If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind Washington adventure, set off to the top of the state’s second highest mountain by climbing Mount Adams. The South Climb is unique because it is a non-technical climb, meaning that you can trot up it with crampons and an ice axe rather than technical mountaineering gear. In the summer nearly thee quarters of the trail is free from the snow on the way to Lunch Counter, making it a great option for new mountain climbers. The trip from Cold Springs trailhead to the Mount Adams summit is frequently done as an overnight trip but can also be done as dayhike by hikers looking to carry lighter packs.

View of Mt St Helens from below Lunch Counter ©Erika Klimecky

Set off from Cold Springs trailhead and follow the wide remnants of an old road two miles through the arid pine forest. Hikers can stretch their legs on this stretch of road, as it offers little elevation gain (compared to the rest of the hike) and scenic views of Piker’s Peak, green meadows and blooming wildflowers. Roughly one mile from the trailhead, the trail intersects with the Round the Mountain Trail. Continue going straight to follow the sign towards the South Climb.

View of the False Summit – Piker’s Peak

Two miles after the trail starts off it drops off into a volcanic wilderness still scarred by the volcanic eruption more than 1,400 years ago. After crossing a trickling creek, the trail ascends in switchbacks up the rocky slope. The trail levels out below Crescent Glacier, offering hikers a choice. Adventurous hikers can don their crampons, snatch up their ice axes, and climb up the glacier to reach the snowfield beneath Lunch Counter (be cautious: the glacier can be difficult to ascend when it is melting in the summer sun). Other no-less-adventurous hikers can follow the trail to climb along a ridge of volcanic rocks that cuts up the mountain, above the Crescent Glacier. Both trails lead to a wide snowfield beneath Lunch Counter. Climb the snowfield, angling your path rightward to reach the rocky plateau of Lunch Counter, where many climbers choose to camp overnight to adjust to the elevation.

Along the lower part of the route

Whether you choose to start making your way to the summit in the wee hours of the morning or in the middle of the day, lighten your pack and make your way to the base of Piker’s Peak. Take a glimpse of the top: this is only the false summit, standing at 11,700feet rather than 12,326 feet, the height of the true summit. As you make your way to the bottom of Piker’s Peak look for a well-traveled route up the mountain. Typically the increased summer hiking traffic results in a carved-out stair-stepping path up the mountain. Follow the path upward, making sure to pace yourself as you ascend nearly 2,700 feet. After admiring the views from Piker’s Peak, turn to the true summit, only 600 feet higher. Follow the well-traveled trail north across a snowfield that dips between both peaks. Ascend the final slope, which may be a bit rocky depending on the snowmelt and veer left to reach the top of the summit. At the top you will find an old wooden structure buried in the snow, the remains of a sulfur mine.

Once you’ve soaked up the spectacular summit view, take off your crampons (this is imperative), don your waterproof pants and get ready for the stunning glissade down 3500 feet. In the summer months you will find well-groomed glissade shoots, gouged into the mountain’s snow by many a hiker’s weary bottom. The glissade from Piker’s Peak to Lunch Counter rewards hikers with a 10 minute descent down 2,700 vertical feet in twisting, turning and exhilarating chute.

Summitters ascending the south side snowfield


Season: Summer
Length: 5.7 miles (each way)
Difficulty: Difficult
Variety: Summit trek – out and back
Elevation Gain: 6,700 ft
Highest Point: 12,326 ft
Maps: Green Trails Map No 67S: Mt Adams
Open to: hikers, dogs
Passes and permits required: Cascade Volcano Pass (mandatory for all hikers ascending higher than 7,000 ft), NW Forest Pass


Cross the Hood River Bridge and follow Highway 141 North from White Salon for 22 miles. Stop at the Trout Lake Ranger station to purchase a Cascade Volcano Pass. Drive North from the town of Trout Lake on Road #23/Mt. Adams Area Recreational Road for 1.4 miles until the road hits a Y. Take the right fork to merge onto Road #80 and drive for .6 miles. Turn left to follow road #80 and right onto Road #8040 (a gravel road). Follow the road to Morrison Creek Campground, and (roughly 10 miles) and turn right onto Road #500 to Cold Springs Trailhead.

South approach at sunrise


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