Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mt. St. Helens Climb - 8/24/2008

For some Mt. St. Helens is a cool mountain to look at from a safe distance of the Johnston Ridge Observatory. For those who experienced it’s eruption on May 18, 1980 thismountain represents a cascade of memories. And then there are those who see more than the beauty and uniqueness of this magnificent and powerful mountain - those who look at the treeless steep slopes and see a great challenge, those who look at the talus and scree covered route up and see an adventure….

I decided I wanted to climb Mt. St. Helens during my first visit in the area in 2003; however it wasn’t until August 2007 when I organized the climb. We succeeded but the weather was progressively getting worse with elevation we gained and blasting freezing wind combined with zero visibility made us abandon the summit after few short minutes. I knew I had to return.

Permits for the climb has to be purchased several month in advance (especially if you want to climb during a weekend) so you never know what the weather will be like. As we were approaching our 2008 climbing date I was getting worried we have a same fate ahead of us as last year when we got a great workout but saw nothing… but the morning or August 24 arrived with clear sky assuring us that at least the first half of the day will be nice.

We left the campground in good spirit and started the climb at 8:00 a.m. After 2 miles of pleasant and very easy forest walk we reached the start of the scrambling route at 4800 ft. With blue sky above our heads we started to make our way up, boulder at a time. First views opened shortly after we got above the tree line and as great as they were, we knew it will only get better.

For most of the way up the route consisted of relatively even mix of boulder hopping and scree fighting. Challenging but fun. Then we got to the last part – where we saw people on the summit, so close, yet separated by about 1200 vertical feet of soft sand. One feet up and two feet down. Who doesn’t like sand!

The clouds started to cumulate at that point but fortunately for us they were high not obscuring any of our great views. We also faced strong winds here that had nothing better to do than pick up the sand and blast it right into our faces and eyes.

Stride by stride we slowly advanced to the summit…. and then there was the one final step that brought our sight over the rim where the lava dome was displayed in its full beauty making us pause for a moment and forget the misery of the final part of our journey.

We braved the summit winds for about 30 minutes, exploring views from different parts of the rim, watching Mt. Rainier disappear in clouds as the weather worsened, then retreated to the more pleasant 90% wind-free zone some 1500 ft below.

The rest of our descent was rather uneventful. First rain drops hit us at the lower part of the mountain but fortunately for us the showers never got too strong while we were up there causing only slight inconvenience.