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timv 09-11-2012 01:03 PM

Mt. Adams burning 9/9/2012
We were visiting relatives in Portland so I went on the list for a Mt St. Helens permit. That didn't work out, so Mt. Adams was the backup plan. Mt. Adams is the 2nd highest point in Washington State at 12,276', and has a non-technical South Climb that can be done as a long day (6,676ft elev gain). It is in Gifford Pinchot National Forest--east of Mt. St. Helens and roughly north of Mt. Hood in Oregon.

I first saw Adams from Larch Mtn in 2007:

The staff at REI Clackamas didnt think you could do the registry/permit paperwork while the ranger station was closed, but you CAN! It is all self-serve paperwork/fee envelopes like BC Parks.

I started driving from Portland at 4:15AM. As I got closer to Mt. Adams I saw a few flashes of lightning, but skies were mostly clear.
I filled out the paperwork at the Mt. Adams Ranger Station in Trout Lake: climbing registry, parking permit, fee envelope, wilderness permit, etc. A lot of paperwork & notices and bulletins!—it was starting to get light out when I finished with the red tape & reading, and started driving up the forestry roads. I took FS roads to the Cold Springs Campground at South Climb trailhead (5,600ft elev). The FR-8040 road was gravel washboard, but then FR-8040500 was dirt with some ruts and potholes--the potholes were gradual, so it was like driving on a roller coaster—kind of fun!

There were about 10 cars in the lot/campground, as I started up the South Climb Trail #183 at 7:30AM. It was a nice dirt hiking trail that left the trees in about 1/2hr.

About half way up to the lunch counter I met a few parties. Some had camped at the Lunch Counter, a large flat area about ½ way between TH and summit at 9,200ft elev. They had seen a lightning-fire and were heading home. As I approached the lunch counter I saw the fire: it was very small and miles to the north of where the cars were. Lunch Counter was a good camping area with lots of little rock wall shelters to protect from the wind. It would be a nice place to spend the night, acclimatize to the elevation, and then summit the next AM.

I passed a few other parties, some headed up and some headed down. This hike was an exercise in crampon transitions: crampons off-crampons-on. Scree, snow slope, rock, snow slope, etc. The snow was still very hard, and I made it to the Lunch Counter in 3 hours, and the summit in another 3 hours. I was eating a lot of energy gels and drinking a lot of water.

The summit was windy and cold and I didn't stay long, and I was starting to get a headache. I was still drinking a lot. I could see a fair bit of smoke, which kind of concerned me a bit so I wanted to get down. Views were amazing, with Ranier poking above the clouds.

As I came around the false summit and headed down and to the southwest, I had the real “oh crap” moment: the west and southwest flank of the mountain was on fire. My driving approach had been mostly from the south, but I hurried down as fast as my tired legs would allow. The chute glissades were non-existent but the snow was soft enough for a bit of boot skiing. I was quick but careful, and didn't skip any transitions (crampons) or drink-breaks.

There was still a tent at the Lunch Counter as I hurried past and down to the top of the marked trail (4hrs down). (Song in my head: "I'm Burnin'" by Blue Oyster Cult.)

About 10 minutes from the cars I saw a bunch of hikers (~15) with four firefighters. The fire had crossed the forestry road at a lower elevation, but the cars were OK (for now). We were not permitted to get to the cars, and they were clearing a spot for a helicopter to land. There were too many people for a single flight out, and clouds were moving in. They offered us the option of waiting for the heli-evacuation or hiking out via a different route, where a Forest Service truck would bring us to Trout Lake. The heli offer was really tempting, but I figured that using a chopper on capable hikers is a waste of resources during a fire. We waited for the rest of the hikers (including the guys in the blue tent) and headed out. Three firefighters stayed, and were getting supplies delivered by the choppers to stay overnight. They took everyone's name/car info/phone numbers and double checked. They were very professional, but they were still young guys excited to be out overnight.

A few hikers stayed for the chopper ride, while one firefighter hiked with the rest of us. We hiked south on the “Round the Mountain” trail to Bird Lake on the Yakima reservation. This trail was absolutely beautiful, but we were too tired to enjoy it. There were lush wildflower meadows completely in bloom, waterfalls, rushing creeks galore and! We hiked for 2 hours and arrived at Bird Lake as it got dark. I got a ride in a truck to the Ranger Station with a great grizzled US Forestry Service guy--I'm pretty sure it was the 1977-era Richard Manuel (watch the Martin Scorscese rock-doc: The Band-The Last Waltz). He said the fire had grown to >800 acres, uncontained, and was feeding on dry bug-killed trees.

