This will be my first trip report. I don’t do this often – heck I don’t really post much in general. I consider “Out of Nod” to be more of a personal commentary site on the affairs of American Christianity and current events (if I even post about it). But being how Nod is the land of wandering, here is one of my recent wanderings…
A few friends and I ended up climbing Mt. St. Helens on February 25th, 2017. The last time I attempted this mountain was Thanksgiving weekend in 2015 – and it kicked my ass! We ended up starting at the Worm Flows Route – a route that is estimated to be a 12 mile round trip with a 5700 ft gain (if you go to the summit). The route was arduous being that there was fresh snowfall on the mountain the week before. We expected that we would be breaking a lot of trail. The weather conditions were perfect in the morning and many skiiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers were out in force!
We began the trek from Seattle at about 3:00 in the morning, and arrived in the parking lot at 7:30, filled out our permits, put on our snowshoes, and began the trek across the snow covered land, leaving behind the smell of gasoline coming from the snowmobiles whose riders were taking advantage of the great weather and the fresh powder. The trail is fairly flat initially with a small gain of 1000ft over the course of a couple miles. We were making some decent time despite the fact that we went in hot – we had to stop to take off some layers.
We left the forest to be greeted by the mountain – the beast that we will be climbing!
Exiting the forest at the base of the mountain. (Dave, me, and Scott)
The next 4 miles would be a marathon! The goal is to make it to the summit/rim by 2:00 in the afternoon. That way we would be able to make it back to the car before it gets dark. This is just as much a safety issue as it is a goal – the snow becomes less stable as it warms up in the afternoon increasing chances for injury or avalanche.
After passing the weather station, the trail began to get real steep. We made it to this point at about 10:30am. We made sure to take a break every hour to keep hydrated and to increase our calories – one can easily burn thousands of calories in a single mountain climb (I normally burn about 3000-5000). The snow shoes and added weight only increases this need for energy even more. This becomes important, especially as you increase in altitude; your body starts to play tricks on you above 5000ft. Salt intake is also important as your legs begin to cramp up – a regular occurrence for me in the last couple years…
At about 1:00 we came to a decision point. Do we go for summit or do we go for rim? We wanted to attempt a summit but realized that there were no tracks heading towards it – one of the team members also dug into the snow to check for avalanche conditions and it was determined that it wasn’t the safest bet to do so. The weather was also starting to look sinister around us – snowfall was called for in the afternoon. We decided to head for the rim (which is still at about 8100ft).
Mt. St. Helens summit in the background
We hit the rim at 1:45 in the afternoon – slightly better than our 2:00 goal! Success! Once we hit the rim, we stopped for lunch. I had a sandwich calling my name! The rim was a warm 10 degrees Fahrenheit! And of course, a mountain is never complete without wind – making it even warmer! Hard to eat food when your freezing but there was another concern I had. The weather took a turn. As we got food and water, the sky that had been blue and nice 30 minutes before turned white and our field of view shrank. We were prevented from seeing into the crater – the remains of the mountain which had blown up 37 years ago!
Stopping for lunch at the rim before the white out
The decent from the mountain was a little dicey – due to the whiteout we could barely see 50 feet in front of us and any tracks that were in place were quickly covered by fresh powder. This is why white outs are so dangerous. But my team was made up of veteran climbers and they enjoyed the opportunity to test their navigation skills and GPS technology to help us backtrack off ourselves off the mountain.
The climb down was actually a lot more dicey for me. My snowshoe bindings came lose which caused a lot of ankle problems for me – and was the cause for one long stop in the cold. Further more one of my boot laces had become untied, which made my toes bang into the front of my boot. This is even worse when you’re going down hill and you have 5 miles left in the decent – another stop! This was also my first time with the snowshoes I was wearing (this is a recent hobby as of the New Year), so I hadn’t quite figured out my binding settings, and I hadn’t quite figured out that when going down hill you want to step on as fresh of snow as possible and not into the footsteps of others (in relation to wanting to step in other peoples tracks when going uphill).
When we had left the top of the mountain at about 2:15pm, we reached the parking lot after dark at around 7:00 pm. The flat ground was nice to walk on after that – I had a further appreciation for the civilization that waited for me back home. We stopped at the Cougar Bar and Grill to enjoy ourselves a nice warm meal and the friendly hospitality of southern Washington folk before making the 3 hour trek back to our homes in Seattle.
When I got home, my legs were so beaten that I had a hard time taking off my pants. I took a well deserved shower, hit the sack, and slept like a baby. I was looking forward to the 6 hours of dancing I would be doing the next day and the stories I would be telling to the women in my classes.