Monday, September 06, 2010

Climbing Mt. St. Helens

We climbed Mt. St. Helens last Thursday. It's something we've been wanting to do for a few years now but it seemed like we were never in Oregon during climbing season, at least not when I was also un-pregnant. So we seized this opportunity to climb Mt. St. Helens together with a few members of my family.

The first time I attempted to climb Mt. St. Helens, it was with my high school cross country team and I was 13 years old. About 2/3 of the way up, we had to turn back because of the snow and wind. It was early August.

The next time (possibly two times over the next few years; I can't quite remember), I summited with no problem. I even remember it being hot and sunny at the top. You never can guess exactly what conditions the mountain will throw at you, I suppose.

I was a little apprehensive about this climb, in part because it had been at least 11 years since I'd last done it. I didn't exactly go running every day while we were in Egypt, so I'm not in the best shape of my life. But guess what? The climb was AWESOME.

We camped the night before up at Campers' Bivouac and hit the trail at 5.30 in the morning. The first few miles of the climb are a hike through the forest, before the tree line comes to an end. The sun rose as we hiked and illuminated a gorgeous view of Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood peeking through the trees.

After the forest came the boulders. First small boulders, then big ones. It was tough going through that section, but it was also satisfying because it required the use and strength of both legs and arms. About midway through the boulders, we could see the summit looming up ahead of us. I knew it looked closer than it actually was, but it was nice to be able to keep an eye on our goal.

After the small and big boulders came the ash cone. SHUDDER. In previous climbs I remember the ash cone being the point where you don't think you can continue any farther. And yet, you continue taking steps and somehow you make it. Hmm, kind of like childbirth. We were lucky on this climb because it had rained the day before, which allowed us to gain a little more purchase with each step. Usually, it's take one step and slide almost all the way back in the deep ash.

The summit was glorious. We had a 360-degree view of the steaming, blown-out caldera below, as well as Mt. Adams, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Hood, Mt. Bachelor, Mt. Rainier, and Spirit Lake.

The way down was, well, brutal. First we slip-slided down through the ash. Then we had to maneuver ourselves down through the boulders. My SIL Emily and I took turns falling down on our bottoms with the occasional misstep, especially as the wind picked up speed and whipped us off balance. The wind was so bad that even now, four days later, I am still finding the odd deposit of ash behind my ears and in the crevices of my sunglasses.

Bit by bit we defeated the boulders and the forest trail was such a welcome sight. Then it, too, stretched on forever. What's more, since we had hiked it in the dark that morning we weren't sure of any landmarks to tell us how close we were to the end. About 50 meters from the end, in fact, Emily and I were almost positive we had taken a wrong turn somewhere. We decided to give it another minute and then turn around. Fortunately, within that minute, we reached the parking lot.

Climbing both Timp and Mt. St. Helens within 10 days of each other solidified my opinion that I like the Helens climb better. Timp is just so long and unvaried that it seems to take forever - and it does take about two hours longer, even though the elevation gain is the same as Helens.

My advice for anyone thinking about climbing Mt. St. Helens is to do it! And start early, because the weather seems to get worse as the day wears on. And camp the night before if possible, to facilitate the above. And wear gloves - pumice is great for skin exfoliation but not so much when you're climbing a mountain. And get a good song stuck in your head ahead of time, otherwise you'll be left remembering that the first time you climbed that mountain 15 years ago, it was The Cranberries' Electric Blue Eyes and THAT will be stuck in your head instead.

Now enjoy this video clip of Jeremy skipping his merry way through some boulders [to be posted once it loads, sorry].


Kathy Haynie said...

Good for you! It was fun to relive our recent climb by reading about yours. (You mean some people do this more than once?? Oh, are awesome...)

Liz Johnson said...

SO AWESOME. And just watching that video gave me major heights anxiety.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

It probably took me 20 minutes to get up that same stretch of boulders that Jeremy scaled in 60 seconds!

This was my 3rd time making it to the top and the last (unless a helicopter plucks me off of the top next time). Descending is so excruciatingly difficult. And the trail at the end seems to go on for miles.

Jennifer said...

What beautiful views from the top!


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