Climbing Mount Saint Helens via Monitor Ridge Route, July 2021

Yvonne

I lava it!!!
Joined
Jan 19, 2012
Messages
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In July, I climbed Mount St Helens to the summit for the first time. This climb was on my bucket list for a long time, and I finally made it happen. I was lucky to get a permit pretty much last minute and decided that it was time to tackle the volcano.
Despite having a partially torn patella tendon, I opted to do the hike. The evening before the climb, I car camped at Climber's Bivouac near the trailhead. It was a spot where climbers could pitch a tent or sleep in the car. I opted to sleep in my vehicle. I didn't sleep much that night as I was too excited and unsure if I could make it to the top with my knee. I got up at 6 am the next day, and after a quick breakfast, I started my hike.
The first mile was pretty mellow with just a gradual elevation change.

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Patch of beargrass near the trail

The trail went through a second-growth forest and slowly started to gain elevation. I soon reached the point where you can only go further with a permit. I finally was on the permitted part of the trail.

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Not long after, the trail came out of the timber into an open field full of lava boulders and rocks. From now on, it would be a scramble up the lava. Poles used as trail markers made it pretty easy to follow the trail up, but the scramble was a total full-body workout. I had to be careful where to place my footing, especially with my knee being hundred percent healed.

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there were still some patches of snow left

The climb was steep, and I gained a lot of elevation in a short amount of time. But the views were amazing!! I could see Mount Hood in the distance, Mount Adams to the east, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest below me. It really blew me away and was worth the effort.

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After a while of huffing and puffing, the GPS monitoring station, which gave Monitor Ridge its name, came into sight. It was still a steep scramble to get there, and the last bit of the lava scramble really kicked my butt quite a bit.

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Selfie while I admired the view.

Here I rested for a bit and took my time. I was already halfway up, which was mind-blowing. I thought that the second half of the route would be easier, but I was wrong. From now on, the trail was just a simple route and continued to climb through sand and ash. The sand was so loose that each time I stepped forward, I slipped down, which felt like four steps. I had the feeling I would never move forward, but I actually did.

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still, a long way to go, and it was steep, steep, steep

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getting closer to the summit

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And then, finally, I was on the rim!!! I made it!!! I can't describe how this moment felt; it was just glorious, and I was totally proud of myself.

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What a view!!

Spirit Lake was just below me and seemed to be so far away. It's hard to believe that the pyroclastic cloud reached Spirit Lake within 2 minutes and inundated everything, creating a seiche, an inland tsunami that was 600 ft high.

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I could look right into Mount Saint Helens Crater and its growing glacier. The glacier in Mount Saint Helens is one of the very few glaciers in the United States that is still growing. I sat down for a while and admired the view. It was so unreal. I finally realized one of my childhood dreams. I was totally humbled and couldn't describe the moment.

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Crater Rim Selfie - and yes, I had to wear the T-shirt

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view into the crater and towards the glacier

After I admired the view for a while, I went to the true summit. It was about a quarter of a mile and some scrambling away.

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View towards the true summit

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On the way to the true summit, I met one of the locals: he was definitely much faster than I did!! It was a pretty cool and unexpected sight.

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I met a local

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Peekaboo!!

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Mount Adams in the distance

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Looking back east

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Selfie on the true summit

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Mount Rainier in all its glory

I enjoyed the true summit for a while and was surprised that none of the other climbers went here. They all stopped at the rim, and that was it.
The climb down was steep, but with the loose sand and ash, it was more sliding down than walking and saved quite some time. Pretty soon, clouds moved in, and most of the climb down to Monitor Ridge was covered in clouds.

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After I reached the lava rock scramble again, it finally cleared out again. It took my time going down because it was extremely hard on my knee, and I felt it.

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Mount Adams

Later that afternoon, I was finally back at the trailhead. I made it and felt so proud and amazed. It was the most amazing hike I've ever done. I climbed 4.5 miles to the top, and I had 4500 feet of elevation gain. I pretty much walked a mile per hour. Negotiating around the lava boulders was tough with a partially torn tendon, but I safely made it up and down. This will definitely not be the last time I climbed to the top. I think I had the biggest smile ever on my face when I was driving back to my campsite.
I finally had climbed Mount Saint Helens!!! And I will do it again this year :)
 
I am so happy for you! We were there in 2006 (not attempting to summit, just across the way at Johnston Ridge) and there was some activity but it was a rainy day and the clouds never parted enough for us to see the top. My kids were so disappointed. It's thrilling that you got to accomplish your goal, and what a challenge it was!

I have questions about the glacier in the crater: Why is it growing? When did it form? Since the huge eruption was only 41.5 years ago (and there was all that activity in the early 2000s) it seems too young to have developed very much. What's going on up there?

Your photos are fantastic - I especially love the huge panoramas showing Spirit Lake, Adams, Rainier, etc. Thanks and congrats!
 
Congratulations @Yvonne ! Super well done, especially with your knee injury. Love the photos.
I just wanted to see how far I could go. No risk-no fun. I'm glad I went and can't wait to go back in mid-August.
It won't be my last Cascades volcano. Mount Adams, Mount Baker, and Mount rainier are also calling my name. But for Baker and Rainier I have to take a mountaineering class first so I can learn to travel across glaciers
I am so happy for you! We were there in 2006 (not attempting to summit, just across the way at Johnston Ridge) and there was some activity but it was a rainy day and the clouds never parted enough for us to see the top. My kids were so disappointed. It's thrilling that you got to accomplish your goal, and what a challenge it was!

