4500ft of elevation gain on the Monitor Ridge route (normal climbing route)
I got back from a business trip to Boston on Saturday, watched the Huskies beat up on USC (yea!!) and then got a whole 3 hours of sleep in preparation to climb Mt. St. Helens on Sunday the 3rd of October. Nothing like sitting in a training room, eating lots of great Boston seafood and generally doing nothing active for a week to get ready to climb a mountain…
Scott Chaffee, my cousin-in-law and friend that I ski and climb with organized a group to climb Mt. St. Helens. Seventeen people accepted, including folks that had almost never even hiked before to others with some climbing experience. St. Helens can be done in one day but it’s a pretty long drive so we all met at Scott’s house at 4:30am. He lives in Federal Way and from there it is about a 2 hour drive to the trail head.
Our first stop (besides coffee for the people that needed it) was the Lone Fir store in Cougar, WA to pick up our climbing permits at 7am. To climb Mt. St. Helens you need to get a permit – they limit it to 100 people per day. They only cost $22, but they run out quick so you have to book months in advance and just hope you get lucky on the weather for the day you go.
As you can see – it was super foggy in the parking lot. We were all hoping that things would clear out as we got higher on the mountain but it’s never certain. The weather forecast called for clouds and 20% chance of rain.
The first 2 miles of the hike is in the trees and doesn’t have very much elevation gain (1000ft). Scott loves to hike super fast though so he set a very strong pace and we lost our first two members before we even got out of the trees. After that everyone realized Scott was crazy and the group broke up with people hiking with others that went about their same pace instead of trying to keep up with Scott . So beyond those first 2 people, everyone made it to the summit – which included a few folks that didn’t hike much before.
Once you get out of the trees it’s goes from small boulders to bigger and bigger rocks and you end up trying to find your own path a lot with some big poles placed by the rangers to help guide your way. At this point the sun started breaking through the fog and everyone’s morale improved significantly.
One nice thing about climbing St. Helens is once you get into the rocks you can generally see the summit at the top of each section. It’s amazing how much more inspired people get when they can see the end goal instead of feeling like it’s an endless climb…
About 2/3rd of the way up we completely broke out above the clouds and could see some of the surrounding peaks. The picture above is Mt. Adams but we could also see Mt. Hood and from some angles even Mt. Rainier.
(last boulder field with the remaining ash and sand above. If you look close you can see the summit and a few people already up there)
After the boulder fields it turns into another 1000-1500ft of ash and small boulders. At first it’s a relief from the boulders but quickly it becomes a pain as you take 2 steps forward, and slide 1 step backwards. This is especially true for the last 500ft.
After about 4 hours of climbing we all made the summit (the faster folks waited for the slower ones before making the final summit push). It was sunny and windy up there so while it wasn’t warm it wasn’t cold enough to pull out the down jacket.
Here’s a few more pics and at the end a few tips for others considering it
(me on the summit with the crater in the background)
(the summit crater with Mt. Adams in the background. Don’t get too close to the edge, a guy did earlier this year and ended up dying when he broke his leg and then got hypothermia overnight before he could be rescued)
(another view of the last part of the climb. Some snow was still here as well)
(inside the crater where Mt. St. Helens in slowly rebuilding. Scott climbed last year and said this was double the size of last year. So it’s definitely still an active volcano)
- If you haven’t climbed a mountain before, this is a great mountain to start on. It isn’t very steep and if you go during the late summer you won’t have to climb snow (no crampons needed)
- Even though it’s only 8600ft high, it’s still a serious mountain so be prepared. Have lots of food, water, first aid, and gear that is made for any weather condition. Some members of our team didn’t bring good jackets, hiking boots, or enough food and had to borrow from others
- Reserve your permit early – July and August are especially busy but if you can go in Sept or Oct it isn’t as bad
- Use a pace you can maintain for the long haul. Don’t use up all your energy in the first few miles