After a six-hour drive from Seattle, we convened at the Bird Creek Meadows Trailhead, about a mile high on the southern skirt of Mount Adams. We were a trail mix of experience, from Pasquale Scaturro, who had previously summited Everest, to a couple of writers who had never been camping. Under the leadership of 23-year-old Cecelia, one of our guides, and with sixty-pound packs snugly shouldered, we headed up the hill.
We slogged up the steep Suksdorf Ridge, alternating between sharp moraine and snow; the route seemed untouched by human feet, although a couple of mountain goats mocked our stumblings from a ridge away. Near sunset, our guides called camp, and we dropped our packs like barbells.
The wind pummeled the camp like a living thing, and at times it seemed we might be picked up and hurled to Oregon. Still, we were alone in our wilderness, and in fact had not seen another soul beyond our group the entire day. Everest's influence had not found this place.
At one in the morning the guides woke us up. All we had to do was get dressed: two layers of thermal long underwear, Polartec pants and top, a Gore-Tex expedition suit, a parka, inner and outer gloves, two pairs of wool socks, double plastic boots, steel 12-point crampons, gaiters, a helmet, a harness, and a couple of prussic ropes in case we fell into a crevasse and had to climb out. We filled our water bottles and noshed on bagels while double-checking gear.
We roped into four teams. I was third on the string led by Cecelia, a link in a four-person chain. I had put a fresh set of batteries in my headlamp the night before, and now I followed the little white puddle of light just ahead of me. On my left the mountain loomed, felt more than seen.
Soon the faint glow of the fingernail moon faded and darkness dissolved. We were on the mountain's ice-scoured southern face, and the wind seemed to push the sunrise up against our backs.
At some point we stopped breaking trail and found a path, a pattern of alternating boot holes in the snow beaten out by climbers who had approached from more popular routes. The wind engulfed us and I sucked the thin atmosphere deeply. We walked in silence, chained souls floating upwards together yet alone in our thoughts. As we crested the false summit, my heart sank to see the steep 100-meter wall we had yet to ascend.
Move on to The Final Ascent
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication