Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Tips for Climbing Mount St. Helens
Mark and I accomplished one of our major summer goals yesterday...
We climbed to the summit of Mount St. Helens, an active volcano here in the Pacific Northwest!
Here are some photos of our climb, along with some tips for others who want to undertake this challenging goal.
Started hiking. We used Trail 216A, with the trailhead at Climbers Bivouac. The first two miles wind through forest, and gain only 900 feet of elevation.
Easy-peasy. We hiked that part in 1 hour.
After the first two miles, the trail changes abruptly. No more trees (see the timberline below me in the photo to the left).
No more trail. Now we're on climbing route 216H, right up Monitor Ridge, one of the many basalt spines radiating down the volcano. Note the pole behind me.
Tip: Note that Mark is wearing some utility gloves. I had my gardening gloves in my pack. They really saved our hands on the rough rocks.
Just one of MANY steep areas we had to work our way up and over, one rock at a time.
The gusty wind felt great and helped us keep from overheating on the climb.
Mt. Hood in the background, looking south.
Tip: In addition to a sun hat, consider some kind of ear protection if your ears are bothered by wind.
Every step sinks back a little, just like going up a sand dune.
We started this part--about a mile of climbing yet to the top--at 11:30. Lots of rest and water breaks. The wind had died down by now, and the sun became more punishing.
From timberline to summit, we gained 3600 feet of elevation in 3 miles. I have to say that it was the steepest, most punishing 3 miles I have ever hiked/climbed.
Here's a view looking north from the summit. That's Mount Rainier, near Seattle, in the distance. This view shows the blown-out crater, and Spirit Lake below us.
Tip: bring an extra pair of hiking socks, and change out socks before starting downhill. Your toes will thank you!
We made good time on the descent, as long as we were trudging down through the sand dune-like part. Once we got back to the rocks, it was very slow and cautious going for a while.
The rocks were radiating lots of afternoon sunlight, and Mark got overheated and nauseous at one point. We rested for 20 minutes, he changed into a cooler shirt and zipped off the bottom of his pant legs to make shorts, drank water, and felt better.
A butterfly banged into me, flies and a yellowjacket pestered Mark, we could hear a cricket click-click-clicking, and honeybees were pollinating tiny flowers.
We saw several holes that looked like chipmunk holes, but maybe they were just holes in the ash--hard to imagine a chipmunk surviving in that environment. I did see one spider web. By the time we reached this beautiful bank of flowers, we were getting closer to the bottom of the boulders.
Near the bottom of the boulders, here's a photo of me navigating the rocks near one of the poles.
By this time (about 5:00 P.M.) our knees were getting shaky and we wished we could wave a wand to land us magically back at the trailhead!
We saw lots of climbers in their 20s and 30s, but not many 50-somethings like us!
Waiting for us in the car: an ice chest with cold drinks and sandwiches! Genius!!
Also some soap and water in the car to wash the sweat and grime off our faces and necks before climbing in and heading home.
Note: if you want to climb Mount St. Helens, you have to have a permit. They are available on-line for $22. There are only 100 permits per day, and they go quickly. We bought our August 24 permits back in early June.
Here are a couple of good websites if you are interested in learning more about climbing Mount St. Helens:
US Forest Service official site on Mount St. Helens - click here.
Mount St. Helens Institute - good info and the site to buy a pass - click here.
Note: If you buy permits, you pay for them online, and then you pick them up at the Lone Fir Resort in Cougar, WA. You have to sign-in and sign-out in the Climber's Register at Lone Fir Resort. More info available here.
You can pick up your permits and sign in the day before, and then camp that night at the trailhead. There are several campsites at Climbers Bivouac, allowing for a good early start up the mountain.