It is mid-august of 2016, and time to climb the Mt. St Helens Volcano again, my seventh time doing it!
The climbing permits were purchased back in February, shortly after they became available for purchase for the 2016 summer climbing season. Climbing permits are limited to 100/day during the climbing season. The weekend permits were sold out within hours after being available online on the Mt. St. Helens Institute web site. The weekdays were sold out a few weeks later. If you missed out, permits can still be found at purmit.com, where people can buy/sell permits at the original price.
We were a group of co-workers and friends who generally try to hike the volcano every year. We were able to get permits for all of us for a mid-august Tuesday.
The day before the climb, I got back home from RV camping on the Oregon coast, and only had a few hours to get my gear together and head up to the climber’s bivouac. I considered leaving home early in the morning of the climb instead, that way I would have plenty of time to pack. But I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity of tent-camping up at Mt. St. Helens! I threw a larger tent, air mattress, fire wood and other stuff in the truck, along with the back-pack, loaded with food and drinks. Usually I bring my backpacking tent, sleeping bag and pads, but I didn’t have time to get the stuff ready. I also skipped a lot of the electronics, such as the camcorder and GoPro camera, and only brought my handheld GPS unit and my smartphone.
It took just over an hour to drive from my home in Battleground to the Climbers Bivouac trailhead/parking lot. I got there an hour before dark, set up the tent, and got the fire going in the fire pit. Later in the evening the rest of the gang showed up. Some of them were tenting and some slept in a motorhome.
We got up at 6 in the morning, ate breakfast, and headed out on the trail. We were 10 people briskly walking in formation through the winding trail in the woods towards the tree-line.
After a good mile, we reached the tree-line, but the trail continued in and out of the woods for a while, and finally after a 2-mile hike, we left the forest behind us and started ascending the bare mountain.
Slowly the group started splitting up into 2-3 person clusters, everyone finding their comfortable pace up the steep mountain. The weather was sunny, warm and pleasant. There is no real visible trail in the rocky landscape. There are tall posts placed out at visible distances from each other and you just find your path from post to post. The first part was mostly along a ridge. Later on we reached larger boulders. I think that’s the most fun part of the climb, jumping from rock to rock, often having to use your hands when climbing the steeper parts.
Once we got past the boulders, the terrain turned softer with sand and gravel. And steeper. We were already worn out after the long and steep climb behind us, so we were going slow now. The closer to the top we got the shorter and fewer the steps, with longer breaks. At the end it feelt like for each two steps forward, you slide back one step in the steep sand.
Finally, after hours of ascending the mountain, we reached the crater rim. It was time for a well-deserved lunch break, and a bunch of picture-taking.
But we still had a long hike back, so we didn’t stay on the top too long. Descending is of course easier, but still not easy! You are tired and your muscles are sore from the climb. Hardest part going down is the impact on the calf-muscles from stepping down and jumping in the steep terrain. But hiking down is still much faster than the hike up. We got back to the trailhead 9 hours after we headed out in the morning. The fastest I have done it is 7 hours. You can do it much faster than that if you are in really good shape. The whole roundtrip is about 10 miles (one way is 2 miles through the woods, and 3 miles climb on the open mountain).
It was a great hike, again! Several days later, my calf- and quad muscles are still sore, but it is a “good” soreness J. I got some great exercise and burned a lot of calories, without injuring myself. Now I am motivated to hit some local fun mountain trails as soon as my muscles recover!