Since we’re on the topic of climbing mountains, now seems like a good time to share my hike up Mt St Helens with you!

Back in 2011, Amy (who I climbed Kilimanjaro with) and I did our first big climb together. Little did we know what we would later go on to accomplish. I’m pretty sure it was Amy’s harebrained idea, but for some reason, it sounded good to me, too. So now here we are.

Climbing Mt St Helens requires many months of advanced planning. Due to the popularity of the hike, the amount of people allowed to climb on any given day is limited by the awarding of permits. We put in for ours back in March and were fortunate to get the dates we wanted. The cost is only about $15/person, including a parking permit.

Instead of staying at the Climbers Bivouac at the trailhead, we decide to camp nearby. The Bivouac is on a first come, first serve basis, and it’s not always the best place to get a good night’s sleep. We’ll have to get up a bit earlier and drive up to the trailhead, but we should be well rested.

We wake at 4am and cook up a delicious breakfast of scramble eggs with veggies and bacon on the side. Just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you can’t have a delicious meal!

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Then it’s time to hit the road! We approach the mountain just as the sun is coming up. It’s so pretty in the early morning light.

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We reach the trailhead at 615am. It’s mid-August and we’re only at 3,700ft, but there’s still quite a bit of snow to start. Amy’s not even a little worried, but I’m so nervous!

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Mt St Helens Map

The first part of the trail is in the trees without much to see, but once we hit the 4800ft mark, we step out into the sun. This is where the real climbing begins. We’ll cross the snowfield, climb up the rocky ridge and drop down to the other side. From there will follow the ridgeline to the upper mountain, scrambling over rocks.

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About halfway up, we stop for snacks. I’m loving the views from here.

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This is Mt Hood, down in Oregon. Hey Oregon!

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Soon we hit the kitty litter – the loose ash that makes this part of the climb the toughest. It’s one step up, half a step back. But we’re so close!

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It takes us 5 hours, but finally we make it to the summit! Of course, that’s right when the clouds get there, too. We have a few minutes of clear-ish skies where we can see Mt Adams, Mt Rainier and Spirit Lake before we’re completely enclosed.

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The crater rim has a thick ridge of snow just inside, however it’s not a good idea to stand out on it. Every year, climbers have to be rescued from falling into the crater after the snow gives way underneath them. And that’s just the best case scenario. Sure, the pictures into the crater would be much better from a little closer, but nothing is worth risking your life. Amy and I stay safely on solid ground.

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Ever since the eruption in 1980, a dome has been building in the center of the crater. Not all that fog is from the clouds. There’s quite a bit coming from vents in the dome. Isn’t nature so cool?

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Our mascot beer for this trip is the Ninkasi Total Domination IPA. Because we totally dominated Helens.

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(I’m not actually that much taller than Amy, I’m just standing up higher)

A few guys are going to parachute off the summit. I think we picked the wrong way to get down. This looks so much better!

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I know the eruption was catastrophic in many ways, but it’s so neat to see right out the side here. There used to be a mountain there. Crazy!

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After 30 minutes at the top, enough time to eat some lunch and take all the pictures, it’s time to head back down.

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Looking back up from where we came.

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Don’t worry Mt Adams, we’ll be coming for you someday, too.

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We make it back to the car by 4pm and decide we’d rather sleep in our own beds tonight instead of camping another night. Thankfully we knew we might feel this way and packed up camp this morning. Amy and I are both exhausted, but I put the car on cruise control and am able to make the four hour drive safely. With a quick stop at Burgerville for dinner, of course. I’d say we earned it!

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