This last weekend a few of us at Greenism were able to fly to Washington state to climb Mount St. Helens. We wanted to write this article to explain a few things to look out for, and the basic do’s and dont’s on climbing this active volcano.
Depending on when you plan your adventure, you may or may not need a climbing permit; which is required if you plan on climbing any higher than 4,800 feet during the climbing season. You can get your permits and any general information from the forest service HERE.
It took us a combined time of 12 hours to ascend and descend the same day. We climbed during one of the Climbing Seasons of May 15-October 31 so permits were required. If you are planning on climbing St. Helens between January-March you don’t need a permit. With that said, we recommend getting your permits a few months before your scheduled trip. There are only 100 permits available per day to hike up the volcano, so the sooner you plan the better your chances are of snagging one.
During our visit the normal route the “Climbers Bivouac” and corresponding camping sites were closed. We had to instead make our way to the “Marble Mountain Sno-Park” There we camped for the night and woke up the next morning at around 4 am to get an early start. There are a few camp sites spread out near by so try to grab one of those. From the parking lot there is a trail that will lead you directly to the “worm flows trail” That will take you directly in the direction you want to be heading in to summit.
With the general information out of the way here are a few Do’s and Dont’s when climbing mount saint helens during the snowy season.
DO’S: (Things to bring)
SunBlock, SunBlock, SunBlock, it might be sunny, it might be cloudy. Regardless, the snow up there acts like a mirror and a 12 hour hike will cook your face.
- Crampons, Ice Ax, with out these two things, you can forget about summiting. There are portions of the climb that are super steep and slippery and cannot be made with out these tools. At some points you are literally crawling on all fours.
- Good quality hiking boots – before the snow starts, you are traversing through Lava rocks and ridges. I had to throw my boots out when I got back because the soles got shredded.
- Sun glasses
- Hiking Pants, Gloves, Thermal, preferably a down jacket, and a water proof shell
- Food, water, bring some power bars, it is a pretty tedious climb and you will be burning through calories.
- trail map, compass
- Trash bag – We used trash bags to glissade down the mountain (Wear it like a diaper, and you go super fast)
Be watchful of the weather, the temperature and weather can change at any moment. When we first started to climb it was semi cloudy and warm. Once we got to the top there was a snow storm going on and the visibility was very poor with a wind chill of 3 degrees Fahrenheit.
Take it easy and take breaks when you can, it is easy to get exhausted and over exert yourself on that mountain. In retrospect, this was our first mountain summiting adventure. Most of us are pretty fit in general and were able to make it to the top. The next day we did feel like we got hit by a bus. So conditioning before hand is probably a good idea.
DONT’S (Things not to do)
- Separate yourself from the group, if one person goes on ahead, the gap will begin to widen. You will try to wait for the rest of the party, but as soon as you stop moving, your core body temperature begins to drop. This will require you to keep moving. Regardless take my word for it and stick together, it makes things easier.
- When Glissading, pay attention to landmarks and the way you came from. Sliding down on your butt is super fun and you can easily miss a left turn. We glissaded unknowingly down the wrong glacier and ended up 3 miles too far to the right. Our GPS died and we had to follow an old creek bed down to intersect with the original trail.
- When you summit, stay away from the edge. You could fall into the crater. When we summited it was completely cloudy and the visibility was very poor, this made it more of an issue as it was hard to see where the drop to the crater began.
- Don’t drink to much the night before, one of our comrades had a hard time getting out of his tent at 4 in the morning.
Here are a few photos of our climb.