Mount St. Helens, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington State, USA
Monitor Ridge trail: 16.14 kilometers round-trip, very difficult
Elevation: 2549 meters
Elevation gain: 1497 meters
Duration: 6 hours moving time
Date: August 27, 2014
Climbing Mount St. Helens is the same as climbing any other mountain. The only difference is, since it is an active volcano, you might want to watch the volcano alert to have peace of mind while you climb. You will also need to acquire a climbing permit that can be purchase online on the Mount St. Helens Institute's website. During the summer, they limit the climbers to 100 per day. Based on my experience, the permits go very fast, within minutes if you want to ascend on a weekend day. I have heard about a second hand market for the permits, but I didn’t research it more since I didn’t have to use it.
Your permit will be available for pick up at the Lone Fir Resort in Cougar. You will also need to fill out a sign up sheet and provide information regarding your group, vehicle and expected time of return. Once that is done, there’s a 25 minute drive to get to the Climber’s Bivouac, located at the end of Forest Road 8100-830 (off Forest Road 83 on the volcano’s south side).
We started climbing around 8:30 am and it was already very hot. Despite what we read in other blogs and on the Mount St. Helens Institute’s website, we decided to travel light and drank almost a litre of water before starting in order to reduce the amount we would carry.
The first 3.7 km are through a typical forest dirt trail. The elevation gain is 320 meters, and this section can be done fairly quickly. An interesting thing to note is the presence of an outhouse just before the treeline.
Soon after the treeline, a sign informs you that you require a climbing permit in order to continue your climb. For the next 2.9 km, you need to navigate through a giant field of boulders. The only indication of a trail are white poles sticking out of the ground every several meters, but there is no groomed trail.
The mountain is very deceiving - as you climb you think on many occasions that you have reached the summit just to realize that you have quite a while left to go. Furthermore, the boulders get bigger and bigger as you ascend, which tricks your senses into thinking the summit is closer than it actually is. It gets confusing and very hard to anticipate how long there is left. After a few hours of climbing massive rocks, you have gain another 720 meters of elevation.
The last 353 meters of elevation is a 1.1 kilometers trek in ashes. It is slightly slippery. Some suggests to bring gaiters and something to be used as a mask such as a bandana. I didn't feel the need for the bandana but can understand that on a windy day it would be appreciated. As for the gaiters, I chose gravel in my boots over them as it was incredibly hot outside and the idea of wrapping my legs in gore-tex was everything but appealing at the time.
The main trail doesn't bring you directly to the true summit. To reach it, you need to travel another 10-15 minutes to the left, following the crater rim. There is a little sculpture that indicate the true summit. Is it worth it? Maybe not as the view is almost the same, but since you already climbed the volcano why not put the little extra effort and reach the true summit.
We enjoyed the view for a while and had a bite and some water before heading back down.
As expected, you will want to bring the usual (water, high energy food, first aid kit, sun protection, light, etc.). We went on a very light diet of about 3 energy bars and 1.5 L of water each, and despite the 30 degree celsius we deemed it to be reasonable. However, should you want to attempt light travelling, make sure to hydrate yourself very properly the night before and after the climb.