St Helens Hike

[this was originally published in my previous blogging site — and importing in medium did not preserve original publish date]

A few weeks ago, we climbed Mount St Helens. My second time summiting this beauty of a mountain and the first time for the other 12 people in our group. It turned out to be a great experience. For all of us.
 If you plan to climb St Helens, you need to get permits way in advance. On a lark, I went ahead and planned for 19 permits in February, hoping to convince my family and some close friends to do the hike. I was prepared to help train, organize and make it successful for everyone. In a few weeks, we had 18 permits secured and began to plan the training schedule.
 The Helens hike is not technical — meaning you don’t need ropes or specialized rock climbing equipment. It is however still a challenging climb due to varied terrain of rocks, boulders, snow, ash. You would start around 3500 feet and go up all way to 8000 feet at the rim. The descent was way more challenging than the ascent the first time around and I expected no different this time. We were a large group at different levels and experience. We had high schoolers, middle schooler and a pre-middle schooler in the mi . 
 Local trails such as Tiger mountain. Mt Si, Rattlesnake ridge, Poo Poo point were excellent weekend hikes to get the group to train together. Sure, many schedule snafus meant many did not make most hikes, but the pressure was on.

Fast forward to a few weeks before July 30th, the planning for the hike day begins in earnest. The Gear list, camping list and assignments were prepared. I could sense the excitement and tension build up in the air as many realized that this was now serious business. Many folks were still traveling and my expectation for a successful climb kept scaling back (just internally). 
 My 19 permits became 13. I was wheeling and dealing in permits on days before the climb. 
 Two days before the climb, we decided to forego camping and stay in the Lone Fir Resort. I was disappointed, but in hindsight it turned out to be the right thing to do. I wanted to relive the perfect starry skies and the strange midnight sounds from the Gifford Pinchot forest.

July 30 5:45 AM — The group assembles at Climbers Biouvac. We set off.

7:15 AM — After a casual hike through the woods in single file, each person strategically placed in the line, we reach the end of the tree line

8:15 AM — We have made up our way over the first boulder stretch. Mt Hood and Mt Adams come into view as the group climbs into a landing area. I assess how each one is doing and make a mental note of who will need most encouragement to make it up

Everyone there?

9:30 AM — We have followed the boulders and the wooden markers for what appears to be an eternity. I estimate at least 4 more wooden markers before the dreaded ash and stone field for the final slog. Like a football coach, I shout encouragements to everyone. The kids did not need any. They were cruising.

Moonscape, anyone?

10:30 AM — A quick snap back shows how high we had climbed. You just want to keep taking the landscape, but it was time to move on for the final slog.

Final Slog over fine gravel and ash

11:30 AM — Yes! The summit. The rim, The exotic view of the growing lava dome. And everyone in the group makes it. Time to rest, reflect, restore, recover.

Spirit Lake

Fab Four?

Steam on Baby!

The icing on the cake as my fellow climber called it — a mountain goat running on the edge of the cornice at top speed showing off her prowess.

12:30 PM — The long climb down begins. Group split up between glissaders and plain walk downers.
 2:00 PM — The glissaders keep going away from the mountain. Decision is made to traverse back up to the main hike path, In retrospect, incorrect decision to keep glissading after the first landing. The traverse back to the hike path is ardous and slow. Walk downers wait until the group is together again. Phew!

Glissading fun

4:00 PM — Slow going down through the boulders. Didn’t the way up seem much easier? We reach around 6000 feet. Meet folks that I sold permits to and say Hi.

6:00 PM — Finally back to the tree line. That was one tough descent. But safe. Relief all around.
 7:15 PM — Back to Climbers Biouvac. Chow down some Mexican on the way by forcing the restaurant to open up. Drive back home. Make it safe. Tomorrow is another day.

That was one heck of a 14 hour hike. Totally worth it. Waiting for Feb 10 2013 for the permit site to open its doors again. Ready for another adventure. I am sure my group will join me again. The mountain air is an addiction.

Originally published at