Home Sports & Leisure PNW Hiking Mt St Helens 2011

Mt St Helens Volcano- Episode 3

July 17, 2011

Top Elevation- 8365 feet

Elevation gain- 4500 feet, plus a little extra on this trip...

Weather- Rain rain rain, some wind but not too terrible, temps were probably in the 40-60 degree range throughout the day, but the rain and cloud cover made it feel colder.

Hiking time- 12+ hours total

Distance- 9.4 miles round trip

Trailhead- Climbers Bivouac

Approximate location- Southwestern Washington, about 2 hours drive from Portland

This is now my third time up Mt St Helens which is becoming an annual event for me. This time I was climbing up with Barry, Chad, and Curtis who I know from different places. None of them had met each other previous to today, and Curtis had never done any serious mountaineering before, so I wasn't sure how the events of the day would unfold. The weather forecast was rain in the morning that would clear in the afternoon. However the weather forecasts around here are notoriously inaccurate, so we really had no idea what we were in for. Overall it's been a very cold and rainy year even into the summer, and today was no different. We arrived at the trailhead in a downpour of rain that only got slightly better as the day wore on. We headed out on the trail at 7:45am. It would be more than 12 hours later before we all got back to the trailhead with our own individual stories and experiences of the climb. It was a tough day with the weather, and the climb which is always difficult, but I think we all had fun and we all made it to the top and back alive. Here are our pics from the day. Check in again next year for the next episode!

Mt St Helens glissade video

Barry says great day for a hike!

Curtis is equally thrilled with the weather.

Hiking through the trees we found a rare snow-free spot.

The trees are getting thinner as we approach timberline.

The view up to Monitor Ridge.

Looking back down at the trees we just hiked through.

Chad enjoying the snowy conditions in July.

After catching some air on a glissade down this hill Chad starts hiking back up.

Signs of life on the volcanic slopes.

It was about this point that we decided to split into teams of two. Chad and Curtis went on ahead of Barry and I. We decided to meet up at the treeline later on. Little did we know just how much later it would be.

Barry stops to enjoy the view.

Climbing up Monitor Ridge.

Looking back down Monitor Ridge and the snow gully.

As the weather clears momentarily you can see the base of Mt Adams and the snowline there.

What lies beneath.


Barry says hold on a minute, I just got a text message from my brother. It says "I was just watching TV from the comfort of my living room and was wondering if you are still alive?"

Self portrait looking up the mountain.

The conditions rapidly deteriorate as we get closer to the summit. To the left of the post marker you can see the silhouette of a man we met from Tillamook who was climbing ahead of us.

Rocks, dirt, and snow, over and over again.

Barry says are we there yet?

Here you can see some scary looking crevasses, and one on the right that opened up right in the middle of a glissade path.

We saw Chad in his victory stance after coming back down from the summit. He said what are you guys waiting for, you'll love it at the top, you can't see anything! We had talked to several groups of people coming back down from the mountain today who had all failed to make the summit. I suspect we missed some hikers because they might have come down a different route by glissading, but still it was encouraging to know that at least one person had made it to the top so far.

Here Barry is hiking ahead of me. It wasn't long before we ran into Curtis coming back down from the summit with a group of Canadians he met up with.

Another break in the weather allows for this nice picture looking back down the mountain.

Barry working his way up the mountain.

Finally we have a visual on the crater summit. We finally made it to the top a little after 3pm.

Looking west you can see a trail going to the high point on the crater rim which is about another quarter mile away and another 100 feet up. With the bad weather we decided to skip that bonus trek.

Self portrait at the top.

Barry took this pic of me.

Barry still in disbelief that he actually made it to the top.

Chaos and Batwing say "we kicked this volcanoes ash, again!"

I take a picture with the boys.

One more pic of the crater rim, which you can see is slightly clearer than when we first arrived. I was pretty sure that Barry and I were the last ones that would summit today. It didn't look like there was anyone else behind us so we had to be extra careful since we might not see anyone until we met Chad and Curtis back at the treeline. We figured we'd try to play it safe and stick to the main trail on the way back instead of hitting the glissade tracks.

Barry heads back down into the rain and fog.

Another break in the weather shows us the slopes below.

A cool shot of Barry as we are heading downslope.

We descended about 800 feet and saw this glissade path which looked too good to pass up. We decided to get out the garbage bags so we could start sliding down. Here is the first glissade path we went down.

After getting quite far off track by taking the glissade paths, we found ourselves rock and ridge hopping for about an hour to find our way back to the main trail. We finally ran into Curtis, who said Chad bravely went back up to look for us when we took so long to get back. So then we decided to go back to the main treeline rendezvous spot and wait for Chad. I planned to stay a little higher on the ridge to see if I could spot Chad and somehow I got the first phone signal I had all day when my VM indicator came on, which was a previous call from Chad. I was able to call him and let him know we were alive, and so he headed back downslope to meet us all at the treeline. After being lost for all that time and now thinking Chad might have gotten lost I was relieved when we finally all got back together at the original rendezvous point. Another hour delay and we would have been hiking back in the dark on a hard to see slushy footpath through the snow and trees, but it all worked out in the end so it just added another chapter to an already cosmically adventurous day.

A lonely stem on the slopes of Mt St Helens.

Mt Hood tries to make an appearance but doesn't quite make it out of the clouds. Meanwhile I took off my boots to get the rocks out and ring out the water from my socks which were soaked from melted snow. Then we were on our way back through the forest to see if we could spot any sasquatch on the way back to the trailhead.

Curtis is psyched after his first volcano summit. He told us the story of how he also got off track with the Canadians he was hiking with since they took the same glissade paths we took that veer off to the west part of the mountain. Even worse was that one of the girls in their group ran into a huge rock while glissading and broke her lower leg. Fortunately they were in a large group with a lot of resources so they were able to call SAR (Search and Rescue) who promptly came up the mountain and took the girl down in a sled. Those crazy Canadians...

Curtis turns reflective and starts looking through the moss covered trees, wondering where the sasquatch are.

We got back to the trailhead just after 8. In typical fashion the weather cleared and we could actually see the summit- now that we were down. Tomorrow will likely be a beautiful day.

This is the group photo after conquering the mountain. I think these guys were ready to beat me up after dragging them up on this crazy climb in the rain. Fortunately I talked them out of it so that maybe next year we can climb again in better weather. Seriously, despite the terrible weather we all made the summit and had fun. It was a great climb and good times!

Home Sports & Leisure PNW Hiking Mt St Helens 2011