I crashed under a desk in the USFS fire office (Mt. Adams Ranger Station, Trout Lake) and slept a bit while my wife drove down from Portland to pick me up at ~11:30PM.

The Yakima Herald says “Natural barriers and another smaller fire have partially hemmed in the fire, according to firefighters.”
So, if they are counting on a smaller fire to hem in the big fire, I don't think it's in good shape.

As of 9/11, the fire is at 1,767acres.

Cascade Creek WA-GPF-000563. IMT2 (LaFave). 35 miles N of Hood River, OR. Start 9/9/12. Full Suppression.
Lightning caused. Timber. 1,767 (+976) acres. 0% containment. Active fire behavior, creeping, torching, and spotting
observed. Values at risk include: T & E species habitat, Historical sites, and recreational areas.

Gear that came in handy: Crampons, axe, gaiters, extra food, light, extra clothes, sunscreen
Water was available at Lunch Counter
Would have been nice: hiking poles

My wife booked a train/bus ticket home for me and the 3-yr old. The name of the train: the Mt. Adams!

terria 09-11-2012 07:37 PM

Sounds like it was a fun hike and a very memorable time, aside from ( if I'm reading it right ) the fact you may never see your car again? That would kind of suck.

My closest encounter with a forest fire was near the Southesk region of Jasper back in 2006. Started our trip during a mid July heat wave, which brought the Alberta thunderstorms, and the lightning started a fire. We carried on hiking, at times somewhat toward the glow, thinking we were safe on the other side of the mountains from where the fire was, and awoke the next morning in smoke so thick it was tough to see 10 feet. That fire spread FAST. Fortunately, by this time we weren't far from the trailhead and got out of there without any real concern. The smoke remained thick up until about Edson. Quite a fire.

Steventy 09-11-2012 07:57 PM

Great story. So you can get to the top of Mt. Adams without any glacier travel? Hopefully you get your car back.

KARVITK 09-11-2012 08:19 PM

Wow what an adventure, good hike.

A little too much excitement and adventure, I also hope you get your car back safe and sound. Please update us when you have retrieved your vehicle safely.


timv 09-13-2012 08:53 AM

Steventy, yes you can summit Mt. Adams without glacier travel. If you stay on the correct route, there wouldnt even be any snowslopes with nasty runouts. Earlier in the summer, there are even established bum-sliding chutes.

The car has not burned yet...Yakima Herald 9/13:
"Further to the south, fire officials still said they had zero percent containment on the 1,937-acre Cascade Creek Fire, which is burning in timber on the southwestern slopes of Mount Adams. Efforts by 390 firefighters continued to be hampered by high winds, limited road access, steep terrain and dead trees, according to Dale Warriner, the team's spokesman.

Firefighters hope that on Friday they will be able to remove 17 personal vehicles left in trailhead parking areas when the fire jumped a road. Authorities had planned to remove them Wednesday, but safety concerns forced a delay, Warriner said."

timv 09-25-2012 10:23 AM

Just to update this:

The fire is at 13,700 acres and the cost to date is $7M USD

Over the last 2 weeks I was in contact with US Forest Service about the status of my car. I told them not to put too much effort into it since it is an old junker, but I am still interested in getting it since it doesn't have comprehensive insurance coverage. Having no car worked out fine: over the last 2 weeks, I missed the stuff in the car more than the car itself!

On about 9/18 they called to tell me that they had moved it from the South Climb trailhead to a ‘safe zone' somewhere mid-mountain but it was still not accessible due to the fire.

On 9/21 they called to tell me that they had driven it safely down to the temporary firefighters camp in Trout Lake and I could come get it any time.

I picked it up 9/30 from the camp, and that car is a survivor! Unscathed, but dirty and with a strong campfire stench. I drove home with all the windows down and The Hip blasting: “I've got a job: I explore. I follow every little whiff..” (The car's theme song?) Back at home, I vacuumed/upholstery-shampooed/washed everything and it still smells a bit—but Ol' Smokey a survivor!

