Mt. Adams, a towering stratovolcano (3,742 meters – 12,276 feet), is the second highest peak in the Pacific Northwest (Washington and Oregon) after Mt. Rainier.
Volcano: The Mount Adams stratovolcano is surrounded by volcanic fields that contain several hundred smaller volcanoes. In the Cascades, Mount Adams is second in eruptive volume only to Mount Shasta–48 cubic miles!– and far surpasses its loftier neighbor Mount Rainier from the base of its lava flows to the summit. Future eruptions and other hazardous events present potential hazards to life, property, and economic health. Among these hazards are eruptions of lava flows and ash. But for Mount Adams, the hazard of volcanic mudflows, called lahars, is potentially the most devastating.
Glaciers: Mt. Adams is mantled by 12 glaciers, most of which are fed radially from its summit icecap. The total glacier area of the 12 glaciers has decreased by 49% (31.5 km2 to 16.2 km2) from 1904 to 2006.Glaciers on Mt. Adams show similar trends to those on both Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier.
Flora and fauna: Mt. Adams reflects the Cascade (ecoregion: 4b, 4c, and 4d) and Eastern Cascades and Foothills (ecoregion: 9a and 9b) ecoregions. According to David Biek and Susan McDougall, authors of The Flora of Mount Adams, Washington (2007), the mountain has the distinction of being home to a more diverse flora than found on any other mountain in the Pacific Northwest: 843 species of plants, from the 4,000-foot level to the highest ridges at over 11,000 feet.
The number, variability, and large size of middle elevation meadows are distinctive aspects of Mount Adams. Of the meadows on Mount Adams, Bird Creek Meadows, a series of alcoves that stretch a mile along the southern rim of the peak, may have gained the most attention. Flora in Bird Creek Meadows includes, magenta paintbrush, arrowleaf senecio, Penstemons, lupines, monkeyflowers, heathers, and sedges. Wetland Grand and Swampy meadows lie on the southwest side at an elevation of 4,000 feet. Wetland species include dwarf birch, bog blueberry, highbush cranberry, sundew, purple cinquefoil, and flatleaf badderwort as well as sedges and rushes. In contrast to these middle elevation wet meadows, the subalpine meadows on the north and west side of the mountain are much less extensive, limited, largely restricted by water and suitable topography. Species include partridgefoot, Cascade rockcress, subalpine buttercup, and Sitka valerian. Alpine meadow species include small-fruit smelowskia, elegant Jacob’s ladder, and several species of wild buckwheat.
Most of the mountain’s area (over 235 sq. miles) is below timberline, with coniferous forest (18 species) making up much of the landscape. Mt. Adams has many diverse habitats created by interplay of topography and geographic location. For example, southeast aspect habitats range from mixed ponderosa pine, bitterbrush, and Douglas-fir to alpine tundra. Transition from alpine to forest ranges from subtle to abrupt and well developed meadows are infrequent. Depending on mountain aspect and elevation, vegetation dominance zones vary. For example, from lower elevation ponderosa pine, grand fir, and Douglas-fir zones, mid-elevation lodgepole pine and Pacific silver fir zones, and higher elevation subalpine fir, mountain hemlock, whitebark pine zones.
Global warming has been greatly influencing forest structure, composition, and overall ecosystem health. The sub-alpine meadows are rapidly filling in with young conifers. We have seen alarming and vast infestations of bark beetles and fungi, such as the budworm in grand fir (in the 1990’s), mountain pine beetle in lodgepole pine, and blister-rust in the old-growth white-bark pine. Wildfires are hotter and more extensive now, creating large zones of snags on the southeast, south, and southwest sides. In addition, extensive logging on the mountain’s slopes, from about 2500 feet to 5200 feet elevation, have also altered the ecosystems, for better or for worse.
Animal species on the mountain, especially in the Wilderness and wild regions, are still relatively healthy and diverse. Larger mammals Rocky Mountain elk, deer, black bear, bobcat, cougar, coyote, inhabit mainly the forested and meadowed habitat. Increasing numbers of mountain goats occupy high alpine and subalpine areas on the northwest, north, east, and southeast sides. A rare wolverine was photographed on Mt. Adams recently, but he may have moved on to another mountain region. Smaller mammals, such as the marmot and pika, aren’t doing well now (because they are so temperature-sensitive), formerly occuring in large numbers in the the rocky habitat around the treeline. The Douglas squirrel is still numerous, occupying forested areas, while species such as the Cascade golden-mantled ground squirrel and chipmunk seem to be plentiful below and above treeline.
A large variety of birds can be seen at all elevations on Mt. Adams year-round, such as crows, ravens, Canada jays, Stellar’s jay, Clarks nutcracker, blue grouse, and ruffed grouse (increasing population in the higher elevations). White-tailed ptarmigan, once so numerous on Mt. Adams, seem to have disappeared for some reason. But happily, birds of prey such as peregrine falcon and sharp-shinned hawk still grace the skies.