American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Washington—Cascade Mountains, Mount Adams, Pinnacle Glacier Headwall

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1966

Mount Adams, Pinnacle Glacier Headwall. On June 26 Gary Faulkes and I packed into Killen Creek Meadow on the west side of Mount Adams to climb the northwest ridge route and to reconnoiter the Pinnacle Glacier Headwall, which lies between the northwest and west ridge of the mountain. The morning of the 27th dawned very cold and mostly clear of clouds. We crossed the lower Adams Glacier and then decided to traverse around the lower part of the northwest ridge before starting to climb it. This would give us a full face view of the Pinnacle Headwall. The sight that met our eyes was rather awesome; there stood our 3000-foot headwall with rotten rocks, cliffs, and outcrops protruding from its icy face. There was considerable evidence of rockfall at the base of the wall, however there were no crevasses or schrunds to be seen on the wall itself, the snow and ice surface being quite smooth and steep, and averaging about 45°. Although we were not fully prepared for such a wall as this, we felt a powerful urge to try it! Conditions were perfect; it was very cold, well frozen, and in the brief 20 minutes or so that we had watched and listened, there was no sign of rockfall. We made our decision on the spot, with a few reservations: once we started we would keep moving, and if we encountered too much rockfall we would escape by traversing left onto the northwest ridge. We decided to climb unroped for the sake of speed as we felt there was no place that one could not stop a slip with an ice-axe arrest. We cramponed steadily and almost reached the halfway point before the first falling stone whined past us, which missed us by 50 feet. It was about the size of a grapefruit and traveling so fast it appeared only a blur. Twice more in the next thousand feet we were treated to the high-pitched whine of stones as they sped past. Finally, after climbing a frozen waterfall of some 30 feet in height, we began to feel we would make it all the way. We observed a heavy mass of rockfall about one hundred yards above and a little to our right just before we reached the headwall summit. We had intended to climb the last pitch in that very spot. We traversed left about 150 yards, climbed a short, very steep snow slope and a few minutes later were on top of the headwall. This brought us out just a short distance south of the west summit. It was an easy hike from there to the true summit. We chose the northwest ridge for our descent because the temperature was still quite frigid, and this proved to be a little tricky as there are quite steep slopes on this ridge. The ascent of the headwall proper from its base to its summit took 4½ hours with only three five-minute rests. As for the route itself, under normal temperature conditions and later in the season this would probably be a very dangerous route because of rockfall.

Phil Lizee and Gary Faulkes, unattached

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