Monday, September 25, 2017

Mt. St. Helens

For my brother's 7th birthday we climbed Mt. St. Helens.  Since then, we've gone back every year we can.  We missed a couple years because the mountain was active so the trail was closed, and Jacob and I missed the last couple years since we were in Flagstaff.  Usually September in the Pacific Northwest brings beautiful days, with the first rains starting to fall.  We've climbed St. Helens in beautiful sunshine, rain and wind, and most everything in between.  But this year when Dad and I first glimpsed the mountain we got a big surprise: snow.  Well, we hadn't planned on that so our running shoes started to look like poor planing as wet snow can lead to painfully cold feet and likely an early turnaround.

Our hike started though dense, damp trees, the trail winding its way toward timberline.  The early miles are always beautiful, but we kept wondering when we'd hit snow.  As we broke out above the trees, we saw snow on the lava.  Just a few patches to begin with, but by the top there was at least two feet of snow.   We headed up seeing no issues yet, but we were both a little worried our trip may be short-lived.  Fortunately as the snow grew deeper, an established track emerged from previous climbers making their way up and down the mountain.  We hiked up the track, thankful for the easy footing and the lack of wet feet.  As we continued on we reached a few sections of boulders which the trail goes though.  The snow made these sections a little difficult, but nothing much harder than usual.  After walking through the boulders, we hit the final ridge climbing to the summit.  Most of the snow had blown off the ridge so we enjoyed the easy footing of wetted down scree and minimal snow.

Upon reaching the top, we were hit with a stiff breeze blowing out of the crater.  I quickly put on a rain coat, but didn't need anything more than that to stay warm.  The mountain had a completely different feel being covered in snow.  The ruggedness of the crater was lost in the softness of the snow while some of the slopes leading up to the peak were more defined due to the contrast in colors.  We spent about half an hour on top hoping for a view to Spirit Lake, but weren't lucky enough for the clouds to open.

The descent started out as an easy downhill walk though scree.  Both of us found the going easy as the snow had wetted the scree making it quite firm.  Once we reached the boulders and snow, the going slowed down quite a bit.  At that point in the day the trail was fairly packed which made the snow pretty slick.  We had to be pretty careful picking our way through the rocks and snow so as not to slip and smash a shin on a rock.  Dad and I made our way down pretty quickly, but most hikers were having a hard time with the slick terrain.  The descent was a little tedious and both Dad and I slipped a few times on the way down.  Fortunately we chose good places to slip where there were no rocks around.  By the time we were out of the lava and snow, we were happy for some easy walking on a smooth trail.  The descent down from treeline didn't take too long and soon we were back at the car.  Another year, another summit.  All in all, a pretty cool day.

But while Dad and I hiking though snow and scree to reach Mt. St. Helens, Jacob was battling the dusty trails and roads of Arizona to reach his first 100 mile finish.  Mom was down in Flagstaff to help crew as Jacob took on the Stagecoach 100.  Long after Dad and I plopped down in the car, Jacob with Mom pacing ran through the night to reach the finish in 22:47.  No mountain this year for Jacob, just a hundred miler!  And sub-24 at that!  I'm super stoked he had a terrific run and am thankful Mom was there to help him along.  All in all, a very good weekend for the Miller Family.

Here's some pictures from our trip up St. Helens.  Sorry I don't have any of Jacob at Stagecoach.

Early on before we reached any snow

Snow shortly above treeline

Snow in the lava

The beaten path to the top

Dad on the way up

Clouds blowing in

Still clear on top

Snow blown onto the rocks

Cloudy below us

Looking out toward Mt. Adams

Almost to the top

Looking into the crater

Looking around the rim

Looking back down toward the trailhead

Some cool snow formations on the rocks

The clouds clearing on our descent

Clouds on the top of the mountain

Picking our way through rocks and snow

Clouds blowing through below us

Looking east

Looking west

Clear skies to the south

Looking back up

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