Mount Saint Helens (Washington) 21-Apr-2013

Mount Saint Helens Washington

A friend of a friend was visiting from back East and wanted to climb a Northwest peak, so we decided on a dayhike of Mount Saint Helens via Monitor Ridge starting from the Marble Mountain Sno-Park. Because of the popularity of this climb (largely due to its proximity to the masses in Seattle and Portland), climbing permits are required year-round for each person and each day they will be traveling on the mountain’s slopes above 4,800 feet elevation.  The permit quota period starts on April 1st but we had been fortunate to snag a permit for six on a weekend day.  So after a pre-dawn drive from home, with a stop enroute to get our permit and register (and strengthen ourselves with donuts), we were at the Sno-Park trailhead and off just as it was starting to get light.

As is often the case at this time of year in southern Washington and northern Oregon, the weather forecast had been fluctuating wildly (from happy to sad) in the days leading up to the climb but we ended-up leaving the trailhead under gray but dry skies.

Mount Saint Helens Washington
Leaving the Sno-Park trailhead – gloomy but dry

By the time we’d reached the treeline, the clouds seemed to be parting.

Mount Saint Helens Washington
The clouds and mists part…

When we reached the bottom of Monitor Ridge, the weather had just gotten much, much better – sun, with a light wind (lower down at least), and not really very cold.

Mount Saint Helens Washington
Things were looking brighter as we reached Monitor Ridge

We could see, however, from the artful cloud trails streaming off the summit rim, that winds aloft were going pretty good.

Mount Saint Helens Washington
Wisps of clouds swirled off the rim far above
Mount Saint Helens Washington
Truly elegant tendrils amongst the clouds

As we climbed higher, it became apparent that the clouds weren’t parting so much as we were getting above them. It’s always pretty cool to be able to look down on the clouds without benefit of a plane.

Mount Saint Helens Washington
Climbing beyond the cloud deck

Mount Hood was hidden by clouds, but Mount Adams was visible, wearing an impressive lenticular.

Mount Saint Helens Washington
A lenticular cloud forms on Mount Adams

We kept pushing on up toward the rim,

Mount Saint Helens Washington
Onward the rim!

and reached it at a point which was surprisingly wind-free and hence not at all cold considering where we were. From there, we had an excellent view of the crater walls and of Mount Rainier (with an impressive snow plume trailing from its summit),

Mount Saint Helens Washington
Mount Rainier from the rim of Mount Saint Helens

and of the Lava Dome in the center of Helen’s crater, giving off wisps of steam.

Mount Saint Helens Washington
The heart of the crater – still alive and still steaming

After photos and a snack, we headed down.

Mount Saint Helens Washington
Heading back to the trailhead

The weather, which had been optimal on the way up, finally decided to take a turn for the worse when we got down to 3,000 feet. There it started snowing and, further down, raining lightly. The trudge down Swift Creek to the trailhead was a slightly cold and soggy one – but better for that to have happened on the way out than on the climb up. Overall, an excellent day (10 miles roundtrip; 5,500 feet of elevation gain)!


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