backpack: Mount Adams – Killen Creek
Three night backpacking trip at Killen Creek on Mount Adams
- distance & elevation gain to campsite: 4.5 miles, 1,460 ft. gain
- day hike options: High Camp, Foggy Flat, Muddy Meadows
- best months: mid-July to September
- location: Southwest Washington; nearest town: Trout Lake
- land management: Gifford Pinchot National Forest: Mount Adams Ranger Station
- trail conditions: Killen Creek Trail #113
- hike description: Washington Trails Association
- permits: self-issued at the trailhead
- trailhead pass: none required
This was my first trip to Mount Adams. I’m really surprised that it took me so long to visit this amazing place. There were meadows full of wildflowers, views of Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens and Goat Rocks, plenty of swarming mosquitoes, a waterfall at our campsite, and several small lakes nearby. We spent three nights and explored the area via short day hikes to High Camp, Foggy Flat and along the PCT.
Since we would be hiking on the PCT and camping right next to it, I was hoping to see a few thru-hikers on this trip. We ended up meeting five. The first night, a thru-hiker going SOBO came in late and set up camp next to us. He was gone waaayy before we got up the next morning. I really enjoyed spending a few days on the PCT and meeting so many cool people thru-hiking it!
hike in: 4.5 miles, 1,460 ft. gain
We started at the Killen Creek trailhead on the northeast side of Mount Adams and hiked in for three miles to the junction with the PCT, then we turned left and headed north for another mile to campsites near Killen Creek. The hike in was not hard, but it was hot and dusty, with a few swarming mosquitoes.
We had two full days to explore the area on day hikes, so we took our time in the morning before heading out. We planned to hike to High Camp, which meant going back south on the PCT about a mile to the High Camp trail junction. The trail winds through rocky areas, with occasional snowfields that are still melting out. After about half a mile, the trail is much steeper, switchbacking up towards High Camp. We had a large group, so we hiked in three separate groups and we all ended up doing different versions of the hike.
I didn’t go all the way to High Camp, stopping about halfway to have lunch and enjoy the views of Mount Rainier and Goat Rocks. The trail up to High Camp includes an exposed section on a shale slope that sounded sketchy for those with a fear of heights. I don’t know if it’s the height that bothers me, or the fear of falling, but I decided to not push it and instead, enjoy the views on a slow and leisurely approach to the day.
We went back to the junction with the PCT and turned left to go south after one of our groups had been that way and recommended that we do the same before going back to camp. The trail goes through meadow after meadow, and the views of Mount Adams show more of its bulky mass. We rounded a small rocky ridge with bear grass lining the sides of the trail. At this point was our first view of Mount St. Helens.
When turned around when we reached Adams Creek – a fast moving glacier-fed creek that can be difficult to cross. We had no need to cross it, and getting back to camp early would mean more time for exploration later in the evening.
At dusk, we went back to the small lake behind our camp to watch the sky turn light shades of yellow and orange. That’s Mount Rainier in the distance.
Day hike to Foggy Flat: from our campsite, we headed north on the PCT for about a quarter of a mile to the junction with the Highline Trail. We were headed to Foggy Flat on the north side of Mount Adams, so we took the Highline Trail for about a mile to a creek crossing.
Compared to the meadows at our camp, the wildflowers in this part of the mountain were at their peak.
At this creek crossing, most of our group continued hiking for about another mile, but a friend and I headed back. It would turn out to be a good thing… we ended up making new friends.
As we approached the PCT, we ran into a thru-hiker heading south so we stopped to talk to him for a bit. He was hiking with his two brothers and a French thru-hiker from Montreal. As we sat and talked, the others showed up one by one. The group of four had been in a thunderstorm near the North Cascades when they were hit by lightning… and survived. It’s an amazing story. They are very lucky! We gave them some of our food, and after about an hour, they continued on and we headed back to camp. (after we returned to Portland, my friend hosted this group for a couple of days and took them shopping to replace gear that had been damaged by lightening)
Back at our camp, we had dinner and then a young woman who was section hiking through Washington joined us in our camp. She’s hiking by herself and I think she enjoyed finding a large group of women to spend the evening with. (We wish you the best of luck on your trip, Gaby! It was so nice to meet you!)
At dusk, we set out to explore the area around our camp one last time.