backpack: Mount Adams – Killen Creek & High Camp
On this two night backpacking trip, we camped near Killen Creek’s upper waterfall and hiked to High Camp, then left a day early when high wind and wildfire smoke threatened to impact the area.
- distance & elevation gain to campsite: 4.5 miles, 1,460 ft. gain
- best months: mid-July to September
- location: Mount Adams Wilderness; 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
Day 1: hike in to Killen Creek camp
4.5 miles, 1,460 ft. gain
The Killen Creek Trail is 3.1 miles in length and gains about 1,400 before ending when it reaches the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The trail is fairly dusty and ascends gradually through the forest for the first couple of miles, then through open terrain with meadows and views of Mount Adams. When we reached the PCT junction, we turned left, heading north for another mile to Killen Creek.
On my previous two trips here, I camped in the forested site near the lower waterfall but it was already taken so we spent some time looking for another camp. We found two empty sites closer to the upper waterfall (which I hadn’t seen before this trip) so we were happy to discover more of the scenic Killen Creek area.
After setting up camp, we walked back to the footbridge and lower waterfall for sunset photos.
Day 2: hike to High Camp
4.2 miles 950 ft. gain
From our camp at Killen Creek, we hiked back to the junction with the PCT and the Killen Creek Trail. This is where the short High Camp trail begins. Even though it’s only one mile, parts of this hike are difficult to follow. Working our way through several steep rocky sections, we kept our eyes open for cairns marking the route. Two of us still managed to take the wrong route across the shale talus slope before we turned back and found the trail. The last section turns and heads straight up a steep slope with loose rock. When I’m heading up sections like this, I always think about what it will be like coming back down.
The views from High Camp are worth the journey to get there. We wished we had more time to explore this area, but it was late in the day so we had a light lunch before heading back.
I especially like the views of Mount Rainier and Goat Rocks that are prevalent throughout this hike.
Heading back to camp, we took our time on the sections with loose scree: left foot, right foot…
Sunset on our second night was a treat, with clouds streaking the sky with pink color.
At camp, a Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) hiker setup camp near us and we got to learn about his northbound journey. Best of luck to you, Hobbs!
Day 3: exploring above our camp
On our third day, we decided to take it easy and do some exploring above our camp area. This turned out to be a good decision as we watched smoke plumes near Goat Rocks expand greatly over several hours and fill the horizon with wildfire smoke. We knew that high winds were expected in the evening that could bring the smoke to where we were, so we decided to hike out a day early. In the meantime, we climbed above the upper waterfall and found beautiful meadows with small streams running through them.
Smoke plume from the Goat Rocks wildfire filled the sky to the north.
Mount Rainier obscured by wildfire smoke
After our short hike, we packed up and hiked back to the trailhead. On the way home, we gave a ride to a southbound PCT hiker heading to Trout Lake. We hope to be trail angels and setup a food and drink station for thru-hikers so we got some advice from both of the PCT hikers as to what they would want… sodas, beer, fresh fruit, veggies and chairs to sit in were the consensus. Hopefully we will be able to do this soon.