Key: 2013-05-11:    

Mt. St. Helens Summit

A summit of Mt. St. Helens

Begin Date:

End Date:

2013-05-11: 10.86 mi

Total: 10.86 mi

Maximum Elevation*:
8262.32ft (2519.101m)

Minimum Elevation*:
2728.96ft (832.149m)

Gallery for this adventure:
Click here

* This is derived from GPS data and can have major discrepancies due to poor GPS reception.

Trip Report:

05.11.13 - Mt. St. Helens:

Inspired by the large amount of positive trip reports recently as well as the great weather that was likely to continue through the climb/ski, we couldn't resist an attempt of our own at St. Helens.

It's a mountain that's been on our list for quite some time so reaching the top would bring us a lot of joy and give us a much needed check off on our mountain list.

En route to the mountain we stopped to pick up our previously purchased permits (bought online) and found out there was over 650 permits sold for Saturday. Apparently it's the busiest weekend of the year due to the quota system being enacted the following weekend, and also because it was Mom's weekend (I'll touch on that later).

As such, we were a bit worried we might not be able to find a spot to throw up our huge car camping tent, but upon arrival at the sno park we were relieved that there were only maybe 50 people there and still a decent amount of suitable tent spots. That wouldn't last for too long though. We spent the rest of the evening watching the place fill up to what had to be close to capacity We even had a few laughs watching how creative people can be in finding places to camp.

It was up early at 3:45AM, and even though we had set an alarm it wasn't needed. As with most large climbing base camps, it's hard to sleep through the hustle and bustle of teams getting ready for a climb. It's part of the adventure you have to tell yourself. You just have to go with it and force yourself out of bed. It's better to get an early start anyways.

Thankfully, the air temp was fairly warm, which made the inevitable de-sleeping bagging not as bad as normal. We broke down the tent, so we wouldn't have to deal with it later, which was a good call. Then made a little coffee, had a bite to eat, and packed up the packs and skis. With that we were ready to join the march to the mountain at about 4:30AM.

We hiked for about an hour before donning the skis and flipping off the headlamps. Neither of us had ever really skinned anywhere of consequence, so it was a bit new. It truthfully isn't really any different than XC skiing except that there is a little more friction in both directions, especially in pushing off, which is nice.

Unfortunately, as we reached the more open terrain near treeline, we kept running into parts of snow free trail. This required us to keep unclipping and carrying the skis over the bare patches which over time, became annoying. The mountain was also in full view at this point, and we could see plenty of other places where this would be required. It would simply be easier to strap the skis on our backs and leave them there. So that's what we did, along with most of the other skiers.

We adopted our standard break every hour for about 10 minutes. This seems to be about perfect for these types of climbs gaining you about 1000-1500 vertical feet per hour and not ever really blowing you out. It's easier to go too hard than you would think. A good pace is paramount.

The views from treeline above, are as breathtaking as one would expect with Hood and Jefferson directly to the south and Adams looming to the East.

The weather for most of the climb was slight overcast, but still remarkably warm. I'd guess somewhere in the area of 50 degrees. The wind was also cooperative, blowing just enough to cool us off, but never enough to make us cold. The snow was a bit soft, but really nothing to complain about. It still generally held up under even Jason's weight. To our delight, the few high clouds that there were, seemed to dissipate just as we were reaching the crater rim. Our timing couldn't have been better.

The rim, despite being filled with about 50 people, was really quite an amazing place to be. Looking into the c shaped crater, one can see the steaming cone of new volcanic growth, the remains of Spirit Lake a bit further away, and the majestic Mt. Rainier far to the North. It truly is a magnificent view.

As usual the summit was filled with happy people. It's hard not to be thrilled after reaching any summit, and this was certainly no different. However, it was also Mother's day weekend and with that comes some tradition. We had heard about this before, but it didn't occur to us until the night before in the sno park parking lot when we started to see it. The tradition is simply to wear dresses in honor of all the moms out there. It doesn't matter if you are a guy or a girl (In fact its mostly guys wearing the dresses). Our guess is probably half the men on the mountain that day were sporting flowing dresses of all types. We even saw a few very unflattering and very short cocktail dresses on some of the more adventurous men. Good for them. It's the least we can do for putting up with all us baby climbers for so many years. Go moms! We love you.

While the summit was about as nice as a summit can be, it was no match for the comfort of our flippy floppies and the two snow covered beers waiting back by the Jeep. We often joke about the best part of any hike is when you get to shed the boots and crack that beer. The thing is, we aren't really sure if we are joking. It really is one the best parts of the trip in kind of a twisted way. but enough of that. It was time to go.

We got the skis ready, pulling off and stashing the skins. Then tightened up the boots, clipped ourselves in, and pointed back down the mountain. Off we went nervously making our first few turns while the rest of the summit gatherers watched. We know they were watching as everyone always does, though it kind of goes unsaid. Some people do it out of curiosity, some people are sizing us up, some people are just looking for a bit of beta, saying in their heads "if they went that way, so can I". We just crossed our fingers hoping we didn't do something dumb until we were far enough away to not be noticed. Once you're out of sight, let the stupidity and clumsiness take over, but never ever do it in front of a crowd. If we're ever going to horribly maim ourselves in the wilds, we just hope we have the option to make up a good story about how it happened. So it will be something like "so there I was getting crazy air over these crevasses, shredding mad pow, when bam, a snow bridge breaks open and in I go..." instead of "Well it looked like he was trying to unzip his jacket when he got his skis crossed and bam, right into a huge open chasm...". See that's the difference between how we tell the story versus the guy watching us.

Thankfully, none of that happened. We didn't fall or really even make fools out of ourselves in the slightest way. In fact, we had a blast. The snow was about as good as we could have imagined. Extremely heavy, but soft and forgiving. Hard to ask for more this time of year. "What a way to descend" we said to each other as we reached treeline. It only took us a little over an hour to get to where we couldn't ski anymore, but that was only about 1/2 mile from the parking lot. So off came the skis and after a short little walk, those flippy floppies found our feet and that beer, well it tasted pretty damn good.