Josh still figured it wouldn't go but Jason and I were hopeful. We switched from tennis shoes to ski boots and put our harnesses on just in case. Drifts and firm snow made for a rough ski across the summit plateau. We dropped another couple hundred vertical feet before spotting the entrance to Stormy. A mix of rock and chunky ice had us worried until we found some slots of soft snow that led us to perfection.
The snow on the upper slope provided the best edging that I've ever encountered. I'd best describe it as wind-plaster. It had fallen within the last few days but had yet to melt. Besides making for the best turns of the season, it made up for any confidence we may have lacked.
Jason dropping in on the best snow of the season.
The upper slope funneled so we tended toward the center where the angle was less steep. Still, 40 degrees was the least we could find. Best yet, we couldn't see what was below. I say best now but at the time we were all frightened of the possibility of getting cut off or falling. Looking down was like staring death in the face and seeing who would blink first.
Jason versus death.
We needed a distraction but it wasn't the kind that we hoped for.
Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. For those who aren't familiar with the sound, that's a rock going about Mach 12 whispering distance from your head. The sun had rounded the summit and began unleashing our greatest fear -- rockfall. We now faced death in both directions.
Josh enters the funnel.
Jason wondering which way to go.
Our strategy didn't change much. Instead of resting to take photos, we rested to take photos and watch for rockfall. Fortunately, there were plenty of safe spots and we took turns skiing.
As we neared the rockband I became more concerned about lower death. We still couldn't see below us and now the edge of oblivion was lined with rocks. The snow had softened although a couple inches of corn did little to slow the nearly constant barrage of rocks. We skied as far right as possible and Jason went ahead to check out the chute directly below us. He wasn't sure if it went through so I caught up and, eykes, looked for an alternative. To our left was a rock nose whose slope looked reasonable to ski. The snow was spotty but I was pretty sure it would go and we didn't want to waste time looking elsewhere. Jason took a photo before I dropped in.
Ben finding his way through the rockband.
I somehow managed to slip my way between the rocks. A small hop in the middle and a larger hop at the end led me to a snow island above another cliff. I traversed right through a rather deep gut and waited for the Hummels. Jason played a slightly different game of twister and I took a photo of him on the final hop. This section averaged 45 degrees with steps that I'm certain were 50 degrees. The snow island was slightly less but once again, we couldn't see what was below.
Jason making the final hop.
Josh was freaked. We've done our share of sketchy moves out of bounds at ski resorts but death has never been this certain. He made it with a bit of coaxing and we regrouped on top of the snow island wondering how we were going to survive the next section. It turns out that we had every reason to worry. We were looming above several hundred feet of near-vertical cliff. Jason went first and discovered an exit. We took a left above the cliff and were able to traverse the most valuable inch of snow on the mountain. A couple hours later and we would have had to walk this section of 40 degree scree. I imagine it was melted prior to that week's storm as well. Talk about timing.
The traverse from the snow island to the open slope.
I was relieved despite the occasional rock zooming past my head. We took turns skiing to reduce the chance of getting hit and the open slope allowed more freedom to dodge. Still, I checked my back nearly every turn. More troublesome were the rocks that weren't moving. We discovered a minefield, some open, others encased in snow. However, they could do little more than scratch our skis. The bergschrund gave us no trouble and we were off the slope in no time. That left us with some thousand vertical feet of flats back to camp.
Skiing the lower Adams Glacier. Stormy Monday is seen on the left.
Troy was waiting at camp. He tempted us with the city life but I could tell he was jealous. We wanted no part of it and neither did he. Who could turn their back on such a beautiful place? For Troy the answer was simple, he had to work. The Hummels and I were unsure but after some food and rest the answer became clear, two more days to do as we wished.
Pleased with Stormy but by no means satisfied. Click here to see more wishes come true.