The fire camp was impressive: it was set up in a field and included a tent city, temporary washrooms, helicopter parking area, and local entrepreneurs selling shirts and calendars and stuff. One of them is local photographer Starlisa Black who has a few amazing pictures of the fire on her website:

Some interesting info on fire dynamics from the US Inciweb system:

September 25, 2012 0900 Update
Incident: Cascade Creek Wildfire
Released: 45 min. ago

Moist, marine air at too low of elevation to increase fuel moistures in fire area

Firefighters construct two miles of fire line at southwest end of Stagman Canyon to prevent southwest spread of Cascade Creek Fire

Trout Lake, Wash., Firefighters yesterday constructed two miles of contingency fire line at the southwest end of Stagman Canyon to prevent the fire that has been burning in the north end of the Canyon from leaving the steep, forested canyon. The fire is being pushed southward by cold, terrain-driven winds during the night that flow down the western flank of Mount Adams. The firefighters will continue to strengthen and secure fire lines today.

Operations Section chief Mark Sigrist said firefighters will work today to tie the fire line into Cascade Creek and widen the fire line along a road corridor by falling trees and clearing the adjacent ground of fuels. Sigrist said several falling bosses are providing essential direction and observing the tree falling and chipping operations.

Taking advantage of a short, three-hour burning window, firefighters also burned out an area inside the fire perimeter yesterday. Fire behavior specialist Dean Warner said today the moist, marine air mass that pushes in from the Pacific Ocean is kept at lower elevations because of drier air aloft. "This weather pattern raises the relative humidity during the morning and early afternoon so introduced fire cannot consume all of the fuels," he explained. "When the humidity drops around 2 p.m., we get a brief chance to burn-out fuels. The window of opportunity closes around 5 p.m. as the sun sets."

According to Warner, firefighters will get more of a chance later this week to complete critical burnout operations as winds change direction and come from the east. "Things will get a lot drier out there on Wednesday and Thursday as temperatures increase and relative humidity drops, allowing for good, thorough burning," he said.

More than 450 firefighters are now fighting the13,727-acre Cascade Creek Fire burning in heavy timber along the west flank of Mount Adams, eight miles north of Trout Lake, Wash. The major hazards faced by the firefighters, according to Sigrist, are the many dead and burned snags throughout the area.

Command of the Fire was assumed at 6 a.m. Monday, September 24, 2012 by Larry Nickey, incident commander for the Washington Interagency Incident Management Team #4.

The fire lines along the southern and eastern perimeter of the fire area are now secure. Several pockets of fuels continue to smolder in the Aiken Lava Bed. Nearly 27 miles of fire hose have been lain throughout the fire as firefighters use water to mop up inside established fire lines along the southern perimeter. The northern and northeastern perimeters of the fire are at the timberline of Mount Adams where, at 6,200 feet, there are few or no forest fuels.

Firefighters have begun to mop up along the south perimeter. The highest priority continues to be, according to Nickey, keeping the fire from moving east onto the Yakama Nation, state and private lands or to contiguous forestlands northeast of the Mountain.

Most of the fire is burning in mixed forests types- primarily in subalpine fir with Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce, and Pacific silver fir, many of which are dead or dying from spruce budworm, bark beetles, and other insect infestations. The forests contain large, down and standing fuels that are extremely dry and burn with intensity. The fire is 40 percent contained.

Today, operations personnel are scouting Forest Road 070 as a potential contingency line along the west perimeter of the Fire. Here, firefighters may begin burning out within two days.

Resource specialists from the Yakama Nation, USDA Forest Service and Washington Department of Natural Resources assessed the work done inside the fire are and along the perimeter, and are presently compiling their findings and formulating recommendations for rehabilitation for Fire officials today. Three engines will patrol and monitor nighttime movement of the fire tonight.

Sixteen ground crews, supported by engines and water tenders, are focusing their efforts along the western perimeter of the fire today, burning out fuels, cutting down dangerous snags and mopping up hot spots.

The main objective of fire suppression operations this week, Sigrist said, is to contain the fire as safely and quickly as possible before it has a chance to escape fire lines.

Fire Facts - Tuesday, September 25, 2012 - 0900 HOURS
Fire Size: 13,727 acres
Evacuations: none
Percent Contained: 40%
Fuels: Heavy, bug-killed timber, litter and understory
Expected Containment: Not determined
Air Resources: Two of each of the following: Light, medium and heavy helicopters; two air attack platforms
Engines: 20
Dozers: 4
Water Tenders: 14
Overhead: 138
Total Personnel: 599
Total Estimated Cost to Date: $7,172,000

Photos of the fire from USFS Inciweb:

Stoked 09-28-2012 12:47 PM

Glad you got your car back.

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