Home Pacific Crest Trail PCT: Getting High on Mount Adams

PCT: Getting High on Mount Adams

by Lisa

Day 2
Riley Creek to Lava Camp – 13 miles

What a treat it was to get out of my tent and see Mount Adams right there in front of me. It had been a pretty cold night so unfortunately I hadn’t slept great. I made up for it by sleeping in until nearly 8. My timing was such that the sun came over Mount Adams just as I stepped out of my tent. The sunshine warmed things up quick!

The sun rising over Mount Adams

When consulting my maps the night before I’d come up with a solid plan for my day. I would hike 5 miles to a trail junction, drop some of my heavier gear and head up a mile-long side trail on the northwest shoulder of Mount Adams. Once I got back down I’d have five miles to hike to my campsite for the night.

The first five miles rolled along through thin alpine forest and past large meadows. There were also large areas of lava rock and great views of Mount Adams’ west face. If I had to guess I’d say that the volcano exploded outwards to the west sometime in the long distant past. It all made for a unique and enjoyable trail.

Large lava boulders

Such a scenic section of trail

I reached my trail junction just after 11 am. There was a pretty large group of backpackers taking a break. They were students from a high school in Portland, along with their teacher and a guide. They had been stopping other hikers to ask them about backpacking and thru-hiking and seemed pretty fascinated by the PCT. What a fantastic field trip!

Once they headed off southbound I ventured a few yards up the side trail and stopped to reorganize my gear for the climb. I fit a few more things into my animal-proof food bag and tied it to a tree. I also left the tent poles and a few other odds and ends in a stuff sack tied to the tree. My pack was nice and light. I was ready to climb. The trail was about a mile long and would lead me to High Camp, located at 7,000 feet elevation (about 1,000 feet higher than the PCT.)

I took my time working my way around the rocks and boulders of the steeper sections. I definitely felt the challenge of the higher elevation. After nearly an hour I crested a small ridge and looked across a large rocky basin to Mount Adams. The mountain was gorgeous, if a bit hazy. I was looking straight at the Adams Glacier, the largest on the mountain and the second largest glacier in the Lower 48.

View of the northwest side of Mount Adams from near High Camp

I ate my lunch and soaked in the view. I briefly thought that it was too bad I’d left the rest of my food and gear at the junction. I would’ve happily spent a night there and explored the basin further! Alas I had to turn myself around and get back on the PCT.

I was back at the junction around 2:30 pm. I repacked my bag and set out northbound again. After another mile of rolling trail I started my long descent for the day. My surroundings changed gradually to include larger and denser trees and lots more huckleberry bushes. I passed by a few small lakes and crossed a couple streams.

Yup, still going the right way

I arrived at my camp right about the time my feet and ankles were getting really sore. My campsite was a well-established area at the edge of a large area of dark, jumbled lava rock. There was a spring coming out from the base of the lava rocks which my guidebook declared as the best tasting water of the PCT. It was clear, crisp and cold. It certainly satiated my thirst from my hot and exposed day.

I set up my tent in a nice forested spot slightly off the trail. I wasn’t quite ready for dinner so I decided to explore a bit and scrambled to the top of the lava rocks. I’m so glad I did because I was presented with the best view I’d have of Mount Adams.

An incredible view of Mount Adams

I’d had a fantastic day and was so glad I’d given myself the time to explore. Mount Adams is a gorgeous mountain and it was a thrill to hike so close to it.

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