Summiting a mountain is incredibly hard. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. This struggle is what makes climbing so worth it. The satisfaction of reaching the summit you have worked so hard for is impossible to recreate.
“The feeling you get once you have summited is a feeling like no other,” said Paal Bredal, a junior at Gonzaga. “I think my advice to anyone that is thinking about climbing is that you just have to send it.”
Bredal is one of many GU students who enjoy climbing and mountaineering in and around the greater Spokane area and the Pacific Northwest.
Over the summer, Bredal and another GU student, Amara Gamache, had the opportunity to hike and summit Mount Adams. Mount Adams is in Eastern Washington, nestled into the Cascades. The mountain is a potentially active stratovolcano that has not erupted in over 1,000 years and has the second-highest elevation in the state behind Mount Rainier.
What makes Mount Adams a great first mountain to climb is the nontechnical nature that the mountain entails.
“You only need the basics, tent, good shoes, warm clothes and if you have this equipment, anyone can go up Mount Adams,” said Kevin Smith, a GU student who has climbed Mount Adams multiple times, and is an avid climber in his free time.
The nontechnical nature of Mount Adams makes it very appealing to first-time climbers, or for people who are looking to get their feet wet in climbing without shooting up a big rock face first.
Bredal and Gamache arrived at the base of Mount Adams around midday when they were planning to summit Mount Adams. This was Gamache’s first experience with extensive climbing that would require gear and preparation.
“I set a goal for myself this summer that I wanted to climb a mountain, so I called up Paal and he was all in for it,” Gamache said.
The two of them started on their ascension to the summit a little after noon and hiked up the first portion of the mountain before reaching Lunch Counter.
“Lunch Counter is basically a big flat area right before the steepest part of Mount Adams, and there were probably about 50 tents up there,” Bredal said.
It took Gamache and Bredal four to six hours to reach their stopping point for the day.
Waking up at 3 a.m. the next day, Gamache and Bredal made their ascension toward the summit of Mount Adams. This first part of the climb would prove to be fast and easy, according to Bredal.
“The ice was really hard and packed down, which made it very fast and quick to climb,” Bredal said.
Once the pair had made it past the first steep section, they only had about a mile to go before they reached the summit.
“Once you get to the top of the mountain, you just feel so accomplished,” Gamache said. “I feel there is not a lot of things where you can concretely be like I did my best and I’m at the top because of it.”
After the long morning of climbing and scampering around through ice, rock and snow, Gamache and Bredal stood on top of Mount Adams as the second group to the summit that day.
“Being the second group to summit was pretty cool, but this meant that the snow would be really hard still, and it would be tough to glissade down the mountain,” Bredal said.
Glissading is a technique invented by climbers to help descend from a mountain easily. Climbers will slide down the mountain on their butt and use their ice ax to help them slow down. Glissading, however, has to be done when the snow and ice have melted and become less packed down. This would prove to be troublesome for Gamache and Bredal.
“We tried to glissade on the way down, and it just hurt like hell,” Gamache said.
Glissading takes a lot of practice, and when the ice is hard it can cut and bruise climber’s legs. After the glissading left Gamache and Bredal with bruises, the two decided to walk down the rest of the way, which added much more time than what was expected for the descent.
Mount Adams is a great starting place for people like Gamache who are looking to get into climbing and want a good place to start. Once climbers become more experienced, they will move onto more technical mountains such as Mount Hood, and eventually culminating in the summiting of Mount Rainier.
Kevin Smith has summited Mount Rainier twice successfully.
“It can be a grueling process, it is always cold and windy, but the satisfaction that you get reaching the top is immeasurable,” Smith said.
Mount Rainier is much different from Mount Adams and requires extensive training, equipment and preparedness.
The climb starts with climbing to a spot called Paradise, which is about 4,000-5,000 feet up. The next day, climbers will go to Muir Camp and climb along the edge of the Muir snowfield.
“You’re carrying a 50-pound backpack, and it can be grueling. It takes anywhere between three and six hours depending on how good of shape you are in the cross the steep field of snow,” Smith said.
After reaching Muir Camp, climbers have two routes to reach the summit, the two-and three-day routes. Smith has summited both routes, and this is the section of climbing Mount Rainier that separates it from climbing Mount Adams.
“You get up to 11,000 feet and you are strapped up with an ice ax and harnesses and ropes and you are technically climbing in 300-foot crevasses of ice,” Smith said.
These crevasses would normally scare off would-be climbers, but Smith lives for this moment of the climb.
Mount Rainier is one of only three mountains in the world that use ladders to get to the summit. Smith said crossing these ladders can be intimidating, but it is also the most fun part of the climb.
“They just tell you to keep walking and don’t look down,” Smith said. “I have had some sketchy moments on ladders, but the intensity of the climb is what makes it fun, it is like no other climb.”
Once climbers reach the summit, they are met by the 60-degree volcanic rim of Mount Rainier to warm them up. This is a pleasant surprise for climbers who summit Rainier through the blistering winds and 10 to 20-degree temperatures year-round.
“Know your limits, but don’t be afraid to send it,” Smith said. “No one will look bad at you for trying something that most people could not imagine doing.”
The mountains in and around Washington state and the Pacific Northwest allow for an abundance of climbing and hiking opportunities. Take the opportunity to get outside and try something new, it just might be you that climbs Mount Adams next.