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.

7:10 A.M.
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.

Trail 216-A is pretty similar to most hikes we've been on, except for the occasional views of volcano-type geology through the trees.

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.

What a handsome guy! If you click on the photo, you can see three more poles going up the ridge behind Mark. We literally climbed over all those rocks for MILES and HOURS on our way to the top of the volcano. No designated trail--climbers use their common sense to find the best way from one pole to the next.

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.

Another photo of my hunk.

Just one of MANY steep areas we had to work our way up and over, one rock at a time.

Not my best hair day! Mark took this photo on a rest stop. We stopped for at least 5 minutes every 30 minutes on our way up, to eat a few bites of Power Bar and stay hydrated. (We each carried 5 pints of water for the climb.)

The gusty wind felt great and helped us keep from overheating on the climb.

Mt. Hood in the background, looking south.

About 2/3 of the way up the boulders on Monitor Ridge, we passed this solar-powered GPS station. It's monitoring tiny changes in position, to track movement of the plates that make up the earth's crust. Fascinating.

Some distance above the GPS station, we took another rest break at this small cairn, where I added another rock to the pile.

Tip: In addition to a sun hat, consider some kind of ear protection if your ears are bothered by wind.

After 3 hours and 2+ miles of climbing over the rocks, we made it to the top part of the ascent. This part is kind of like a monster sand dune that is made out of pumice instead of sand.

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.

Yes, it really is that steep.

Even when you're climbing up the pumice fields, there are still plenty of rocks to navigate.

This part of the climb can get discouraging. You can see the top, but it feels like you'll never get there! It took us 1 1/2 hours of trudging--toiling--up through the pumice to finally reach the summit of Mount St. Helens.

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.

But we did it!!

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.

The crater rim is scary - a very steep drop-off. I sat with my boots near the edge, but not too close.

Another view of the crater rim, on the west side of the crater. In this photo and the previous one, you can see the big hump of lava, the dome, that formed in the last few years down in the crater.

Mark and me at the crater rim. We rested for a good half hour, ate lunch, then started back down again at 1:30 P.M.

Tip: bring an extra pair of hiking socks, and change out socks before starting downhill. Your toes will thank you!

Another shot of the striking scene, looking into the crater. It's difficult to get a sense of scale, because everything is so huge.

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.

In spite of being above timberline, and on a volcano, we were surprised to notice lots of living things (besides us and the other 98 hikers).

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.

We took lots more photos of the ascent, probably because we were glad for an excuse to stop and rest!

Near the bottom of the boulders, here's a photo of me navigating the rocks near one of the poles.

At last - just a couple more poles, and we could see the forest trail beckoning us back into the trees.

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!

A welcome sight - they have added a composting toilet at the trail junction two miles above the trailhead. There are no "facilities" once you get into the volcanic rock part of the climb.

Lupine meadows greeted us as we pushed to get back to the car. We paused--briefly--a couple of times to snatch ripe huckleberries to refresh us.

We reached the trailhead at 6:00 P.M., eleven hours after we began, exhausted but so proud of ourselves for accomplishing this challenging climb.

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.


Anonymous said...

sounds like an amazing climb! I'm glad you could cross this goal off your list.

Kendra Last-Bookartist said...

I am really glad you were able to do this. Looking at the pictures I am not sure I would have been successful. In fact, I am sure I would not have made it. You guys are amazing. So glad you are my parents. Sending you big hugs and pats on the backs!

Carou said...

KUDOS to you both for your super achievement. Very impressive. Thanks for sharing the beautiful views and giving us helpful tips!

Dorothy said...

Ken says: "Congratulations on your success!! It is everything I told you it would be! :)"

Hooray, hooray to both of you for reaching the top! What a LONG day, but you DID it! Awesome!

Are you sore?

Sarah Maughan said...

Congratulations! I know i couldn't have done it!

Polly said...

Nice job! I know Eric would love to do this sometime.

Mike said...

I'm glad you were able to take time to do this hike, I know how that type of time is important to you and Mark.

I for one don't know if I would want to climb up to the rim of Mt St. Helen, however it might make it on my bucket list.

Cindy Price said...

Congratulations, Kathy! What an adventure you and Mark had.

Bryan said...

Holy cow! That's one amazing climb.

Ange said...

incredible, You did it! Your vitality is amazing.. Can I come?

Bridget said...

I loved reading this post! You described it so well. We had a great climb today. I'm so glad yours went well, too.

Amy said...

Thank you for sharing your climb! Having just visited the mountain a week earlier it was fun to envision you up on top. Congratulations on your accomplishment!!

Unknown said...

Scrolling through images about climbing St Helens and found your blog. My husband and I are both 53but in good shape, so seeing your success gives me encouragement that we can do it, too! It’s a bucket list item for us-before we get too old!