Me: **calls sister**
Me: “Wanna climb Mt. St Helens this summer?”
Her: “Sure, why not?”
My favorite adventure partners can be described in one word: keen.
This was back in January. Permits for Mt. St. Helens go on sale in mid-February and we roped our mom in as well. We picked our weekend (just before my mom’s birthday) and I was on the website the minute permits were available. Three secured. Let the training begin.
The months flew by and I admired (though not without monitoring, judging, and offering “helpful” tips) my mom & sister’s training from afar. They both live on the flat prairie in Idaho, so getting in any sort of hill training / proper hiking called for creativity.
After months of preparation and scheming, the weekend arrived and we spent the day making snack packs, gathering gear, planning, and not sleeping. Typical pre-adventure prep.
“Are we seriously leaving at 2 AM?” the newbies asked.
“Yes, seriously. Set your alarm.”
We weren’t too far behind schedule. I wanted to start the easy hiking section with headlamps to get up above the tree line before the heat of the day (it was going to be upwards of 85 F that day). We had headlamps at the parking lot but by the time we signed in, refilled pack bladders, and emptied human bladders, it was light enough to forgo them. We were starting once again from the Marble Mountain Sno-Park (i.e. the winter route) as Climber’s Bivouac was still closed from the harsh winter.
The initial forested section was beautiful as always. We helped a random guy with an inhaler, were swarmed by mosquitoes, completed a small water crossing, and finally had a view of Mt. Hood in the distance.
We were all in such good spirits and were taking it pretty casually, enjoying the adventure and the views – Mt. Adams to the east and Mt. Hood to the south, per usual.
We reached the snow and put on our YakTrax / MicroSpikes. To save weight, we left the crampons behind and I’m glad we did. They would have been a bit overkill (though we did see other hikers with them and they did have a slight advantage). The steep became steeper and the going got slower. We ended up behind ‘Dolly and friends’ and had to do some passing maneuvers. I even gave up one of my hiking poles to a guy without any, as he was struggling a bit. “I’ll just get it at the top” I told him and we carried on past.
“Okay, we’re going to pop up to the false summit and Mt. Rainier will surprise you. Take a photo, but don’t linger because we’re going to carry on”, I ordered my team. Luckily, they obliged without arguing and we traversed over toward the true summit, away from the crowds. We had a gorgeous spot with a view of Rainier, plus the crater and Spirit Lake, (which aren’t visible from the false summit) to ourselves. We enjoyed our lunch here for about an hour.
We made the traverse back over, I collected my pole and gave a brief lesson about glissading, and we started our descent. My mom went first and her giggles could be heard the entire way. It’s funny how easily childhood rushes back when you’re sliding on your butt! My sister went second and I followed. The glissading conditions were perfect – it makes for such a quick descent.
My winter-y St. Helens hike earlier this year ended with horrible sunburn so I did extensive research on the market’s best sunscreen and made the shameful Walmart run to buy some. I was devastated to learn that I lost my bottle during my glissade! I had been diligent in everyone applying every hour on the hour, too! Fortunately my mom had some as well, but now I’d have to make the dreaded return to Walmart to replace the bottle for the rest of the summer. *sigh*
Eventually, the glissading came to an end and we were back on our feet. The dust and rocks were slick going downhill and it was tricky to find stable footing. There were only 2 mishaps, but in our crew, we don’t fall and tell so you’ll have to just guess who took them!
In the last mile and a half or so, my eyes started to become quite irritated. I wear contacts (as do my mom and sister) and they were smart enough to bring drops. I put some in and we continued down, hoping the intense eye watering would clean out whatever was bothering them. It wasn’t immediate, but we carried on.
Back through the water, back through the woods. We hit the parking lot, pulled off our shoes, signed in, and hit the road. I was looking forward to my dad’s cast iron cooking back at home!
About 5 miles up the road, my eyes were in so much pain I pulled over and asked my mom to drive us home. I ripped my contacts from my eyes, tears streaming. I threw them out and the world went blurry (seriously, I have terrible eyes). I wrapped a shirt around my head to shield the light, hoping that would help. After we hit Vancouver, my sister offered her glasses to me and somehow we have remarkably similar, if not identical, prescriptions. I was impressed.
It was hot back in Portland. We sat on the patio with my dad and Jesse and had dinner, ice cream bars, and a daily recap. I am so incredibly proud of my family for their summit. They worked hard and it was a perfect day.
Maybe Mt. Adams will be next?