I was thinking about my Bucket List today, and I felt the need to share my story of something that has been crossed off. Wait, let me back up a step. I do have to share that my Bucket List is abnormally long; too long as in I would have to live to 487 to do it all, and it even contains things that really shouldn’t be on a “Bucket List” but should be on a to-do list, but hey, if I don’t write it down, I’ll completely forget about it :). I got to cross off “Climbing Mt. St. Helen’s” on August 8, 2013, and you need add this to your list ASAP. I say ASAP because it was so awesome that it is one of those things that I think everyone should have the chance to experience, and also because Mt. St. Helens IS and ACTIVE volcano, and your opportunity to do it could be gone at anytime. In a nutshell, climbing Mt. St. Helen’s was WAY harder than I thought it was going to be, but the reward at the top was WAY past my expectations and completely worth it.
When Brady asked me if I wanted to climb Mt. St. Helen’s with him sometime, my “I’m up for anything attitude” made my mouth say, “Sure!” Then I researched it. This wasn’t going to be some adventurous trail hike, this was going to be an ADVENTURE!. So of course, without really knowing when we would do it, it went on my Bucket List. Number 291 to be exact. Now this is where my first piece of advise comes in if you are seriously going to do this. We decided we were going to climb Mt. St. Helen’s in the summer of 2013. Year-round, a climbing permit to go above 4800′ in elevation at Mt. St. Helen’s is required, and during the times of year I recommend going (late spring-summer), they charge a small fee for the permit ($22) and they limit the number of people above this elevation to 100 per day. So make sure you register as soon as they go on sale to ensure you get the best date possible. They go on sale on Monday February 2, 2015 at 9:00 am PST. They sell out very quickly, especially the weekend dates.
In February 2013 we registered to climb on August 8, 2013. That gave me plenty of time to think about it, and get my climbing butt in shape. This was great because I was going to use this as motivation to get in the best “hunting shape” ever. I didn’t want to be miserable on the climb so I worked my butt off doing as many hills and lower body stuff as I could that spring.
The morning of the climb came way to fast. We left the house a 0′ dark thirty and headed for Cougar, WA. That is where you pick up your climbing permit you buy when you register. Its a cool little gift shop/restaurant/camping spot etc. We signed the climbing register, got our permits, and took off to the trailhead at Climber’s Bivouac. From Climber’s Bivouac, it is a 10-mile round trip climb that gains 4,500 feet in elevation in five miles, that leaves you at 8,365 feet when you reach the top. I would break up the climb into three sections; the easy timber trail, the boulder field, and the last 1 mile through sand and ash (if it was possible for you to hear how I would say “sand and ash” as I told this story out loud, it would be all dramatic to make sure you know how hard it is).
We found the trailhead, got all packed up, and were full of spunk. It was almost still first light and it was cold so we were kind of bundled when we left the truck and entered the trail. The trail through the timber was the part of the trail where you can be all cute and walk together and feel pretty confident. Some of the blow down in this section is pretty amazing.
That lasted about 2 miles until you hit the boulder trail at 4,800 feet. This is a perfect spot to take a break, get some water and shed some clothes. I loved this part of the trail. I shed some clothes, looked around and we were standing in this little timber patch that made me feel like a giant. We even saw a deer up there.
It is night and day when you exit the timber. You reach the boulder field section and simply look up and think “uh, where am I supposed to go.” We saw the first marker that you are supposed to hike to. We are ABSOLUTELY not climbers so we had no idea what we were doing. We thought there was going to be a trail the whole way. We quickly learned, its every route for itself. You just look up, find the next white pole sticking out of the rocks, and that is the direction you climb. It literally was, look up, and just figure out how to get there, then repeat. On our way, we were on all-fours getting through these boulders, and here comes this guy running..yes “running” down the boulder field. He looked like Forrest Gump with a beard after he ran across the Country twice. Made us feel a little weird with our sissy trekking poles we bought :). We kept on keepin’ on and picked our way up the volcano. Seeing the gradual change in environment on the way up was really cool for me as a biologist. The boulder field was the better part of the climb, and we were happy when we reached the last boulder. The entire way up, we kept looking at each other with that “this is way harder than I thought it was going to be” look.
At that point, we thought, “oh we can see the top (one mile away), we are basically there!” No. Once you get out of the boulders, you enter the last steep climb through the pumice and sand. It is literally one step forward, two steps back.
SO hard, especially after getting through the boulders. BUT, you will get to the top. The reaction once you reach the top is…took me a while to find the right word…”makeyouwannasitdown” breathtaking!!
I was expecting there to be a barrier or something up there limiting you on how close you can get to the rim of the active volcano. Nope. While climbing to the crater rim is allowed, entering the crater is strictly prohibited. BUT, that rule isn’t going to stop you from falling in on accident if you get too curious while your up there. So be careful. You literally could step right in there if you aren’t careful. Sitting at the rim of the volcano was just so cool, and it was very apparent that it is definitely still active. Steam was pumping into the air from inside the crater, boulders were tumbling from the rim to the bottom of the crater all over the place, echoing across the whole area. We heard the rocks falling right away, and not going to lie, we were freaked out for a second while we figured out what we were listening to. Kind of eery. It was enough to take one more step back from the rim.
We sat at the top for over an hour. It was almost like sitting on a beach. The weather was amazing, the view was unbeatable, and we even took our shoes off to put our toes in the “sand.” We sat with smiles on our faces just pointing out hunting units, Mountain tops, and valley bottom features that we have only seen from down there. Second piece of advice (comes from Brady). Do some research before you hike it. Know what you will be looking at when you get up there. For us hunters, its great because you can see the Winston, Margaret, Loo-Wit, and Toutle units all in one spot. For you mountain enthusiasts, you can see Mt. Rainier to the North, Mt. Adams to the East, and Mt. Hood to the South. When you look to the north towards Spirit Lake and all the trees still packed in there from the eruption in 1980. You will definitely want to research what happened during the eruption in 1980 so that you can get a bird’s eye view of what that blast did to the landscape and how it has shaped what we see today.
We finally decided to say goodbye to the top of Mt. St. Helen’s and begin the trip down. I was hoping this would be the easy part. Wrong. I had to pick my way down just as I did up. You have to be very careful with your foot placement. The last thing you want to do is roll an ankle trying to get down too quickly. Just take your time. It was August, but there was still some snow up there, so on the way down we had a little fun. I can now officially say that I have had a snowball fight, on top of a volcano, in the summer. Can you?
We made it back down to the timberline, took one more look up, and shook our heads in amazement that we were just up there. Round trip, it took us almost 9 hours. We couldn’t have asked for better conditions, and I couldn’t have asked for a better climbing partner. Sitting at the top of Mt. St. Helen’s with our shoes off, and toes in the sand, having lunch on the rim of a volcano has been one of the best things yet to cross of my Bucket List. Now, what’s next?
WHAT TO BRING:
Water: 3-4 liters per person (you will NOT want to be short on water)
Food: High-energy food is recommended, and plan on eating several small snacks along the way. Leave some extra in your car for when you return.
Sun Protection: sunscreen, sunglasses with side protection, hat, SPF lip balm
Hiking Boots: Lug-soled, waterproof, with ankle protection
Gaiters: waterproof to keep rain, snow, ice and pumice out of your boots
Clothing: Dress in layers and the current conditions will dictate what exacting you need (rain gear, etc.)
First Aid Kit
Headlamp or Flashlight
BIG TIP-Turn your cell phone on airplane mode while you climb or else it will be dead very fast, and if you get into trouble you won’t be able to call for help or even let your contact person know when you are safely off the volcano.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org