Climbing Mt. St. Helen’s

If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.  – Michael Jordan

Mt. St. Helen’s has been on my “to do” list since I moved out to Seattle and it has been a fascination of mine ever since I saw an exhibit on it at “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” The thing about Mt. St. Helen’s is you have to plan ahead….a LONG time ahead. They only allow 100 people on the mountain a day and those tickets open up months before Summer – so you have to pick a day and just hope the weather will work. Since I was going to conquer the mountain alone, I decided to sign up for the geological tour that was hosted by the Mount St. Helen’s Institute.

Mount St. Helen’s Institute’s mission is to advance understanding and stewardship of the earth through science, education and exploration of volcanic landscapes.

I believe I signed up for the tour in February and just hope for nice weather!  Well, I did have fantastic, beautiful, stunning weather….but that should have been the least of my concerns.  For some reason I had it in my head that this climb would not be hard.  I mean, the mountain blow up – how high, hard, could it be?  It is half the size of other mountains I have climbed and much lower in elevation.  Wow was I humbled.

I drove down to the town of Cougar the night before the climb….since we started at 6:00 AM I wanted to make sure I was close and I knew exactly where I was going (did not want another recurrence of my Paris Wine Trip  😛 ) I stayed in a room at an AirBnB and about 8:00 PM the next before I drove up to the trail head to make sure I knew were I was going early in the morning and in the dark.  It was quiet, the sun was going down and it was almost unsettling how isolated it was.  I got to do a selfie as I entered the road to the trail head.

The nest day I set a couple alarms for 4:00 AM and by 4:30 AM I was out the door in WAY more layers than I needed.  I arrived at the trail head (Climbers Bivouac) at 5:15 AM with two gallons of extra water in my car (there is no running water at the trail head) and about 2 litters of water for the climb.  I had originally brought 1 litter but the day before we received an email from the tour leaders warning us that it will be HOT and we should double what we were suppose to bring.  (incredibly lucky they sent this as I did need the extra water).  At 6:00 AM after doing brief introductions to our group and a safety talk – we were off – I had no idea what I was in for….

The first two miles wind through forest – which was beautiful as the sun came up

The first two miles there is only around a 900 feet increase, so it felt amazing to be climbing/hiking at only around 3000 feet as I am “used” to 7000+ feet in Colorado where you are fighting for every breath.

Leaving the treeline at 2 miles we followed the Ptarmigan Trail (216A) to Kiwi Camp (4,800’). Mt. St. Helen’s was the only hike/climb I have done where you have truly amazing views right away and during the entire climb!  

This is what they called the “ancient peak” of Mt. St Helen’s …. I guess this was the submit hundreds (maybe thousands) of years ago.

And then it starts ….

Once I started above 4800 feet there were endless views, no trees (OR SHADE), higher winds and the rocks and ash started. I think another reason that I was no prepared for the difficulty is that everywhere mentioned that Mt. St. Helen’s is not technical. ie: Difficulty: Non-technical but very strenuous scramble… The hike is hard, but requires no technical climbing skills …. Although strenuous, this non-technical climb is suitable for people in good physical condition who are comfortable scrambling on steep, rugged terrain…… I was not prepared for the internal and physical struggle that was about to take place.

Here is the description of the hike from here on out from the Mt. St. Helen’s Institute: “Once at Kiwi Camp, we ascend above tree line and begin following Monitor Ridge up to the rim (8,300’). The majority of the elevation gain (3,500’) is in the last 3 miles where the climb is most strenuous. Ascending the rock fields, scrambling over boulders, hiking through scree and ash, as well as snow travel (depending on time of year) are all components of the climb. Descending through the volcanic terrain can be equally as trying. The geologist will give short presentations along the route. The typical round trip takes approximately 8-11 hours (6:30am-5:30pm), depending on the group and the weather conditions.”
At this point I was starting to worry a little.  I had shed my pants (zipped off the bottoms and now had shorts) taken off my under armor and jacket.
I am so thankful I decided to upgrade my hiking shoes as after my climb last year in Colorado my hiking shoes I realized had horrible ankle support – so after a couple hours at REI I went for some lightweight but heavier duty and ankle supported hiking boots.  As you can see from the terrain below, it is VERY rocky.  Lots of places to twist ankles (or break them!)

It might have been challenging but it was simply the most beautiful hike I have ever done

Getting into the ASH,  At this point we started to get into the ASH which would get kicked up and made it dusty.  It also would take your sun screen off (think exfoliation) and sun screen needed to be applied constantly.

I think this was my view from lunch – I am looking down at the ancient peak that you can see earlier I was looking up at!

Yes we are about to hike up that!!!!!!!!!

Another view from lunch

Another angel on the ancient peak

I think this is Mt Adam’s

Here was another breaking point – the wind had really picked up.  A wind breaker that is water proof is a MUCH.  My NorthFace has been a life saver (thank you for the great present Derek!)

YES we are climbing up that!  It really seemed with all the ash that it was two steps forward, one back.  Something that helped was taking small steps. This was the last picture for a long time as it took so long to get up this last part.  There were a lot of breaks, a lot of internal dialog and a lot of humbling moments – but everyone who was coming down the mountain kept saying “IT IS SO WORTH IT AT THE TOP”  Being a climber I could not imagine that it would be that good – we are only 9000 ish feet high.

For the last hour I decided not to look up.  I was tired of looking up and seeing what seemed to be the same thing (below) and the peak was not getting any closer.  After doing that – it seemed to make it “easier” or at least help mentally.

Like I said, I had no idea that the view would affect me so much.  But as I literary climbed (as in on all fours) over that last little lip and saw the view  – I started to cry. A picture does not do it justice, but here was the view worth 5 hours of misery……

That is Mt Rainer in the background! Here is the other view from behind this one

The center of Mt. St, Helen’s is started to grow up again – you can see this growth in the center – it can be as much as 3 feet a day!
Such a long way down – from this view you can see how much ASK there is.  Check out the second picture down – yes those are PEOPLE, look how small they are and how much more of a climb they have!!!

More pictures of climbers and the incredible view

Peanut Butter and Jelly has never tasted so good

Geological lesson from our amazing guides….

Last picture before heading down.  To this day I still hate going down mountains, I think it is harder as your body is exhausted and your ankles are usually  (especially with the ash).  The best part of this descent was that we could “ski” down the first part – almost running and sliding down the ashes.  It took a couple hours to get up but only a about 20 min to get down that part!!

We arrived at the trail head around 4:00 – which I guess is good time…10 hours.  It was the hardest thing I have down to date.  I do not know if it was because I was not emotional ready or if I was in a particular negative mood or if it was because I was with no one I knew – but it was TOUGH!  I was sore for over a week – which was another first.  BUT I learned that I should ICE not put heat on my sore muscles.  After a couple days with no improvement I started icing, elevating and using compression – which helped tremendously.  I set a new record for my FitBit too!!

All in all it was a great day and I was very humbled and proud of myself.  I decided that even through it was not a 14er I am going to count Mt. St. Helen’s as “MY MOUNTAIN” for the year.

I want to leave you with my favorite quote.  I found this AFTER I climbed, it was the only quote I found that was accurate and it is from  I do not know if I would have found this before the hike if it would have prepared me more, but I thought it was dead on (funny but oh so true)….

“If you are a hiker in good shape, this hike will tear you apart. All you’ll be able to say is, “I can’t take it much longer!” However, if you are a hiker in excellent shape, who has hiked Mount Defiance the hard way, you may have so much fun you’ll barely realize how sore you are hiking this mountain. ”  

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