Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday trail blogging: Mt. Adams

Last weekend brought the first cool fall weather to the Pacific Northwest, so of course Carol and I had to go camping with Max Da Mutt, our loyal companion. Our choice was an old favorite: Mt. Adams, the second highest peak (12,276 ft / 3,742 m) in the region after nearby Mt. Rainier. This massive stratovolcano is located east of the Cascade crest near the small town of Trout Lake in Washington State. Large glaciers stream down on all sides from the summit, which for a few decades was the site of a working sulfur mine.

Due to a late arrival, we had limited time after setting up our tent in a subalpine forest. So we hiked up a climber's trail to timberline for spectacular views of the sunset behind Mt. St. Helens. The night was cool (around 40º F / 4º C) and breezy in our empty campground on Morrison Creek. The night sky was dazzling, with more stars visible than I had seen in years (a blatant plug for the mission of the International Dark-Sky Association).

The wind increased by Sunday morning and clouds from a weak Pacific front moved across the peak, finally obscuring it above 8,000 ft / 2,400 m. In light rain, we hiked the Round the Mountain trail through Bird Creek Meadows in the half of the mountain that is within the Yakima Nation's reservation. These lush meadows were already showing rich autumn colors as some species of wildflowers were just starting to blossom. Eventually the trail climbed across a lava flow and entered the Mt. Adams Wilderness, administered by the U.S. Forest Service. We encountered just three other hikers all day in meadows that are usually crowded on weekends from mid-July through August, when trails are generally clear of snow.

The Mt. Adams Wilderness occupies just 47,000 acres, a tiny portion of the 1.3 million acres in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The Gifford Pinchot extends from Mt. Rainier National Park all the way to the Columbia River Gorge. Adams is relatively pristine, with clearcutting and other signs of logging limited to its lower slopes. Most of the Gifford Pinchot, by contrast, has been extensively degraded by industrial logging and the associated patchwork of clearcutsthe scourge of the Pacific Northwest. (To see what I mean, open Google Earth and "fly" from Mt. Adams to Mt. St. Helens.)

Meanwhile, the Yakima Nation, to its great credit, has declined lucrative offers to develop a destination resort on the wild eastern side of Adams. Though the rough tribal road to the Bird Creek Meadows trailhead still deserves its legendary reputation, the Yakimas are doing a far better job than the U.S. government in maintaining campgrounds and trails. The Bush administration is much more interested in funding road construction for logging ancient forests than in any recreational uses.

Top photo: Mt. St. Helens from South Climb trail on Mt. Adams.
Middle photo: Bird Creek Meadows and Suksdorf ridge, Mt. Adams.
Bottom photo: Bird Creek Meadows.
(All photos by M.J. O'Brien.)

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