Thursday, June 1, 2017

Mt. St. Helens

I texted my sister Michelle.

Want to climb St. Helens with me?

She replied simply: Yep!

And with that, it was on.

We arranged our schedules, got time off, and bought some necessary supplies. Sarah didn't go with us and we tried to get another sibling to come, but he wasn't interested enough. It was just us. She bought the permits.

A guy at work advised us to go up the winter route when there was still snow as it made for better hiking. Apparently it can be a pain to hike up the slope in summer as the ash is loose and you end up sliding back quite a bit on each step. That meant we were taking the Worm Flows route.

We arrived at the Marble Mountain Sno Park the evening before and set up the tent. Miche wanted to sleep in the truck, but we brought the tent and I though stretching out to sleep would be better. We went to bed around 10.

I was excited to be there.

Apparently she was too.
The alarm rang at 0400, or Oh-Dark-Thirty. I managed around 4 hours sleep total. The combination of nerves and discomfort kept me from sound sleep. Miche slept a little better, but not much. We rose, packed up the tent and made sure our gear was together. Then, we started out. We hit the trail head at 0507. Girls take so long getting ready. :-)

Signing in so they can rescue us later.

The trail starts out in the woods. It was damp ground, but no snow. That lasted all of a quarter-mile. We started hitting patches of snow and by about the half-mile mark, it was mostly snow. The slope was gradually upward, but nothing strenuous at all.

A couple left a little before us, but were a little more conservative with their energy than we were, so we passed them and ended up leap-frogging them all day. The sky grew lighter, but there was no sunshine.

Soggy, foggy day.

We climbed up and watched the sky get lighter.

Up a little.
And up some more. Stop checking out my butt.
The trail kept wandering up through the woods. I tried to get my GPS/running watch to track us, but I didn't think about it until about 1.5 miles in and then it had trouble hooking up with the satellites through the clouds.  We just followed the tracks. A couple miles in we reached Chocolate falls. I think it is named that because it darkens with sediment when the melt starts.

Some sky peeked through.
The melt hadn't started yet.

About this time is when I realized I had made a mistake. I filled the bladder in my backpack with water from a jug in the truck.  It was horrible. I don't know how long it had been in there. I filled Michelle's from a different jug and hers wasn't great, but wasn't too bad I guess. Mine was essentially undrinkable and I didn't have any other liquid.


I started eating the cleanest snow I could find and we trudged on.

Eventually we started to get above the clouds and the sun tried to show up.

Trying hard to shine

And the mountain made an appearance.

The trees thinned out more and we followed a ridge above Swift creek. Eventually we saw a sign that meant we were on the right path.

Literally. There was a sign.

There were a few signs really.

The trees grew thinner. Then, we hit the ridges called the worm flows. These are made of scree and boulders. It was nice on one hand to get off the snow for a minute, but the rocks were unstable in places and it made for less snow to eat.

I put on the headband for inspiration. And perspiration.

We finally broke above the clouds.

And time for a snack. Om. Nom.

We picked our way through the boulders and kept climbing. The view was incredible. When I wasn't searching for the next footstep, I was watching the shadows of the clouds on the tops of the lower clouds. It was pretty awesome.

We watched the clouds lap against the mountain like waves

The worm flows went on and on. It seemed like we scampered up those rocks for a long time. But, eventually, they ended and we had to put the spikes back on and hit the snow. We could see the snowy mountain rising above us, it couldn't be far.


It was pretty steep.

Surely that rise up there has to be the peak. I'm getting a little tired.

It's like some demented stair master.

The cool thing was we could see Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood out above the clouds.

Mt. Adams

Hood is out there, promise

I was starting to feel the strain.

The dehydration was starting to get to me a little bit. Somewhere around here, I dumped all the water out of my camelbak and replaced it with snow. It cooled down my back and gave me the occasional sip of not terrible water.

Surely that's it right up there.
We started up the slope. The path now seemed to be just go up until there isn't anymore up.

So we went.

Still steep.
This weird thing kept happening. I would get so used to walking forward and up that when I looked to the side and saw the horizon, it looked unlevel and I would get a little disoriented. It was discombobulating.

Weird angles and just wrong

Probably should just stick to up.

But I had to look around if only to see the shadows of clouds on lower clouds

It turned out the rim we saw wasn't the top. There was another one beyond that one. And another and so on.

And on...

It started to get a little depressing. Each time I would look up and see people so far away they looked smaller than ants and I would think surely they must be near the top. Then, when we got to where they were I would look up and see more people so far up they looked smaller than ants. I started to believe the mountain was still growing just to taunt me.

It was better just to watch your step.

Most of the day looked like this. Except with my shadow.

We had been eating a little as we went, but it was time to break out my secret weapon.

Trader Joe's sour gummies.

I wasn't sure, by that time, what the question was, but the answer was Trader Joe's sour gummies. The sugar rush was instant, but short-lived. Miche and I shared them and kept on trekking.

We lost the will to take pictures it was so bad. There aren't any pictures of the approach to the rim because we were never sure anymore if it was actually the rim or just another fake out and we didn't have the energy to fiddle with the camera. 

We just walked up.

Sometime after noon, we reached the top. The up finally ended.

And it suddenly got cold, like really cold. Wind whipped across the top and my hands and face grew numb. I got a good snot-cicle going. We watched in horror, along with everyone else, as a guy started to chase a dropped trash bag out onto the corniced edge. Luckily, he let it go. I hate litter too, but damn. We watched as the others started their descents. One or two were on skis, but the rest grabbed trash bags or put on ski pants and started sliding down on their butts.

It was fun.

Eventually, my hands regained feeling and my butt went numb. The trip down was much faster and more fun than the trip up.

Miche was rumbling something about climbing Adams or Hood for the next day.

Always an adventure waiting.

Until next time.