High Camp & Glacier Lake
Updated: Nov 28, 2022
A challenging hike to a glacier fed lake in the Mount Adams Wilderness in Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
Highlights: High Camp, Glacier Lake Lake Name: Glacier Lake
Lake Coordinates: 46.23429, -121.51198 Lake Elevation: 7500′ Access: Trail & bushwhack Distance: 13 miles (round trip) Elevation Range: 4600′ to 7600′ Ascent/Descent: +2864 ft / -2862 ft (it feels like a whole lot more than this!) Trails: Divide Camp Trail #112 (7 people), PCT #2000 (0 people), High Camp #10 (5 people), cross country to Glacier Lake (2 people) Permits: A wilderness permit is required (free at trailhead) and between May 1 – September 30, a Volcano Pass is required for hiking anywhere above 7000′ on Mt Adams. Since I went on October 1st I didn’t have to get one. Note: On the PCT there is one river crossing, Adams Creek. Don’t let the word ‘creek’ fool you. The section between High Camp and Glacier Lake doesn’t have a trail. It requires navigation skills and climbing over talus and up steep slopes. *Under “Trails” I mention the number of people we encountered on each trail. Date hike was done: 10-1-20
I didn’t even know Glacier Lake existed until a few days prior to hiking there. I’d been planning on finishing the last section of the Timberline Trail in September, but due to the wind storm and wildfires, Mt Hood National Forest was closed and my family was evacuated from our house for a month. I’d still held on to some hope that maybe the north section of Mt Hood National Forest would reopen since there were no active fires there and maybe, just maybe, I could finish the last section.
On October 28, Mt Hood National Forest reopened certain sections not near any fire areas, but the windstorm had taken down a lot of trees. So even though the Timberline Trail was technically open, it wasn’t exactly safe or the smartest option. So I sadly had to postpone the last section until 2021.
I was really disappointed and really wanted to get in one last long distance and higher altitude hike. I started exploring places around Mt Adams. I considered doing a 20-mile section of the PCT that passed near Mt Adams that would be a point-to-point hike. I kept looking at different trail combinations and trying to find some place where there wouldn’t be many people.
I ended up discovering Glacier Lake by chance on a website, Backcountry Post. The moment I saw a picture of Glacier Lake I was hooked. I carefully planned how I wanted to do the hike and intentionally waited until October 1 to do the hike so we didn’t have to get permits. I pieced together three trails that I thought would make a fun adventure.
There are definitely more straightforward ways to access High Camp and Glacier Lake if that is the end goal. I wanted to be able to take in as much of the mountain as I could. So I decided to start at the Divide Camp Trail which meets up with the PCT, and then take the PCT to where it meets up with the High Camp Trail. My goal was to see as few people as possible and get as many views of the mountain as possible. I think I succeeded 🙂
It was a 2 1/2 hour drive to the Divide Camp Trailhead from where we were staying at my grandma’s house. We arrived by 9:30am. My mom and I were both tired. I was coming off a flare and was feeling very fatigued, weak and exhausted. We took a moment to rest before we started our hike at 9:52 a.m.
We got out on the trail. It was a bit chilly. The trail at first was flat and weaved through the forest. After a bit the trail started climbing uphill. I had to take breaks frequently with how much I hurt and felt weak. I kept saying just one more mile and then I’ll see how I’m feeling. I ended up doing that clear to Glacier Lake.
There were beautiful fall colors, reds and oranges, scattered through the forest in unexpected places. We stopped next to a river for a break and to eat something. Two older guys that were out hiking stopped where we were and we talked for a little bit. They were really nice.
We continued our hike. The trail kept climbing uphill through the forest. Eventually we broke out into large sprawling meadows. There we were greeted by our first good view of Mt Adams, even though it was pretty hazy out (from the wildfires). The trail continued gently uphill as we weaved through the meadows.
Eventually the trail came to an intersection with the PCT (at mile 3.31). We hiked north on the PCT. The terrain was rocky since we were hiking across a dried river bed area. We came across our only stream crossing, Adams Creek. It had a powerful, silty flow. Neither of us had brought sandals and we didn’t want our feet to be wet for the rest of the hike. So we found 2 small logs just a little bit upstream from where the trail continued on the other side. We crossed them and made it to the other side. It was a little bit unnerving. We ate our lunch on the other side.
The PCT was gorgeous. The forest was open and felt exciting. The trail was rolling hills, ups and downs. There was a little unnamed lake to the left of the trail right before the PCT met up with the High Camp Trail junction.
