Mount Saint Helens normally requires a reservation after April 1st. I preferred the idea of a free climbing permit so I posted on Cascade Climbers to get up there quick. I knew that I would be going broke to make it happen and there was just no room for fees. I mentioned that my intention was to snowboard down the mountain. When I found a picture of the snowline it looked like it might be feasible. This was looking like a great idea with weather cooperating. Michael Williamson showed interest and we set it up for the last weekend in March. I had to meet him at Green Lake the day before the climb for the ride down. My friend Marty just so happened to be going to visit relatives in Magnolia getting me there a little early. Michael W is big on running lately so instead of just shooting the breeze, we killed time by going for laps around Green Lake. I am not in the best shape so I bowed out after just one, worried how I'd fare the next day. He kept going for another half hour so I just went back to his place where I chatted with my brother Josh on the cell. Heading down the long drive I was pretty excited. This is my last big volcano in Washington and has been on my list for years. I was hoping that maybe the park staff were graceful and opened the upper gate to save us the extra elevation gain. Unfortunately I was wrong and we had to start all the way down at 2,600'. As a result it was going to feel like the Washington Top 100 that it really was. The number of people at the sno-park trailhead was surprising to me for the time of year. Yeah, I know we have record low snow this year but somehow I didn't think many would take advantage. Really surprising were the number of skiers and snowboarders. Guess they were tired of the poor snow at the lifts.
At 6am we got moving in a gap between crowds. The trail follows an old jeep road almost until the climbing route about 2.5 miles in. I kept looking up through the trees and get glimpses of St. Helens, at first thinking it was a huge cloud. I was pretty stoked to see the amount of snow still up there and looking forward to the ride down. (If only I could afford a split board. Still, I'm happy with what I got.) At the bottom of the route the views started opening up. A few people were camped beside the trail. We noted a sign that said "Permits required above 4,800 feet" and wondered if that was our elevation. The trail from here meandered through lava flows and neat miniature canyons until it gained a prominent ridge. We started to see snow in patches at around 5,500' where I stashed my running shoes and swapped into plastics. Mount Hood, Jefferson and Adams were all pretty visible and Adams especially put on a good show. We caught up to a group of skiers and stuck close to them until about 6,000'.
Looking down Worm Flows
At that point was a solar powered station and from here on the snow was solid and prime all the way to the summit. Footprints braided the snowfields so I just chose the path of least resistance through wind packed snow. At almost 7,000' it became very windy and my snowboard became more like a sail throwing me off balance. Kicking steps was beginning to be a chore and my pace was slowing down. We took a break and munched down some cookies and water taking in the sun and views. Dark clouds to the west were building up so we couldn't stay long. Some thin clouds overtook the summit making for some low visibility conditions periodically. The wind picked up to maybe 40mph as we approached the crater. The snow became icy for the last 500 feet making me glad to have brought an ice ax and crampons. The slope also steepened up a little to maybe 35 degrees. The last 100 feet reeked of Camp Muir syndrome and took forever to finish. At the Crater Rim the clouds parted providing a neat view inside of the crater, Spirit Lake and Mount Margaret. Rainier teased us through stormy clouds. We stayed as long as we could in the cold to take it all in, contemplating how it must've been pre-1980.
An Adams darkly
Happy to climb
Crater Rim Panorama
Michael W summit shot
Saint helens hero
I threw on another layer and dug a trench for my board using my ice ax so the wind didn't take it on an icy ride without me. I still had to get to the true summit and Michael decided he wanted to head down being pretty satisfied with the view. At this point we parted ways, agreeing to meet back at the solar station by 5pm at the very latest. He figured I'd be much quicker than that and take about 45 minutes to get down. Normally that is reasonable. The true summit looked pretty cool from a distance with a classic pyramidal shape and cornice. I made sure to stay back from the edge 15-20 feet, loosely following some footprints. For some reason I was the only one making the journey as everyone else seemed to be turning around at the rim today. At a small col between the summit and rim the snow became icy with some blue ice under a couple inches of powder. I had to step carefully here but the run out was not bad so I didn't worry about the prospect of arresting. The final extra elevation gain tired me out but I was thrilled inside. Dark clouds were now brewing nearby and I think I saw a flash of lightning to the West. I quickly made my way back to my board and strapped it on to my plastics for the ride down. Unfortunately I did not remember how to ride properly and took many falls. Each time I thought, "C'mon man, this is perfect snow! Get up and figure this out! Don't wimp out." Eventually I got good enough to enjoy it, but it wasn't faster than glissading would've been. After 50 or so trials I ended up in a gully a little off route that would have spat me off a lava cliff. I had to traverse deep wind deposited snow that made me cramp up to meet up at our agreed spot. Michael was a little worried with all the time it took and the temperature near freezing but as soon as we started down again worries disappeared.
First time in 10 years
Skiers carve it up
The hike out was warm and pleasant. We got some contact info from another climber who had some recommendations for Nepal hiking. The last few miles went by briskly as the sun was setting. The drive back in the dark took as long as ever but we made it back to Green Lake alive and I was just in time to meet up with Marty again.
Thanks again Michael W for getting us down and up that mountain. I'm pretty happy about how it turned out and glad to complete the achievement.
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