I was doing my lunch time walk on a sunny day in Seattle. Just kind of cruising along, not thinking anything in particular, when suddenly a past climb popped into my head. For some reason, I started thinking about my climb on Mt Adams in 2001.
I was fresh off my 2nd unsuccessful climb of Rainier the year before, so I decided to climb the 12,000 foot second highest peak in the state.
This will go down in history as the worst guided climb I have ever been on….
This was early in my career with the Interwebs, but I ponied up and went searching for a guide service to get my butt to the top of the mountain. It isn’t that difficult a climb, in fact, early in the last century they used to take mules to the top to mine sulfur. The mules, though, knew the route, Moutainstroh (though that name hadn’t been coined back then) did not.
My search brought me to Oregon Peak Adventures. Given the time I wanted to climb, they were honestly my only option. I contacted them and I was quickly signed up. Talking to the guy on the phone and over email, he seemed to be on the ball, plus I had some mountain experience, so I was confident it would be ok.
Yeah NOT so much.
Mt Adams is one of the most remote peaks in Washington. There is simply no easy way to get there. Joe, the owner, sent me instructions on where to meet him. My old station wagon barely made it up the road to meeting place, but made it I did. As usual, I was early so I settled back to wait.
While I was there, Susan and Kitty, also on the climb showed up, and soon after Joe.
I was ready to grab the pack and get going (it was about 10AM) but he said we had to wait. The other guide was picking up the extra climber and would be meeting us here. We couldn’t leave without him as the other guide didn’t know where we were camping. (Confidence was waning). HOURS went by, and finally about 230 they showed up. I never did find out why they were so late
OK this is NOT good. Itinerary said: Day 1 hike in, set up camp early, get to bed early, Day 2 Alpine start (usually 1-3 AM) summit and hike out. We should have already been at, or at least close to the campsite by now. We were still at the parking lot.
They show up, but before we leave, we have to divvy up the group gear. Ropes, pickets, food, tents etc. The new guy, Rob with the guide informed us “Sorry my pack is too small to take anything else.”
WHAT? First you make us late, and now you are dogging out on the group gear? I considered smacking him with my ice axe, but the guides showed him how to tie extra gear to the pack. Nice try pal.
Finally, at close to 330 we start. NOW Joe says “I want to try a different route to the base camp.” I shoulda knowed we were in trouble when he said. “I’ve never taken it, but I hear it’s easier…” It was NOT easy and it added an hour to the walk in. We got the base camp at 7:30, then had to set up tents, eat, and crash to be ready for the climb. I was pissed! (One cool thing though, a mountain goat walked right through where our camp was being set up. That was fun, but I was still mad.)
I wake up at 5, there had been no wake up shout by the guides, for the early start. You start early on a mountain so you are heading down when it gets hotter and the snow/glaciers get more dangerous. We were already late, and no one was moving. I made a point to make as much noise as I could, but nope, not a peep. Finally around 7 the guides got up and started making breakfast.
The other climbers lollygagged, and hemmed and hawed, and took forever to get ready. I was getting madder all the time. I was coming to terms with not being able to get to the summit of Rainier do to altitude issues, but the window to this summit was closing as well and it wasn’t my fault! At 8:30, when we should have been coming down from the summit we started up.
Remember when I mentioned the reason for the alpine start? Well, we had to watch out for and dodge tumbling rocks from a rock face. Yeah, I was getting madder by the minute!
As we climbed, a lenticular cloud was forming around the summit. This is a round, almost flying saucer looking cloud, and it’s a BAD thing. The picture below shows one tha had risen up off the summit of Adams,
It means the weather on top is deteriorating pretty quickly. This is what it looked like from where we were standing.
It was NOT a time to summit. I was getting a bad feeling about the climb, when we met up with a REAL climber who was coming back down.
She told us she had made the top, but as she started back down, the wind was getting dangerous. She also asked why we started so late, and he explained the longer route we took the day before. She gave him a look that said “Are you serious?” and she said, “That is really a stupid way to get to base camp.” I got the sick “You aint gonna get to the top today” feeling just as Joe said, “Guys we have to turn around!” You can see by the expression here what I thought about that!
So yes, it was time to go down, but the misadventures were not over. I was roped to the other guide, luckily I have blocked out his name. As we went down, the clouds caught us, and it got pretty darn foggy. Combine it with snow, and its damn hard to find your way. Our rope team was faster, and had gotten separated from Joe and the ladies. Suddenly Jr guide stopped dead and said “I have no idea where we are…”
Seriously??? Now I am just pissed! “Our camp is JUST over that rise!” I said, and pointed to the left. “No we stay here till Joe finds us,” says JR. OK, at the camp is the tent, extra snacks, a book and soft sleeping bag to sit on while we wait. This guy wants us to stand here in the fog and wait?? And wait we did.
People, I will tell you right now, I almost broke every mountain rule there was at that point. I started fiddling with the knot to unrope, and I was going to leave their asses, get my gear at the camp, and head back to my car. I only stopped because I was afraid they’d search for me and keep the rest of them up there, or worse, call in search and rescue.
So again we waited for 45 minutes, until Joe showed up and led us over the rise (just as I said) to our tents… I picked the only guide in the world who got lost!
I did not say a word to anyone on the way down, and I led the way. At the parking area, I threw my gear in the car, and laughed at him when he offered half off another attempt and drove off.
I never tried Adams again after that, not sure why it just never happened. Now that I have retired from mountains, I doubt I ever will. If you ever decide to climb in Washington, give me a shout, I can recommend a few good services. My google searches seem to indicate Oregon Peaks is no longer with us, and I will tell you that is NOT a bad thing!
Thanks for reading!