The High Camp Trail started climbing steeply uphill. It got rockier and rockier until we were climbing up scree and talus. It was lava rock and slate rock. There were 2 large rocks we stopped at and laid on for a little while. There were great views across the valley to the west and north. I would have been happy just sitting there for a few days.
We continued our slow trek uphill. As we neared the top, the trail climbed along a steep hillside in loose slate rock. There was a huge snowfield (kinda glacier looking area) to the left of the trail. We reached the top at High Camp. It was open and beautiful. There were very few trees. We could see Mt Adams and Mt St Helens.
We decided to push to Glacier Lake, or at least attempt it since we were so close. It was difficult and quite hard to navigate. There was a very steep ridgeline made of loose rock we had to get over in the distance, so we were trying to figure out how to do that and where to climb over, but first we had to cross the “field” of talus. We climbed up and jumped across talus. It was quite the workout after hiking almost 6 miles at that point. I knew the off trail section would take longer, bushwhacking always does.
As we climbed up to the top of the steep ridge and then we made our way to the edge of the other side, we were greeted by our first view of the lake and a spectacular view of Mt Adams. The lake wasn’t a glacier blue since the snow had melted far enough, it was just a silty color. The best view of Mt Adams was hands down from here. I was in awe! The word of the day was “wow.”
It took us 1 hr 15 min to get to Glacier Lake from High Camp. We hiked 0.85 miles one way to the lake. We took a break above the lake so we could enjoy the view and refuel on food. I’d kept my eyes open for mountain goats, but didn’t see any. We only came across some scat. We arrived at Glacier Lake after hiking for 6 hr 17 min and 6.61 miles. It was 4:10p.m., definitely later in the day. We only took a 20 minute break because we had daylight to race. We wanted to cross the creek crossing before it was dark.
We started our hike back to High Camp at 4:30 p.m. It only took us 50 minutes on the descent and we were able to cut off some distance by being more direct since we knew where we were going. It was only was 0.69 miles back to High Camp.
It was golden hour and the views across the valley were incredible on our descent down to the PCT. Once we got down to the PCT we were seriously racing sunlight. The sunset was incredible! The sun set right behind Mt St Helens. We made it to the creek crossing towards the end of sunset. The sky was definitely starting to get darker. We tried to see if there was a better crossing since I wasn’t super comfortable with how we’d crossed before. We couldn’t find one, so we crossed in the same place.
It was getting dark very quickly. We had to get our flashlight out on the other side of the creek. By the time we reached the junction for the Divide Camp Trail it was twilight. An owl flew right over us!
We had my headlamp and my mom’s phone light. It was very, very dark. It slowed us down quite a bit. We were both exhausted. My feet were killing me and my mom had twisted her ankle. Our muscles were really starting to feel fatigued. It took a lot of mental energy to see in the dark and follow the trail, even with the great light we had.
We hiked around 2 hours in the dark. We got to see the full moon rise through the trees, which was cool. It was huge and bright. We were both almost crying when we reached our car from how physically exhausted we were. We finished at 8:40 p.m. We had been out for 11 hours and hiked 13 miles.
We had forgotten to take my Spot and so we weren’t able to let my dad know we were out later than we planned until we got cell service, which wasn’t until 9:30 p.m. (which we still hear about 2 months later LOL) It was a long and challenging day. It was worth every second. The views were amazing and diverse along the three different trails.
Divide Camp TH to PCT Trail Junction @ mile 3.31
High Camp Trail Junction @ mile 4.67
High Camp @ mile 5.6
Glacier Lake @ mile 6.61
Divide Camp #112 Trailhead: 46.26910, -121.57874
First view of Mt Adams (Divide trail): 46.24838, -121.55503
Divide Trail and PCT Intersection: 46.24052, -121.54563
Adams Creek (river crossing on PCT): 46.24301, -121.54331
Shallow lake (on PCT): 46.24992, -121.53685
PCT and High Camp Trail Intersection: 46.25091, -121.53264
High Camp: 46.24177, -121.52359
Start of off-trail section (6915 ft): 46.24040, -121.52180
Water source from snowfield: 46.24022, -121.52155
Glacier Lake: 46.23429, -121.51198
How to get there (from Trout Lake, WA)
Take Mt Adams Rd for 1.3 miles. Stay left on NF 23 and continue for 23.2 miles. Take a slight right onto NF 2329 and proceed for 3.5 then turn right into the trailhead parking area.
The map above shows the road route I took from Trout Lake to the Divide Camp Trailhead.
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