Every once in a while, one of my adventures doesn’t live up to my expectations (ahem, West Coast Trail). Be it an error in planning and predicting terrain, or environmental conditions, sometimes a trip is either much easier or much more difficult than anticipated. In our planning for Mount Adam, we anticipated that we’d be anxiously gritting our teeth as we hung on for dear life and dragging aching legs by the end of the day. But on April 29th, we summited rather quickly, and avoided the teeth-grinding, mostly.
I overestimated the difficulty of this trip based on two factors, the first of which was poorly predicting the elevation of the snowline. The second and most significant factor relates to a prior trip to Mount Schoen, a mountain located on the same ridge. On that trip, we accessed the connecting ridge between Adam and Schoen via a steep, long (>1000 metre elevation) scree slope. It was an experience that ended a pair of Phil’s much-loved shoes and scared us, and even two years later — more than 80 mountains — we still frequently reference the experience. That slope has become a benchmark of sorts when comparing terrain on all our trips.
Total Distance: 5.6 km
Starting Elevation: 861 m
Maximum Elevation: 1727 m
Total Elevation Gain: 871 m
Total Time: 5 hours
When planning our route to Mount Adam, we steeled ourselves for the reality that we might have to use the long, steep scree slope. But we so wanted to avoid reliving that experience, which may be worse in slushy spring snow, that we were willing to risk sandbagging the day in trying an unproven route. Fortunately, the risk paid off.
The week leading up to our trip saw record-breaking temperatures for the North Island — 20+ degrees in Port Hardy — and days of rain that saturated the snow at all elevations on the mountains. I only mention this because instead of parking at 500 metres, we were able to drive the steep switchbacks and park at the snowline at 875 metres! I’m sure it saved at least two hours on the day.
Unfortunately, the warm temperatures left the snow frustratingly slushy, so we chose to wear our snowshoes for the trip up the mountain. From the car, we followed the snow-covered road to 1000 metres, then headed up the logging slash into the old-growth forest, where we found a rib we predicted we would find.
I plan a lot of trips over the last few years. I’ve developed a few strategies and found a few trusted resources on which I rely: Island Alpine, Island Bushwacker, Google Earth, Garmin Basecamp, weather services, and paper maps. It’s a lot of resources to look through, but it usually gives a reasonable idea of what to expect. Of course, there are sometimes problems like headwalls, notches, and other geographic manifestations that are too small for maps to detail — obstacles that can sandbag a route. It’s very seldom that a route unfolds as easily as the terrain maps make it look. But the route we followed to Mount Adam, possibly thanks to the seasonal snow accumulation, played out better than we imagined it might!
We ascended into the trees and the cloud; the snow firmed up and we worked our way through the steep, forested terrain, moving quickly up the alpine ridge (1480m) below Mount Adam. The biggest obstacle for the day was gaining the summit ridge from the shoulder: the slopes were piled deep with slushy snow that was either too steep, sloppy to ascend, or dangerous due to small cornices hanging over it.
The best option led straight over a series of rocks that protruded through the snow. It took a few third-class moves to get from the steep, collapsing snow slope onto the ice-encrusted rocks, and then onto more snow above. To make it more fun, we did it all with snowshoes on! I relied on the handle of my mountaineering axe and hiking pole buried deep in the snow to self-belay, but even they offered little help in the sloppy snow.
We went one at a time, because a fall would mean careening into a second person and sending them tumbling too. In time, I ascended onto the summit ridge and out of the low cloud. Phil came next, followed quite some time later by Rishi, and eventually, Rick and Colleen followed up. The final walk to the summit ridge avoided small cornices and narrow gullies; a definite “Class 2 with consequences” situation.
Phil, Rishi, and I arrived on the summit before noon and took a seat on a dry patch of rock where we ate our snack and waited for the others. It was surprisingly warm considering the overcast conditions. We never got a full view of the surrounding areas, but the peaks protruding through the low-lying cloud created a stunning visual. We spent a good deal of time eating and relaxing before heading back to the car.
The route back to the car was a lot more fun than I anticipated. I’ll admit that on the way up, I had a few moments when I thought, “This isn’t going to be fun on the way down,” but in the end those feelings were unwarranted. We followed our ascent route back along the summit ridge, and at the descent to the lower ridge, we removed our snowshoes. That turned out to be the best idea of the day! The plunge-stepping was incredible, though at times, we found ourselves waist-deep in the snow. The snow was so soft that we found the confidence to do a little butt-sliding. With a slide down to the shoulder, and then from the shoulder down a long gully, we slid a quarter of the way back to the vehicles. I’m sure we would have slid even farther, but once we descended into the cloud, we resisted the urge to slide, because we couldn’t see any terrain traps ahead.
We arrived back at the cars by 1:15 pm, well ahead of the timeline we expected. We used the extra time to explore the roads for our upcoming trip to Mount Sarai, an additional factor that meant we spent much longer in the car than walking on this trip. Back at home, I enjoyed the real benefit of a fast day: bath time and stories with my kids.