The Lakes of Mount Adams

June 13-14

 

I love the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, be it on mountain bikes, on road bikes, or on foot; one of my earliest memories of hiking was climbing down to Spirit Lake when I was a child. I got married last year on the flanks of eastern Mount Adams, a year after getting engaged on the west side of the mountain. So when it came time for me to help plan a trip, the choice in location was pretty easy. We settled on climbing up the northwest side of Mount Adams.

Full route is here, although note that there is a bridge out on the single track section, so you would want to take the road detour to Chain of Lakes.

After a night at the quiet Tower Rock Campground, we left our cars at the Cispus Learning Center and began our ride along the Cispus River. We pedaled easily along the river on a little-used gravel road, which was shady and peaceful with zero traffic.

Friday Night Lights. Photo by Jocey.

Friday Night Lights. Photo by Jocey.

Go-go juice. Photo by Jocey.

Go-go juice. Photo by Jocey.

The lush Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Photo by Jocey.

The lush Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Photo by Jocey.

Wildflowers and whitecaps. Photo by Jocey.

Wildflowers and whitecaps. Photo by Jocey.

The team, looking tough. Photo by Jocey.

The team, looking tough. Photo by Jocey.

The thing about heading up into the mountains is that you have to climb. So climb we did. It started gradually on pavement, eventually morphing into a more challenging gravel climb. But the climb had not just one but 3 lakes at the end of it, so there was definitely motivation to keep pedaling.

Caitlin navigating her way up a long and sometimes technical climb. Photo by Kristin.

Caitlin navigating her way up a long and sometimes technical climb. Photo by Kristin.

As the dirt road leveled out, we came upon the stunning Ollalie Lake. Photos don’t really do it justice.

Mt. Adams watching over the scene. Photo by Jocey.

Mt. Adams watching over the scene. Photo by Jocey.

Jocelyn maybe a bit too excited to get in the water at Ollalie Lake. Photo by Kristin.

Jocelyn maybe a bit too excited to get in the water at Ollalie Lake. Photo by Kristin.

Continuing on our ride, we can to a section of the route where I had planned for us to ride on a stretch of single track. Most of the trails in the area are actually OHV trails, but I found one section where they were not allowed. I foolishly did not really check my Garmin when we found a trailhead, I just saw singletrack and pretty much started heading down it (I see trail, I go). There was a paved road alternate route, so about half of us took to the trail, the other half road on straight for lake #2.

Turns out the trail was still very much used by OHVs, making it rutted out and, at points, totally unrideable. Nothing like pushing a full loaded rig up deep, steep moto ruts! We pushed on, regrouped and decided to keep moving to camp at Takhlakh Lake.

Tough singletrack when fully loaded. Photo by Jocey.

Tough singletrack when fully loaded. Photo by Jocey.

Oh hai! Photo by Jocey.

Oh hai! Photo by Jocey.

Which turned out to be yet another alpine stunner.

Afternoon Mt. Adams. Photo by Jocey.

Afternoon Mt. Adams. Photo by Jocey.

Evening Mt. Adams. Photo by Jocey.

Evening Mt. Adams. Photo by Jocey.

Breakfast Mt. Adams. Photo by Jocey.

Breakfast Mt. Adams. Photo by Jocey.

The second day was not to be topped by the first. We started the day with some gravel roads that wound around and through high elevation forests and meadows. We detoured a short ways into Muddy Meadows at the recommendation of a fellow camper at Takhlakh Lake. An amazing spot to stop for snacks and fun photos. 

After the meadow, we were treated to a series of small waterfalls along the side of the road. I felt like I was in some kind of paradise. Truth be told we completely lucked out on the weather; usually it is likely be be snowy at these lakes until July; and by now much of these waterfalls are probably gone because of drought. [NOTE: there are currently forest fires in Gifford Pinchot, and much of this area is shut down for public use. Please see this PDF for up to date information.]

After lunch riverside, we road downhill a ways until we got to a particularly challenging part of the ride. We had two choices. There was an route that would shoot us straight to camp, but I wanted to climb up into the Hamilton Buttes. For all I knew, there wouldn't really be a view and the steepness and terrain of the road could make it intensely challenging. It’s really tough to tell from a map; I just knew it wasn't paved from looking at Google Earth.

The turn onto the road was comical; it was heavily rutted and nearly straight up. I went for it, but know that some folks were stalling behind me (sensing a theme here?). Thankfully it proved not to be insanely technical, but it did prove to be unforgiving in its steepness. We climbed for a long time and didn't see any other souls.

When we started nearing the highest point, we were rewarded with clear views of Mount Rainier and the valleys and forests of Gifford Pinchot. We also found Mud Lake at the top, just another postcard-worthy moment.

The descent was long and varied; it started fairly technical, smoothed into nice gravel, and eventually we found a nice windy paved road to bring us home.