I want to write about Mount Saint Helens but I don’t know if I can do it justice.
The mountain is also known as Loowit or Lawetlat’la. The last major eruption was in May 1980, a year before I was born. The last minor eruption was in 2008. When I realized we wouldn’t be hiking the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier on our August trip to the Pacific Northwest, I started wondering if we could do a day hike to the rim of the Saint Helens crater instead.
We could, but boy was it tricky.
The best description of this hike I found was at OregonHikers.org: “If you are a hiker in good shape, this hike will tear you apart.” And the best logistics information was, of course, from the Mount St. Helens Institute’s website. Permits were already sold out (only 100 people can summit per day through the summer) by the time I was looking into it, but I finally found some second-hand on Purmit.com.
My dad, my husband, a friend, and I set out in the wee hours of the morning on August 18 for the drive to the trailhead. The weather was as perfect as possible, and we started the hike about an hour after sunrise. We carried tons of water, hiking poles, gloves, sunscreen, and gaiters, and were all in decent shape. The climb – 4.5 miles one way, with a 4500′ gain in elevation to a peak of 8365′ – shredded us all. The first 2 miles were on a nice forest path, but after that it was about 1.5 miles of boulder scrambling followed by a mile of ridiculously steep scree – this part was like walking up a steep sand dune. For a mile. On the nastiest sand ever.
It was incredibly hard, but the view from the top was equally incredible: the crater, with its domes, its mini-glaciers, and the occasional rockfall; and then around us Mount Rainier, Mound Adams, Mount Hood, and, way in the hazy distance, Mount Jefferson.
The trip down was almost as hard as the trip up. After so much time in the sun on the exposed slope we were hot, the wind was picking up, and toward the end we were running really low on water, despite having brought more than we thought necessary. Huckleberries along the forest trail near the bottom improved our spirits significantly, as did dumping the ash out of our shoes when we were done and driving into the little town of Cougar for a solid meal and some beers.
Would I do it again? Not any time soon. But eventually, yeah, I bet I could be talked into it.