Since I got into hiking I have had Mt. St. Helen’s on my radar. The permits open up for it every year in February. You have to get online right away to claim yours as within the first couple of hours all the weekends of the season get taken. I had originally gotten permits for a May date, but with 20+ inches of fresh snow that week and day, there was no chance of us going. Still determined to hike this mountain this year, I got in with another group as a permit opened up for me. They are $22/ piece. You can buy/sell them on purmit.com as well, so not all hope is lost if you get bad weather.
I was recently asked can anyone hike this and how do you do it?! It can be an overwhelming goal if you are starting from scratch, so that’s why I put a lot of work into training and conditioning to make this a reality. I consistently try to hike every weekend and try to increase my mileage/ elevation gain as well if I am training for something. A couple weeks before I did Camp Muir, which is a great training hike for this. During the week I tried to lift 2X a week and do cardio 2-3 extra times running, stairs or elliptical.
A group of 8 of us headed down to Mt. St. Helen’s on 6/23/17. I drove from Seattle and it took 4.5 hours with lots of traffic. The summer route was still not open yet, so we had to take the winter route and go to the sno-park. Catherine and I decided to sleep in the back of my outback, which proved to be rather comfortable. 2 more rolled in and we tried to wait for the rest of the group, but we hit the hay by 11:00. Wake up time was 3:15 and we were all fed and caffeinated and ready to go by 4:30. It was already getting light and and we barely had to hike with our headlamps on. My pack was super heavy with 5 liters of water, lots of food, glissading/snow gear, an ice axe and more. I weighed it before leaving and it was 23 pounds. My actual gear list for Helen’s is as follows:
- rain jacket
- rain pants
- ice axe
- poles + snow baskets
- pack cover
- head lamp + batteries
- sit pad
- glacier sunglasses
- base ball cap
- external battery charger for phone
- sunscreen/ chap stick with SPF
- enough food for 10-11 hours of hiking
- 5 liters of water
- Extra pair os socks
The first 3 miles went quickly all on dirt. We enjoyed the sunrise over Mt. Hood and the valley surrounding us.
We continued to hike up a ridge line and it got to be more rocky/ scree like. This stuff was very annoying to hike on as it just took forever and slid around a lot.
Another big marker is hitting the weather station. After this it was mostly snowfields all the way up. Two in our group turned around shortly after this as one wasn’t feeling well. The 6 of us continued on our way up the mountain.
There was only one very steep section and it was on the way up to the false summit. There was good kick steps made on the way up until a snowshoer went ahead of me and ruined them making it dangerous for me to get footing.
One last push to the real summit!
Views from the summit with 6 other volcanoes in sight. Amazing!
This was the longest day hike I have ever done at 12 miles/ 5,700 elevation gain. It took me almost 4 hours 30 min to get up, hung out at the top for almost 2 hours, and then we started our way down. The safest and fasted way down is to glissade. To do this you need an ice axe and waterproof protection over your pants. I am still getting the hang of glissading and find it rather terrifying most of the time. We went down one super steep section that was hard to control speed on that was very scary. It is important to know how to self arrest in these situations if need be. Thousands of glissading down and we got the the rock sections again, which were even slower going on the way down with trying not to slip and fall. By this time it was 90 degrees and we were ready to be off the mountain! Doris and I were off the mountain by 4:30, so 12 hours on the mountain total. I drank 3.5/5 liters of water. This day is what we call type 2 fun. So many moments were grueling/ mental game/ struggle fest, but looking back at it, it was so awesome to see what we accomplished together and what our bodies are possible of. I would do this hike again, but would want more snow to not deal with the rock/scree fields.
One volcano down, more to come? We shall see.