I find great joy in standing on the peaks of mountains.
I find even greater joy when it takes every speck of energy I have to get there.
There are two large and active volcanoes that are very well known in Washington State. One of them is Mount Rainier, which I’ve visited twice now, but to summit Mount Rainier it takes training, and somewhat extensive planning.
The other one, a bit more “active,” a bit more rugged, but a bit more accessible is Mount St. Helens. This has always been on my list of “must climbs,” yet wasn’t on my radar until I got a text two weeks prior to the climb that went something like this.
“Hey, I’ve got two permits to climb Mount St. Helens on October 17th, do you want to go?”
You don’t have to ask me twice. After requesting the day off, finding a hotel for the night before, and packing my bag FULL of food I was ready.
The beginning of the hike was mild, I like to think it was the warm up before the real hike. Only 1000ft elevation spaced over two miles was more than manageable. Once we hit 4800′ though, not only were permits required, but perseverance was too.
Just past the tree line were the first signs of a blow. Back in 1980 this active volcano erupted causing a catastrophe that killed many people and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses. It is now known as one of the deadliest active volcanoes.
It was past this tree line that the hike really began, starting with the above field of boulders. With nothing but a handful of trail markers to guide us it was a bit of a puzzle to find where to go. What I knew for sure was that “up” was a solid direction.
Like where’s Waldo, stick version.
The boulders were fun, though a bit sketchy at times. The vertical climb was more mental than physical at this point of the hike. Each step needed to be precise to ensure avoiding any loose rocks.
After 2500′ of ash pumice boulders, the final stretch came into sight. This is when the weather started to take a turn. The rain started to fall and the wind got stronger. From this point to the top it was a complete mental sludge.
There was so much loose ash and rocks it felt like one step forward, two steps back. I had to keep my head down because anytime I looked up I was convinced I had made zero progress. I never wanted to stop, but I was definitely tired and cold.
After sludging for what felt like lightyears I passed a girl that said something to me that lit a fire under my feet. She was struggling just as hard as I was yet with a smile said to me, “you can only go up for so long right?”
Damn right, and thank you for that.
After four hours, 2 bananas, 2 kiwis, 2 Kit’s Organic Clif Bars (obsessed), 2 servings of pumpkin seeds, and an apple – the crater from the eruption was found.
I didn’t stay at the summit for long due to frozen hands and a thick fog cover, but the 10 minutes I did stay were 10 minutes of pure accomplishment.
Photos don’t even begin to do this sight justice, but it’s all I’ve got.
Unlike any terrain I’ve hiked before, and officially the tallest peak I’ve stood on (8365′) Mount St. Helens is my most unique summit to date. It also fueled my soul for more. I want to hit the 10,000′ spot on Mount Rainier so bad.
The climb down was a bit of a cold blur, but provided a great view of the trees when we came upon the home stretch. It took 3hrs to get down making 7 hrs total.
I’d like to thank the trail markers for keeping me sane, and lost in the right direction.
From death comes life and despite the destruction the eruption caused, life is slowly but surely coming back on this volcano.
Oh, and before I forget – shout out to the volcano for not erupting again on October 17th, I wasn’t quite ready for that.
Q: What gives you a huge sense of accomplishment?