Friday, October 18, 2013

Mount St Helens Climb

Thanks to some beautiful weather this week, I took the day off to climb Mount St Helens.  After a gorgeous drive through the fall colors of Southwest Washington, I picked up my climbing permit and drove to the climbers bivouac.

After an evening stroll up the two miles to the base of the mountain for some pics, I returned, had some freeze-dried dinner, and then turned in.

Mount Adams Moonrise

Last sunset glow on St Helens

Hoping for an early start (the snow is easier to walk on when it's still frozen firm), I set my alarm for 4am.  After hitting snooze until 5, I hit the trail at 6.  I arrived above the treeline just in time for sunrise.

Mt Hood

Mount Adams at dawn

Sunrise over Mt Adams

The climb up Mount St Helens wasn't the longest, or hardest, or highest, or farthest hike I've ever done, but it was the most painful.  After hiking the two miles through the forest, it was a matter of climbing 4000 feet up the three mile ridge strewn with pumice boulders and ash.  The pumice has the consistency of 12 grit sandpaper - gloves were a necessity.  When not scrambling around boulders and rocks, the slog up the pumice ash was like climbing in a mix of pebbles, sand, and charcoal dust.  I went through quite a bit of moleskin and duct tape for my poor feet.  The going got a little easier once I hit the snow line.

Standing here 33 years ago would have meant death by boulder avalanche.

Mount Rainier in the distance
After a five and a half hour climb, I reached the crater rim.  You can see the breach on the far side of the crater, which bore the brunt of the eruption.  The hill in the middle of the crater is the slowly rising lava dome.  You can also see Washington's youngest glacier forming around the dome.  

Beyond the crater, you can see Spirit Lake, still littered with the burned and blown-down trees from the 1980 eruption.  

A closer look at the lava dome, steaming on top of the still-active volcano.  Along the climb, I caught the whiff of sulfur from time to time.  In case you're wondering, descending into the crater is strictly prohibited.

Below you can see my trail up, along the ash-covered ridge on the left - and my route down the GLISSADE chute on the right.  Imagine a waterside 50 stories high and half a mile long.  A section that took an hour to get up, took 5 minutes to get down.  It was pretty awesome.

The rest of hike down was uneventful, though it took longer than I usually expect a descent to take.  Scrambling down through the boulders was a tedious process.  After about 8 hours on the trail, I headed home, stopping for what has become my ritual cheeseburger after a long hike.  

Here's a panorama from the summit.  Blogger doesn't do wide panoramas very well, so below there's an embed of another of my pics from a site that hosts panoramas.  You can go full-screen and pan and zoom.