The Glissades of Saint Helens
The Days leading Up
Originally this weekend Nartreb, Jimbopo and his brother Josh as well as another were going to climb Rainier but with all the accidents and avalanche danger recently that did not look like a good idea. Add on a shaky weather forecast and the Rainier climb was dead. so we went for Hood and Saint Helens instead. We all went down to Hood just a day after Nartreb's flight to Seattle and went for Hood.
Unfortunately jetlag took it's toll and Nartreb was very sick at the start of the climb up Hood. He tried to make it through but he had a hard time eating and drinking and at 9200 feet it was time for him to turn around. I felt bad for him but it was the correct call because Hood takes great concentration and serious injuries can happen if one is not feeling well here. He will get Hood easily next time. I went down with him while Josh and Jimbopo went to the summit of Mount Hood. They later made the summit while we stayed back at the car with or two-way radios handy to monitor their progress. Jimbopo will right the TR probably in the next couple of nights.
Off to Saint Helens
Off to Saint Helens, where there is a nice campground by the Climber's Bivouac. We got there as quickly as possible and set up our tents. All of us were asleep by 4:00 pm for our 4:00 am start due to being tired from Hood. I probably got my deepest sleep ever camping that night and slept pretty much the entire night. Temperatures were perfect for sleeping and all of us were in deep sleep. At 3:30 am it was time to wake up for Saint Helens.
Jimbopo decided to take this day off to rest from Mount Hood but Josh, Nartreb and I decided to go for Saint Helens. To be honest none of us were all that tired from the day before. The long rest we had in between had really help us heal up and get ready to saw off Saint Helens. At 4:00 am we were off on the trail ready to go for the Saint Helens summit. The snow level right now on Saint Helens is still very low and we knew that meant that there was a good shot that we would get a lot of glissades.
We started up the trail from the campground and ran into patchy snow right away. The first two miles of the trail goes up to Saint Helens at a gradual pace up the forest. Once up to the base of the heart of the mountain the trail then meander east while ascending. There is a partially melted glissade from higher that leads to the trail. We stayed on the trail all the way up to the timberline where the route becomes completely snowed in.
Right from the first hill we could see some awesome glissades. To our benefit because of the early start the snow was very firm and and with crampons very easy to ascend. Once on the ridge we headed up the mountain, passing one nice glissade chute after another. The sky was cloudy all morning long causing the snow to stay nice in firm. It was great if you had crampons but we saw a number of teams that had neither crampons or an ice axe so many of them actually had to wait until the snow became softer to proceed.
At about 7000 feet the mountain became very windy. We could actually watch the clouds below us move around the mountain they were at the 5000 foot level in the morning. We had to put on the wind breakers and continue to head up the volcano. Slowly but surely we climbed all the way to the rim of Saint Helens. We took a small break there but we knew that our job was not done there. It was time for us to head to the real summit of Saint Helens. So we decided to head west to the true summit.
Along the way we were amazed by the cornices on the crater rim. Many of cornices had fractures zone in them that resembled crevasses and looked quiet deep. We were sure to keep our distance from the cornice fractures and used them as warning signs to stay away from the crevasses. After one nice dip and rise we were stand on the true summit of Mount Saint Helens. Once on the true summit we took some great pictures and took a break for a bit to soak in the accomplishment. I was happy for Nartreb because he had flown in all the way from Boston and at least he makes out with another volcano under his belt while Josh adds two more to his collection.
For me I was actually shocked to see how alpine Saint Helens really is. I haven't seen much literature showing the turn alpine character of the mountain although StephaBegg's trip report last week did show some of Saint Helens alpine character. It was great to see all the impressive cornices as well as to enjoy the awesome side traverse to the summit. Many people tend to not do the side traverse to the true summit but I think the side traverse is something special especially when the mountain has a decent amount of snow. After we were done with our break we headed back to what was now a very busy false summit. The sun had finally come out and we knew that it was only a matter of time before the glissade would be ready.
I did notice though two patterns which actually surprised me. The first was that we were the only people to continue to the true summit. And the second pattern is that the bulk of the people didn't have an axe or crampons. I found both to be very surprising but I guess that shows that Saint Helens carries a broad appeal to many people, not just experience climbers. I would not recommend doing it unless you have an axe and traction devices/crampons myself. A couple people did ask me about the true summit but when realized they didn't have the equipment I advised against heading over there. Personally I would be quiet nervous myself without my axe and crampons and I wouldn't anyone getting into trouble because of my advise.
At 12:00 noon it was glissade. Right off from the beginning I rode a nice glissade down the peak. All 4 of us were picking off some great glissades heading down the mountain. Honestly one of the best glissading experiences I ever had. Mount Saint Helens was full of amazing glissades heading down the mountain and I felt like I was at a nice waterpark. It was so much fun going down the awesome slope and a part of me never wanted it to end. The total elevation lost in the glissades was about 3200 feet or maybe even more. I am sure many of the people going up heard me scream as if I was on a good rollercoaster because it was just that much fun.
But like all good thing the awesome glissades came to an end and soon we were back on the trail heading back to the parking lot. The rest of the trip down from the mountain was quiet uneventful but it was clearly the glissades and the alpine character of the summit that made this trip so special. We were back to the car soon, took down camp and were quickly heading back to Seattle.
It was great to my friend Nartreb again and it was good that he got Saint Helens. Next time it will be Hood and maybe Rainier, the true jewel or another incredible climb. It was good to see him again. I look forward to many more awesome climbs with him. I feel the same way for Jimbopo and Josh and want to congratulate them both on an awesome climb up Mount Hood and Josh for a climb up Mount Saint Helens. The two way radio came to great use. It was yet another awesome trip in the mountains thanks to all that came along.