TR MT. St. Helens 7/21/09
Pictures and a 360 video on my blog
Mt. St. Helens, Washington 7/21/09
Now if you had asked me last year if I would want to hike up a volcano, let alone the most famous on the mainland, I would have said no way. After researching more about geology and volcanoes to teach my 4th graders this past winter I learned to not be so scared of volcanoes. My students on the other hand didn?t think it was the best idea. I had to explain to them that it wasn?t going to just erupt. There are warning signs. Along the way in my research I found that you have to purchase climbing permits to go above 4500ft. Once I got my plane ticket I looked up passes and they were sold out for the Thur, Fri, Sat, and Sun I was going to be there (only 100 are sold per day). I was going to be hiking with Scott and he works during the week so I just accepted at first we weren?t going to be able to do it. About three weeks before my trip I found out Scott was going to take Tue off (Mon had sold out at that point too) so we could do it. Tue also happened to be the day I fly home on the red eye.
So Monday afternoon comes around, Scott gets home from work and we head out with my printed out receipt in hand. Luckily there was very little traffic and we get to the Lone Fir Resort in Cougar at 9:30pm to get our passes. From there we headed up to the Climbers Bivouac at the start of the Monitor Ridge Route. This was an interesting little place with two composting toilets, no running water, and some tent sites with fire pits. Some people slept in tents, some in cars, and some in sleeping bags out in the opening. I took the car route and Scott the out in the open route. As the night progressed the weather got warmer and therefore we got less sleep. The plan was to get up at 3am and head out with headlamps. I had wanted to make sure we were done with plenty of time so I could shower before spending the night on a plane. Also, the forecast was for temperatures in the 90s and I didn?t want to spend another day baking on the slopes of a mountain like the week before on South Sister.
At 3:30am we headed out with headlamps into the woods. This was my first time out in the dark and man could you see thousands of stars. The trail through the woods was smooth and only a slight incline. At one point there was an opening and we could see the lights of Portland. After a little more then an hour and 2 miles we came to timberline (interestingly there was a composting toilet right before timberline). Here things started to head up onto Monitor Ridge. The sky was also getting a bit lighter. Now we started doing rock hopping mixed in with some spots of walking on screen (think beach sand with pumice). As we started up the sun was rising in the east beyond Mt. Adams. This was another advantage of going early; being on Mt. St. Helens and watching the sun rise over Mt. Adams, amazing. At this point we started to notice the haze. I was a bit disappointed because I knew that the views wouldn?t be crystal clear but at least I would get some views. This was also about the time when Scott started to thank me for insisting on going so early. We could tell it was getting hot and we were happy to know we would be pretty high before being in the full force of the sun.
Monitor Ridge is great, rock hopping along and looking around to the south. We could see over to Lava Canyon and the volcano was casting a miles long shadow. There was another pair about thirty minutes ahead of us and we kept looking for them along the trail. We were very happy to be on the rocks for such a long time. We both feared that the screen would be lower down. Along the way we went by two GPS volcano-tracking monitors. We managed to be in the shade until about 6:30. At this point the rocks were getting smaller and less frequent. Soon enough we were on screen almost exclusively. I felt like this is what the surface of the moon must be like. That or take a beach, put it on an angle, and remove the water. Poles were very helpful at this point. Up we went. We could see the top and were very glad to see the pair in front of us standing there. Looking behind there was a group of 4 moving much quicker then us. Right before the top they caught us and we all got up there together.
At the top there is about 4-5 feet of flat before the drop off into the crater. So I am not a huge fan of heights and was a bit nervous here. I decided not to walk around the rim and just enjoyed the view from that one spot. From here through the haze we could see Mt. Hood to the south, Adams to the east, and Rainier to the north. Looking down into the crater we could see the lava dome steaming! I was not expecting this. At the same time you could hear small rock falls inside the crater. This also reaffirmed my desire to sit tight and not let the unstable rim get the best of me. It was windy and chilly at the top so I at first put my new First Ascent fleece (side note: I love my new fleece, the First Ascent line is by Eddie Bauer and will be in full release this fall, look for it). We chatted with the group we came up with. There was a lady and two men from Austria and their guide. The day before they did Hood and they were planning on doing Adams in two parts the following two days! Talk about amazing. This explains how they got up to the top 1.5hours quicker then us. I would love to be in that type of shape now and they were in their 50s.
We all headed down at the same time. This is when my gaiters became crucial. We were going quicker and the screen was loosening up. I would step down and my boots sunk in. The gaiters kept the screen out of my boots. At one point I lost my balance and fell down. Now screen and small pieces of pumice are not like falling at the beach. I still had my fleece on which helped my arm only get scratched a little. (My arm is sore and I have bruises on my leg 2 days later). After assessing my scrapes we moved on. There were many more people on the trail now and it was getting hot. At one point we decided to go running through the snow instead of the rocks. Scott slipped and went sliding down. If only we had a sled. After the snow we took a trail lower on the ridge. My once brown boots now appeared gray. We got down to the woods and boy was it hot. The woods were not as dense as we thought but truthfully it is probably mostly all new growth since the 1980 eruption. The melting glaciers and ash on the volcano would have wiped the original trees out. The two miles seemed to take longer going back to the car but at least it wasn?t hard.
Thoughts: All in all it took us a long 5 hours to get to the top but only 3.5 to get down. We were very happy to go early and avoid some of the heat. This time I used sock liners and a pair of First Ascent socks and my feet did better, although I think I will need boots a half size bigger if I am going to be going with thicker socks and liners. I stood atop Mt. St. Helens!!!!!
Looks awesome. I wouldn't have thought about a volcano hike either but this would certainly change my mind. Great TR and pics and the 360 video is excellent!!