My thanks to NS Explorer for this one.
I had a stroke of luck a couple of weeks ago when I emailed him about something only to find out he had a spare permit to climb Mt St Helens the following Friday with a friend of his. Luckily I managed to rearrange my days off to join them on the 3 day trip.
We left Thursday 20th June, climbed on Friday and returned Saturday. It's about a 6-7 hour drive from Vancouver to the immediate area where another stroke of luck meant we could drive up to the 'Climber's Bivouac' campsite which had only opened for the summer that very day. This meant a departure from 3800' and cut a few kms and some vertical from what we were expecting.
The campsites were a little damp but we managed to find enough space for two tents in the end.
There were LOTS of people doing the hike/climb. 100 permits are given out for each day and most of these are booked well ahead (I have a friend who, on seeing my photos on FB, looked into it for themselves and told me they were sold out until mid September). There were scouts and youth groups and all kinds of groups, making for busy and noisy mornings.
We waited until everyone else had left. The weather forecast wasn't great but there was supposed to be a chance of clearing later in the day so we set off at 9:45 hoping we might catch some views from the top if we were lucky.
The trail reminded me of the Helm Pass trail to start with as it switchbacked through the trees. Once above the treeline on Monitor Ridge (which you follow almost straight up to the summit) it became more like the backside of Mt Price with a bit of Black Tusk thrown in.
On the snow between the rocky sections it was like any soft snow slog. Having said that I think I preferred the snow to the slippy and unstable volcanic rock and dust and would imagine a few hours of this could be very wearing on a hot sunny day in July or August.
NS Explorer looms out of the mist.
It was a funny day for the weather. The sun never quite came out but it was hot and humid in the clouds and you could definitely feel the sun. It was one of those days when jackets went on, then came off, then went back on again.
Wally approaches the summit.
I think we were about 4 1/2 hours to the summit, a 1450m climb.
Me and NS Explorer on the summit.
We weren't alone.
After waiting around for an hour and a half we gave up on any hope of a view and headed down.
The mist seems to have over dramatised what was a pretty routine hike.
I should just say that, although it was pretty straightforward, it might be less so should the snow be harder. It was steep enough in places that a good slide could take place if you lost your footing. We had poles, ice axes and micro spikes but only used the spikes once and never had use of the axes. I could see them both being really useful though depending upon conditions, full on crampons too sometimes.
We came across this which I thought at first was a weather station but apparently is one of 876 seismic recording stations across the US.
NS Explorer stomps his way down in between bouts of glissading. Unfortunately I missed all the butt sliding bits.
Glissading is apparently the cause of quite a few accidents on the mountain and care should obviously be taken, especially if one is not familiar with self arrest. I think these accidents are probably more to do with the fact that there were some fairly inexperienced looking people on the mountain and some who were maybe not fit enough.
Me and Wally just made long, deep snow steps in the soft stuff. Whatever method was used we were down in a shade over 2 hours.
Of course a few hours after we got back to camp the sky cleared.
The next day we drove round to the blast zone side of the mountain. This was the only day that week with any sunny weather and it was great that we were able to see that incredible landscape.
The Americans really know how to do this kind of thing. I'm always impressed with their park systems and this was no different. The visitors centre and the road up to it were very impressive and the talks I heard were informative and interesting.
If you haven't been then I'd really recommend it. I'll definitely be going back. If you can't get a permit for the summit there's a trail that circumnavigates Mt St Helens called the Loowit Trail that looks pretty good and plenty of other interesting looking hikes and things to do.
A good trip all round, one that I was so lucky to have been on and that wasn't even on the radar until 5 or 6 days beforehand.