- Elevation: 4,665 feet
- Distance: 9.6 miles
- Parking is free with climbing permit
The first time we hiked Mt St Helens (MSH) was for Aaron's birthday last year (July 8th). We hiked it with Aaron's brother, Seth, and his lovely wife, Jennie. This year, we hiked with friends Maria, Jake and Nate. We arrived at the climbers bivouac (I love that word) around 7pm on Friday night after battling traffic. We got our fire going to so that we could cook dinner. It was a clear night and the stars proved to be shinning bright. Maria, Jake and I hit the hay relatively early. Aaron and Nate stayed up drinking beers, and I fell asleep listening to their alcohol influenced conversation about galaxies far away and "weird dark matter that is surrounding the universe and making it expand infinitely." We all got up around 5am on Saturday and quickly got to work cleaning up camp. Maria made us an amazing hot breakfast of potatoes and eggs with the works. We hit the trail at 7:11 and started our trek through the woods. From the trailhead, it's 2.25 miles to the start of the Monitor Ridge trail. Permits are required to hike above 4,800 feet. This is important: if you plan to hike MSH, you need to get your permit ($22) the day they go on sale. If you want to hike on a weekend in the summer, you need to get your permit within the first 10 minutes. They are limited to 100 hikers/day and they sell out fast.
Last year, we were on the trailhead at 6am. I would recommend leaving at this time. It makes for better views at sunrise. And, if you're a slower hiker like me, you will have plenty of time to reach the summit and get back down in time to grab pizza at the Lone-Fir in Cougar. The first portion of the hike is a 2 mile (900 feet) stroll through woods. Upon leaving the forest, you'll immediately happen upon piles of boulders, and remember that you're hiking the most active volcano in the Cascade mountain range. You'll traverse a few switchbacks and then hit the Monitor Ridge Trail. After this, any vegetation will be sparse. Pumice and sharp boulders, however, will be plentiful.
After hiking up an ash ridden ridge, you'll come across the boulder fields. At this point, ditch your poles, put on gloves with a grip and start climbing. Personally, I prefer this over walking up ash that slides under your feet. Views improve of both Mt Adams and Mt Hood during the entire ascent. You're quickly above the clouds so even if the mountains are unseen from Portland, you'll be lucky enough to keep the views.
During the hike, you'll go through several wardrobe changes. Both times, I wore every layer and article of clothing that I brought with. Weather changes quick on mountains. When we hiked it in 2013, it was much sunnier, however, colder. This year, we felt the wrath of the wind gods. I think it took us longer to hike because the wind would come on so strong, we had to hunker down and brace ourselves until it passed. We were also slightly delayed as Nate was enamored with the inside of a glacier. After completing the boulder field, you lie your eyes on the only thing between you and the summit: a steeply graded 1,000 foot gain of sand-like ash. It's a good idea to find a boulder in the distance as a goal to take your next break. Before you know it, you'll be at the top!
Take in the views at top and fuel up for the descent. A fun option is to glissade down the glacier. It is awesome. The best way is to bring up a large trash-bag to don as a diaper (just kick threw two holes out the bottom). You may have some bruises on your bottom (an actual bone bruise if you're Seth), but when are you going to get another chance to sled down a volcano?
After your hike, head to the Lone-Fir in Cougar to sign out that you made it off the mountain. Since Portland is a bit of a drive back, it's wise to eat pizza here as you will be famished. It's not the best but it doesn't have to be when you're that hungry.
I moved to the Pacific Northwest in August of 2012. I quickly identified myself as a hiker. I want to document my experiences so that I can refer to them for myself and others to provide the best hiking experience. I also hope to learn more about hiking from others comments and recommendations.