Of all the Washington volcanoes, Mount Saint Helens might be the most unique, as well as the most famous. After it’s infamous eruption in 1980, the summit was reduced from 9,677 ft to 8,363 ft, making it the smallest volcano in Washington by over two thousand feet. It is still an active volcano, and the surrounding wilderness is covered with volcanic rock and layers of dust and ash. In the summer, you can get to the summit just by hiking, although you must get a permit for this busy season. We decided to climb it in winter, for the added challenge, beauty and solitude.
The winter of 2015 was an unusual one, with warm temps and very little snowfall. We took the long drive down south the night before, so that we could get an early start on the Worms Flow Route, which add about 1000 ft of elevation gain and 3 miles to the summer route. We reached the trail head and set up camp right next to the parking lot. A couple of young guys camping next to us told us their intentions were to ski from the summit. Awesome idea, except that 2 of them had never skied before! I never saw them coming down the next day, but I never heard any accident reports so hopefully they made it down in one piece.
We started bright and early at 5am and were the first ones to head up the mountain. Even at this early hour, I only needed a long sleeve shirt to stay warm. As always, the sunrise was the highlight of the morning climb.
We didn’t hit consistent snow until the 6000 ft elevation level. Here the snow quickly turned to blue ice and became slick. Time to don those crampons! The good thing about this climb is that there are no crevasses on this route, so all you need is an ice axe and crampons and the know-how to use them. No ropes or crevasse rescue skills required.
We were the first ones to the top and the view of the crater is just amazing! You can even see the new cone starting to build in the center, steam rising all around. The day was heating up quick and we started heading down as the snow turned from ice to mush. By the time we hit the lower mountain, it was 75 degrees out -in February!
This is a great climb that can be done in a day, next time I plan to hang out and hit up the Ape Caves nearby.
Elevation Gain: 5600 ft
Permit: NW Forest Pass and Climbing Permit required