Friday, June 19, 2015

On Top of the World: Mt. St. Helens

near the top of Mt. Rainier (photo by Kyle) 

One of the biggest reasons I took my kids to Seattle was to share the experience of hiking in the most beautiful state I’ve had the pleasure of visiting (six times). I’ve hiked all over the state with my friend Molly and have always wanted to share Washington State with my family, especially the Mount Saint Helens hike, which was my favorite part of a visit 13 years ago. Mr.4444 declined the invite due to bad knees. It’s good that he wasn’t; this hike is not for people who have bad knees, trust me.

Our hike began at Climber’s Bivouac trail and followed Monitor Ridge. It requires a special pass (because they need to know whose bodies to collect at the end of the day -- KIDDING!). This is not actually a dangerous hike, by mountaineering standards; it’s just long and strenuous.).

Here we are at the beginning of the hike, so happy to be together embarking on such an exciting jaunt!

The first hour or so of this hike was pretty easy; it’s all through the woods, a distance of about two miles and 1000 vertical feet -- a nice, gentle warm-up.

The longest part of the hike involved bouldering, during which we climbed over and around giant boulders tossed about like ping-pong balls during the last eruption of this active volcano, I’m guessing.

Because these boulders are covered with pumice, they are abrasive; I’m very glad Kendall and I wore gardening gloves, which saved our fingertips!

The bouldering took about four hours (It’s 2500 vertical feet.). Of course, we took a break or two. This photo is one of many scenes that reminded me why it was such a great idea to take a trip together; especially with Kyle and Kendall living in separate states now, they don’t get to spend a lot of time together, and they always have a great time together.

When the bouldering ended, the rest of the hike was laid out before us. Those tiny specks are people, by the way.

The last part of the ascent to the top of Mt. St. Helens involves walking 1000 vertical feet on fine, volcanic ash and stones. It’s 20 to 30 degrees colder up there, as well as windy. It’s slow going.

Even though we found ourselves inside a cloud at the top (which obviously made if difficult to see inside the dome of the volcano), we felt accomplished to make it up to 8,365 feet above sea level!

Eventually, the cloud moved away and we were able to peek a little over the edge. We went no further than this, because that's just a stupid (and forbidden) thing to do, as we're standing on snowpack; too much weight and we could all slide into the crater!

To see what’s there, you’ll have to climb the mountain yourself, of course; that’s the payoff!
(or use Google, of course; our photos aren’t that great) 

will share something that surprised me when I first hiked to the crater rim, though, because I know some of you wonder, too. If you hike to the rim of an active volcano, you might expect to see a hole, right? Maybe some burps of steam or a flame or two? Nope; when Mt. St. Helen’s blew her top, it lifted and expelled lava (of course), but then collapsed back down. The surface of the crater kind of looks like a souffle or pie when you take them out of the oven.

From the top of Mt. St. Helens, you can see Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Rainier; it's truly breathtaking; so much so that we forgot to take panoramic photos. See--We do put our phones down now and then!

Before we leave the top, I’m going to give you a little piece of valuable advice and say no more: If nature calls, any place on this hike, you’re probably going to have to answer; be prepared!

The descent is as remarkable as the climb up, especially if you like the idea of sliding down a 45-degree mountain wearing a garbage bag as a sled. Since that’s a post all its own, I’ll wrap this up and share that one tomorrow. All in all, the hike took us about ten hours, round trip. It took about six hours to reach the top and four to get down, so we averaged about one mile per hour. We started at 9:45am. I recommend starting much earlier if you want to reduce the stress that comes from seeing the sun start to set when you’re still up on the mountain and especially if you don’t plan to slide down part of it (which saves at least an hour’s worth of descent time).

Kyle and Kendall loved this hike! I found it as breathtaking as ever and hope to go back one day. Hiking Mount Saint Helens is a lot of work, but the payoff is great, in so many ways!

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