Mount Saint Helens Blizzard Hiking May 2014
Here we are again on a hike that was less fun and more a full bag of pointless effort. I'll explain.
I planned this trip for at least six months. I was online half an hour before the website opened on February 3rd to make sure I reserved the hiking permits. I got the permits and I carefully planned the hike. Then May the 18th came. It turned out to be the one day with rain at the bottom and total snow blizzard at the top, at least 60 mph winds and absolutely no more than 30 yards visibility.
We started the hike at the Marble Mountain Sno-Pak parking lot since the Climber's Bivouac was closed due to snow. Start time 8:30 AM. It was so much rain that, for 15 minutes, we were sitting inside the car working up the nerve to step into the rain. As we started, in probably 20 minutes, I was all wet in spite of the goretex jacket, goretex shoes etc. It was just pouring rain for about 2 miles. Then the rain stopped and it turned to a bit of sun with wind. Much better. When we reached the bottom of the mountain the ground was covered entirely with snow. That was also the place where rain gave way to snow. From that point on my foot did not step on dirt until I reached the summit and back to the bottom of the mountain.
As we were hiking on snow (we were prepared with snow crampons) snowing changed to rain and back a few times. We met people who were turning back (about 10:30 AM) without reaching the summit. They complained about the horrendous weather high up, wind and cold. We continued up. The rain melted the snow a bit and the hike was not as difficult as hiking on the ash. Hiking up we could not see a thing. The whole time we had no idea where the summit was, how much we still had to go or any views around the mountain for that matter. We reached the place where the antenna is placed which, from further away, I thought that was the summit. Silly me; there was another mile and a half to the summit but I had no idea. From there on the weather turned to absolute blizzard: lots of snow and wind. More absolute that the vodka! I was all wet but as long as I kept moving I did not get cold. However, I got very cold when I had to stop and put band-aids on my heels, since the blisters already popped at that point (a mile to the top). While I was working on the band-aids, struggling to get the wet wool socks off and on, three people were coming down the mountain. They were so happy to see me I felt they considered me their friend forever. They were hiking down in that blizzard and had no idea if they were going the right way, toward the Sno-Pak parking lot. They told me they were coming down for 1.5 hours. It took them 7 hours to reach the top. I was in total disbelief, since we were hiking for 3.5 hours and had no sense where we were going. I was ready to abandon ship and get the heck to a tavern. It was insane to hike on such bad weather. Going up was one thing, since there was only one place we could end up: the summit. Going down was what scared me, since the foot tracks got covered instantly by the snow and wind. However, when I suggested to my wife to just go back, she only pointed the finger to the top. So, if she decided to be irresponsible, I was only happy to jump on that wagon. On our way up, close to the top, a group of 7 guys were coming down. They encouraged me saying "keep going, you are not going to die!" Well, if that was the case then I'll keep going, since I had their assurance. Ha!
We reached the top in 4 hours and 45 minute. Needless to say, by that point, we were carrying and additional 10lb on ice on us. I have to admit that the snow and wind was so bad, that I reached the edge of the volcano and I did not even know it. I was so close to the edge, one more step and I would've slipped down into the other side. Scary indeed. I backed up for a few feet, looked around like a blind badger, with nothing but white-out to see. I could barely make out the edge of the crater but, that was it. Looking around I heard a big noise from inside the crater. I figured it must have been an avalanche. I retreated a few more feet from the edge. I got my camera out and took some selfies since there was nothing else to take pictures of. When my wife reached the top I took pictures of her, from two feet away. Needless to say, the snow covered the camera lens and not much can be shown in them pictures.
During the 10 minutes at the top I got so cold I had to start going down. We could not see our foot tracks. We were just going straight down hoping I will not stray to the right or left getting to some impassable ridge. We did not. On our way down we met a few more hikers going up. They were close to the top but entirely discouraged and unhappy. Their faces were covered with ice. As we were going down, I realized one thing: the weather on the mountain was in layers: there was the same whether going down as going up, at the same altitudes/layers.
At some point, when we could see a little more in front of us, we started sliding down on our butts and made the hike down more fun and a little faster. As we finished with the snow, we started hiking through the forest, in constant rain. We reached the parking lot at exactly 7 hours and 25 minutes from the start. My Garmin GPS watch (which I don't trust much) said our total hike was almost 10 miles (4.93 miles to the summit from the car).
In that weather, we needed 5 bottles of water of .5 liters between two people. I think hiking on snow was much easier than hiking on ash, especially on the last mile closer to the top. This hike did no present much physical strain on us but my wife had serious problems in the days following the hike with her eyes since she did not wear sunglasses, even on that blizzard. The light reflection of the snow was very strong. Nevertheless, the blizzard made the hike memorable just when it comes to the scary aspect and not the visual aspect. I am glad we came down safe but, I don't think I want to hike this mountain again.
As for food, we only used energy bars, gels and that kind of easily digested sport foods. To drink, only water. We used tracking poles when coming down. I would also recommend gaiters, sunglasses, sunscreen, band-aids. Our cells did not have signal.