The Lesser Adams

17 Jan 1998 - by Steve Eckert

2012 NOTE: The maps I had available when I wrote this report were basically 100m-contours on backcountry road maps. See the trailhead page for modern maps and GPS waypoints and a better description of this climb.

There is a real Mt Adams (in Oregon). There is also an Adams Peak (in California, 8197'). Adams Peak is the lesser Adams! It's a bump on a ridge, with trees at the top and desert at the base. You can see Reno's lights reflecting off the clouds at the trailhead. (Highway 284 was open and sanded.) Not exactly my image of a Sierra Nevada peak, but it's on the SPS list!

Aaron Schuman and I decided to try sneaking past the weather god for one last conditioning trip before I head into the deserts of Chile. As has been said many times before, you never conquer a mountain - it's more like you are allowed to visit, and sometimes it's more like you can sneak up before the weather gets around to nailing you.

This is the only peak in my life that I have climbed without ever seeing. The summit remained in the clouds all day, our route was in the trees all day, and a jumble of logging roads covered with a foot or two of wet snow do not make navigation easy. We had no idea what the lay of the land was like, except from the DeLorme topo atlas (with 100 meter contours), since the clouds were quite low in the morning and we did not bother to buy a USGS topo map with detailed resolution.

We used a compass at 5 minute intervals, and a GPS at half hour intervals, and more or less stayed on the right route (only 600' of up/down wasted). Even so the slog from Frenchman Lake was 12 hours round trip. Much of that time was due to the breakable surface (not quite a crust) on deep wet snow, which made coming down almost as hard as going up.

At a false summit, we almost headed back down without finding the register until the GPS said "0.17 miles at 38 degrees" - we couldn't see even 100 yards up there, but the GPS lead us to within 100' of the register. Cool. (Actually, cold - the wind was howling on top, but it was calm down in the trees.)

Aaron and I have done enough of these low-risk day trips to know when we should turn around, (1pm) but we sometimes push on knowing we'll get back way after dark. We didn't leave the summit until 3pm. Unlike a big peak, we had reasonable temperatures, trees for shelter, and running water. With survival gear like mylar bivy bags and extra gloves we felt safe getting back several hours after dark, but make sure you know how to navigate in the trees and/or how to spend the night safely before deciding not to set a turn around time that will get you back early.

On the other hand, in the summer you could drive (4WD? bike?) almost to the summit. It's climbed 2 or 3 times per year, mostly by peak baggers whose names are in all the obscure registers. Never in winter, at least as far as we saw in the short time we huddled on the summit.

If you want solitude and a workout worth doing, winter is the right season for you! If there had been a bit more snow lower down, this peak would have made a nice ski trip. The summit mass is too steep for me, but that's a small percentage of the trip. Lots of old logging - watch out for stumps and buried logs when you're carving those turns!

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