Trip Report - Mt St Helens - May 12, 2001

As referred to elsewhere in my Ski Down Mt St Helens In a Skirt On Mothers Day Node, it fun to ski down St Helens. I decided to skip the mothers day thing this year, as the Melvins were playing in Seattle at 6 pm (!) at night. Which meant for a rather rigerous schedule to squeeze St Helens in.

We left after work friday, trying to dodge I-5 as the traffic built up. We stopped off in Olympia to have a beer and stock up on noodles, then continued to to Woodland, where you take road 503 to Cougar, and then onto Marble Mountain Snowpark.

There is a permit system in place at Mt St Helens now, such as after April 1 and before May 15, permits are $15 per person per day, and $30 for a year. After May 15th, there is additionally a maximum of 50 permits a day issued. The place to get permits is at Jacks Resturant, west of Cougar. Jack is actually a 300lb+ man named Dennis. Who sits on a stool all day and doles out pithy wisdom about climbing St Helens. The two works of advice I heard from him was "wear sunscreen", and to a dazed traveller also heading up the mountain "eat a corn dog".

To my horror, Dennis had sold to the tune of 250 permits that day. Folks, 250 people is a lot of people to have on a mountain, even a (now) tame little mountain like St Helens.We continued on up the road, pulled into the parking lot and bivied under a tree. Sure enough, there were tons of people. All night, in fact, small fleets of subarus roamed in and out of the park. This give us a sum total of about 5 hours of sleep, as we arose with a handful of others at 5 am to try to beat the rush.

The first 2 miles of the hike are on a trail/old logging road, until finally you hit treeline and wander up the Worm Flows ridges. It was a beautiful morning, 60 degrees at 6 AM, with luckily everybody pretty groggy and unwilling to chatter. After the ridge begins, the climb is nothing more than pure drudgery. The views are beautiful, but there is nothing more complicated to do than just putting one foot in front of the other, for about 5,000 feet of elevation gain. The main problem was that when you wanted to stop, as you do, your role changed from one of focused hiking, to one traffic cop for yourself, as you steped out of the way to let the next gung-ho person stomp past you. yuck.

But despite that, I wound up at the top in about 3 1/4 hours, and proceeded to wait for my climbing buddy. The Crater is actually fucking awesome. It is surreal to really see the scope of the explosion, what with the breach on the North side almost level with the surrounding lakes. On the south side, where the only really climbs are, the crater rim is 8,365 feet. On the other side, the rim is something like 4,200 feet. This means that on the North side, the mountain blew out close to a vertical mile of rock. And buried Spirit Lake, which is going to be clogged with trees for 50 more years at least.

So I sat on the ridge and got mildly drunk from my little flask, eating cookies and waiting. There were rows and rows of people doing much the same. Finally my partner arrived, and we got to do the cool part, the boarding down like Gods part.

What took 3+ hours to climb took 15 minutes to descend. The bowls of worm flows are enormous, and there is endless variation. Just glorious fast, complicated snow, with the odd mini-avalanche and random rocks.

The hike out was uneventful, the number of people around having dropped off to almost zero, as we made up so much time in the descent. So we zapped back to Seattle and I took the Vespa down to see Hank Williams III and the Melvins. There is nothing better than going from zillions of people to pure mountain snowboarding to the heaviest band in the world. To red bull and vodka and almost hallucinations, but that's another story.