I have questions about the glacier in the crater: Why is it growing? When did it form? Since the huge eruption was only 41.5 years ago (and there was all that activity in the early 2000s) it seems too young to have developed very much. What's going on up there?

Your photos are fantastic - I especially love the huge panoramas showing Spirit Lake, Adams, Rainier, etc. Thanks and congrats!
The glacier is brand new, geologically spoken. It began to grow a few years after the May 18, 1980 eruption and grows a little bit each year. The area on the volcano seems to get more snow and the rate of new snow is higher than the rate of melting. I don't know the exact process why this glacier is growing but have read over and over again that it is growing.
And yeah, around 2005/2006 was the last eruptive period of Mount Saint Helens. They even had to close the visitor center at Johnston Ridge at one point because of falling pumice. It seems you were there around the active period which is pretty cool.
 
I just wanted to see how far I could go. No risk-no fun. I'm glad I went and can't wait to go back in mid-August.
It won't be my last Cascades volcano. Mount Adams, Mount Baker, and Mount rainier are also calling my name. But for Baker and Rainier I have to take a mountaineering class first so I can learn to travel across glaciers

The glacier is brand new, geologically spoken. It began to grow a few years after the May 18, 1980 eruption and grows a little bit each year. The area on the volcano seems to get more snow and the rate of new snow is higher than the rate of melting. I don't know the exact process why this glacier is growing but have read over and over again that it is growing.
And yeah, around 2005/2006 was the last eruptive period of Mount Saint Helens. They even had to close the visitor center at Johnston Ridge at one point because of falling pumice. It seems you were there around the active period which is pretty cool.
Fascinating about the glacier - thanks.

And, yes, it's pretty cool that we were there in the active period, EXCEPT that was before I knew to check weather forecasts and plan activities accordingly. There had been blue skies every day leading up to our arrival (we had been watching on the webcam) and my kids were so excited to see the smoking volcano. We could have driven a little further and gone the day before, but we didn't. (We went to the Columbia River Gorge and Ape Cave instead, which were really cool, but...) When we woke up to pouring rain, the disappointment was huge. The rain stopped, but the clouds were very thick and we couldn't see the top. As we were leaving, the clouds started to leave as well, so we turned around and drove back up, full of excitement. But then a bunch of new clouds came in from a different direction. We waited and waited but eventually headed down again. One of my sons held a grudge for a long time. :(
 
Congrats! That's a lot of mountain. At least the sand was easy on your knees ;) Did you try the ape caves? That's a totally different hiking experience.
 
Congrats! That's a lot of mountain. At least the sand was easy on your knees ;) Did you try the ape caves? That's a totally different hiking experience.
I was there a few days before my climb. It totally looked like home in Hawai'i. I'm posting that trip report soon

That T-shirt though! I'm a chemist and I have one that says "S---w your lab safety, I just want superpowers!"
that's awesome!! I love the kind of shirts!!

Great trip @Yvonne!! Sucks about the knee but great that you can manage it. Awesome photos as always!
well, I still get out and do strenuous stuff. I just have to be extra careful which sucks a little bit. Hopefully one day I can be careless again and also completely pain-free.
 
Looks like a great hike. How many other people were there? I can see a few in some of the photos. I assume the permits limit the number of hikers to a reasonable number?

Great shirt
 
Looks like a great hike. How many other people were there? I can see a few in some of the photos. I assume the permits limit the number of hikers to a reasonable number?

Great shirt
In the summer, there are 110 permits per day. There were some people on the trail but not too many. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how well everyone was spread out.
 
Way to go Yvonne! Congrats on the permit and the summit, bum knee and all. That loose stairmaster stuff doesn't sound fun going up, but I love the shirt! And that's incredible to know that there is a glacier that is actually growing vs receding. I never knew such existed! Cool!
 
Way to go Yvonne! Congrats on the permit and the summit, bum knee and all. That loose stairmaster stuff doesn't sound fun going up, but I love the shirt! And that's incredible to know that there is a glacier that is actually growing vs receding. I never knew such existed! Cool!
thanks, it was an amazing trip to the summit, even with a bummed knee that needed more time to heal.
I can't wait to go again in August and hopefully one of these winters I'll do the winter climb to the top. But first I need more mountaineering skills.

I was amazed when I read about Crater Glacier, that's the official name of the glacier.
USGS has a nice write-up about it. Not sure if that glacier will continue to grow in the next few years because of the warm-up in Washington State and less snow but it would be cool if it would continue to grow

 
I was amazed when I read about Crater Glacier, that's the official name of the glacier.
USGS has a nice write-up about it. Not sure if that glacier will continue to grow in the next few years because of the warm-up in Washington State and less snow but it would be cool if it would continue to grow

Great article - thanks for sharing.
 
Just found and watched this fascinating video about the Mt. St. Helens crater and glacier. If you have 13.5 minutes, I recommend it!
 
And just watched this other one (also by OPB - Oregon Public Broadcasting) that was about your "locals" @Yvonne - they were surveying the goat population on the mountain.
 
And just watched this other one (also by OPB - Oregon Public Broadcasting) that was about your "locals" @Yvonne - they were surveying the goat population on the mountain.
yeah, the goats really made a huge comeback after the eruption. It always amazes me how nature takes over again.
Even days after the eruption, elk were roaming the area and their footprints loosened the soil and made it easier for seeds to grab on to something. And now, after 41 years, the old-growth forest is replaced with alder trees which grow fast. The entire area amazes me
 
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