Mt. St. Helens Reset

May 10, 2018

24 years earlier

I think it was 1984. I had telemark skis and climbing skins. The mountain had blown its top May18th, 1980, reducing its height to 8360'. It was earlier in spring, late March. The mountain was covered with snow, but the dome was still building, smoking, and glowing at night. I signed the climbing register, I think it was in the town of Cougar, on the south side. I don't remember any snowpark or trail, and no permits were needed. I just found a place to park further up the road, put the skis on, and started up. I only saw two other climbers all day.


Avalanches and wind

Halfway up, I noticed fresh avalanches on the ridge to my left. The wind was picking up. I'd say it was at least 40mph at the rim. I had no idea how big the cornice was, and if it broke, or if the wind swept me over, it would mean certain death.


But I wanted a picture of the dome of lava in the middle of the crater. So I laid on my belly, crawled close enough to reach my arm over the edge, and snapped a photo.



Fast forward to 5/6/2018

I decided to go back. Found out I needed a permit to go above 4800' between April 1st and Oct. 31st. Also found out the permits were sold out. 500 a day, at $22 a pop! Fines if you try to climb without a permit. At Marble Mt. snowpark, about 12 miles past Cougar, there were about 100 cars. Before that, a place called Climber's Bivuac was closed, and beyond, the road to Lava Caves was still closed.


Hundred of footprints

The first part of the trail was bare ground, but after less than 1/2 mile it was snow. No problem finding the trail. This was definitely not where "no man has gone before". The tracks had made a well defined trench in the snow. Thinking there would only be patches of snow up to 4800', I had left my Altai Hok Skis  (skishoes) in the car. But there were only two little bare spots; the rest was all snow. I met many climbers of all sorts, both going up and coming back down from the top.


Back for skis

The weather was sunny and warm. After stopping to talk to returning climbers and to take pictures with my new Nikon Coolpix B500 camera, I was still at about 4800' after only 2 hours of climbing. So I decided to drop the pack under a little pine tree, and go back to the car for my skis and the sunblock I'd forgotten. 


Easier the 2nd time 

My skishoes are only 47" (125cm) long, so they're easy to pack or carry. Details on Altai Skis:        https://www.outdoortracks.com/ski-shoes

With no pack, it didn't take as long to get back up above tree line, even though I continued to enjoy stopping and talking to all the descending climbers. I like solitude and wilderness, but if it's not to be had, we might as well make the best of it.



Camping off the beaten track

I wanted to get well off the climbing trail and find a good place to pitch my tent. So I skied down into a little canyon and crossed over to the next ridge. This time of year, the ridges are bare lava rock and ash. I found a flat spot just big enough for my little one man tent.


 There was a balmy breeze from the west, so I tied the tent down and held the cords with big basalt rocks. From this ridge, I could see across to the trail and see more climbers coming up the mountain. also, looking up toward the rim, I watched a huge climbing party coming down very slowly, glissading down a steep spot one at a time. At the rate this party was going, it would be dark by the time they got back to the parking lot.


Clear view of Mt. Hood

After some supper and coffee, I set up the tripod and got the camera ready to get some good sunset pictures of Mt. Hood about 50 miles to the south. I was anxious to make use of my telephoto lens. While waiting, I made a video of the campsite with 360 degree views, and later (at home) spliced in a few short videos of descending climbers and put it on youtube.

 A visitor for breakfast

About 5:30 AM I had finished my breakfast of oatmeal, raisins and brown sugar, and was heating some snow melt for coffee, when much to my surprise, along came a climber. She was coming up my ridge instead of over on the trail. I shared a cup of coffee with her, which seemed to brighten her day - how often do you just find a cup of hot coffee when you're halfway up the mountain?


Skiing down the trail

Before breaking camp in the morning, I had a great time just skiing around the area slightly above tree line. The weather had held, the stars overnight were awesome, and the snow was just right. Finally I went back to the tent and packed up, played around the open slopes some more, and then headed down the trail.



Camera failure

Back home, I was in for a big disappointment. The pictures on my Nikon were somehow "corrupted" and couldn't be seen. I threw that memory chip away and bought a new one, hoping for better results next time. So no picture of the sun setting on Mt. Hood .


More info on Mt. St. Helens, permits, etc:  https://bit.ly/2qdCnYO





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