Mt Adams is such a great hike. The drive is a bit long from Seattle, but...
Mount Adams South Climb
Mount Adams South Climb
Climb to the top of the second highest peak in Washington State without setting foot on a glacier? Yes indeed. Welcome to the south spur of Mount Adams. Thanks to its location (in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest) on the eastern edge of the Cascades and a nice broad southern slope, Mount Adams delivers an almost impossible-to-believe scenario in the mighty Northwest: a summit at 12,276' that requires no ropes or harnesses to ascend. This very popular route can be done in either one long day or two shorter days. We give it five-stars and consider it well worth the out-of-the-way trip to make it happen.
The South Spur of Mount Adams is classified as non-technical (Grade I) and falls somewhere between a steep hike and nontechnical mountaineering. That said, this is certainly not an easy undertaking. You'll definitely want to be in excellent physical conditioning and be very experienced in mountain environments and safety (or be part of a team with members that do). Also, you'll likely need an ice ax and crampons for most of the summer climbing season.
The snow conditions on the mountain vary tremendously depending on when you go. In the early summer, you'll probably be on snow the entire distance from trailhead to summit. By late September, the route can be all rock and dirt. We recommend going earlier in the season to enjoy the snow-capped climb, but you'll definitely need to have route-finding skills to do this.
The summer route begins at the west end of Cold Springs Campground (5,600') at the sign for "South Climb Trail #183." If the snow has melted out, you'll follow a very clear path. If there is still snow, chances are you'll have a bootpath to follow, but don't count on it. Generally speaking, you'll keep South Butte to your right as you head north up towards the terminal moraine of Crescent Glacier. Huge wooden posts help guide the way in the snow.
At 2.6 miles, the trail sweeps west up onto the ridge above the remains of Crescent Glacier. Continuing north, you'll reach the Lunch Counter at 3.75 miles and 9,100' elevation. This is a giant sprawl of rock-walled shelters and a logical place to camp for the night if you are doing a two-day approach.
Ahead is the steep route up to the top of the false summit, aka Pikers Peak. This 2,000' staircase is brutal, and most people require an ice ax and crampons to attain the top of the ridge. From the top of Pikers Peak (11,600'), the summit is clearly visible. Dip down in elevation a few hundred feet and then begin your final 800' of climbing to the broad western edge of the summit.
Reach the top at 6.0 miles and 12,276'. Soak up those views and be ready for some serious wind. Later in the season you may catch sight of the old fire lookout built in 1918 (and soon after abandoned). The glissade back down Pikers Peak is unbelievable. Keep a steady hand on that ice ax.
Permits & Tips
You must purchase a Cascade Volcano Pass to climb above 7,000' between June 1 and September 30. The pass ($10 for weekdays, $15 for weekend, $30 annual) can be purchased at the Ranger Station in Trout Lake. A self-issue station with drop box is set up for after-hours purchases at the front door. The pass is then displayed in your vehicle and on your pack. If you do not plan to go above 7,000', you need to have a Northwest Forest Pass to park at the trailhead.
Pit toilets are available at the trailhead, carry pack-out bags on the upper mountain. No water is available. Bring a stove to melt snow in early season. Road is not plowed and can remain snow covered downhill of the trailhead, so call the Mt. Adams Ranger District in Trout Lake for current conditions.
Camping is typical at Cold Springs Campground (very primitive roadside sites) and at Lunch Counter at 9,100' (choose your own adventure in the snow/rocks).
How to get there
[This is a 5.5 hour drive from Seattle and 2.5 hours from Portland]
From White Salmon, WA, head north on SR 141 to Trout Lake. At the Y in the road where the gas station is, head left for the ranger station (a quick 0.5 mile drive on 141) if you need, or head right onto Mt. Adams Road and go up to the mountain. (If you did visit the ranger station, you'll need to backtrack to the Y.)
1.5 miles further, make a left onto Forest Road 80. This is signed as South Climb, but the sign is nearly impossible to read at night.
The road soon becomes one lane and after a few miles turns to gravel.
Follow signs onto FR 8040 to the right (which then becomes 8040-500) to the trailhead at the end of the road (12 miles from Trout Lake). You'll pass several campgrounds and a metal gate about 3 miles from the trailhead. Park in the small lot or on the side of the road and do not block traffic.