Every summer during the best (and safest) months to climb Mount St Helens, people sign up to claim one of the 100 permits per day to climb the steep slopes of Washington’s most famous volcano. Tickets go on sale in February and sell out quick – especially July and August. So if you’re interested in scrambling up the rocky slopes of Monitor Ridge, you gotta move quick.
Not surprisingly, I’ve wanted to hike Mount St Helens for quite some time. But for a whole bunch of reasons it never worked out.
This year I got my crap together and reserved my permit while I was still in Korea and on June 24th, I climbed Mount St Helens!
Like many other people, I went to the Lone Fir to pick up my permit the day before and then camped at Climber’s Bivouac. Early (for me) the next morning I started the 5-mile climb to the summit.
For the first couple of miles, the trail winds through the forest, passes a bathroom and shortly after that you reach the point where you’re required to have a permit (the 4,800 ft elevation sign).
From that point, which is marked by a sign, you begin the long steep scramble up Monitor Ridge. The trail becomes a free-for-all scramble up big rocks, loose gravel, ash and dirt. There is no marked trail the rest of the way to the crater rim but there are tall wooden poles to guide you. It’s pretty easy to follow, even when we had dense fog and light rain until around noon.
This is no easy stroll. I passed multiple people along the way who had given up and decided to find a comfortable place to sit and wait for their friends/family. A few others actually turned around and went back to camp. Don’t be THAT guy/gal. Prepare and take the hike seriously – respect the mountain.
Normally I hike wearing my Vibrams but I knew this was too much trail for such lightweight shoes. So I wore my big Columbia boots that I bought for hunting in Alaska and those worked perfectly. They kept out the dirt, gravel and snow and protected my ankles from abrasions walking through the rough volcanic rock.
At the summit, it was so cloudy and foggy that we couldn’t see more than about 50 feet. Once you reach the crater rim turn left and go along until you reach the actual summit. Then you’ve made it. Congratulations!
If you want to get the best views I recommend getting permits for late summer. Although it was really cool to reach the rim it was disappointing to miss out on the stunning views you see in all the pictures. We didn’t get beautiful views until the trip down.
Since there was still so much snow on the mountain the best way to descend was to glissade. If you don’t know, this is when you sit down and slide on your butt. Generally, you use an ice ax or trekking pole to help control your speed but for me on that particular day it was mellow enough that it wasn’t necessary.
On this trip I did make a couple of total n00b mistakes. First, I forgot to pack sunscreen so my face got seriously roasted on the way down when the clouds cleared and the sun reflected off the snow. Luckily, it didn’t hurt my eyes. Second, even though I had a 3-liter hydration pack and a 32-oz sports drink, I ran out of fluid with roughly 2.5 miles to go on the descent. I toughed it out but it was rough.
Overall, it was a fun and challenging hike. I would like to do it again with friends and go later in the summer for nicer weather.
Need more information? Check out the Portland Hiker’s Field Guide.