Ascent of Mount Saint Helens on 2013-09-12

Climber: Nicholas Nelson

Others in Party:Peter Fox
Date:Thursday, September 12, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Saint Helens
    Elevation:8333 ft / 2539 m

Ascent Trip Report

Every year, I try to garner new people that have not previously climbed a mountain together for a memorable first climb. My thought is that, just as I have been given the gift of the mountains, so too must I pass that gift along to others.

This year, I was extremely proactive in setting up a trip. After 5 years of working in IT for a local healthcare system, I had decided that the time was right to head back to school and finish what I had started almost 10 years ago. Before I left though, one of my coworkers offhandedly mentioned that she envied my trips to the mountains and wanted to climb her own mountains someday. This launched into a more serious conversation that progressed to selecting Mt. St. Helens as a perfect first mountain.

Dates were selected, permits purchased, and gear lists developed, but in the end the only ones to actually go on this climb were myself and my normal climbing partner. Both of us have previously been to the crater rim on Mt. St. Helens and were not nearly as excited to go without people that would be stunned (much as we had a few years ago) to see the crater, the landscape, and the surrounding mountains and vistas.

With just the two of us, we decided to switch gears and go for a fast ascent and descent. According to the U.S. Forest Service website, the standard round trip times for the Monitor Ridge (10 miles, 4500 ft. vertical) route are between 7-12 hours; we endeavored to do it in 7 hours. We arrived at the Lone Fir Cafe at 7am, and kicked off from the Climber's Bivouac trailhead at 8am.

The last time we climbed this route was in October 2011, which provided us with some light snow pack on the last mile of the trail, but this year was dry and hot. With predictions of 70-75 degrees (F) along the trail, we were certainly not desiring for extra layers throughout the ascent. We quickly moved through the first 2 miles of forested path, and began the process of picking our way through the boulders and scree piles that constitute the ridge proper.

By the time we arrived at the base of the last 500 ft. of the climb, we had passed 13 people and were feeling pumped to get to the rim in just under 3 hours. We quickly pushed to the summit, took a break to marvel at the views, ate our summit treats (Safeway Fruit Pies), and congratulated everyone we saw. Prior to parting from the summit, my climbing partner spent a few moments releasing his grandfather's ashes to the winds. His grandfather had been a lifelong mountaineer that had summited Mt. St. Helens prior to the 1980 eruption but had not been able to reach the summit again afterwards. Hopefully he now rests peacefully among the great Pacific Northwest mountains; a region he certainly loved.

We set off from the summit with speed in mind, and with gravity at our aid. We quickly progressed from plunge stepping to all out scree sliding to get back down through the unstable terra that plagues the upper portion of the Monitor Ridge trail. By the time we reached the treeline, we were becoming overheated from mid-afternoon sun, but we were able to pick up our pace and fast hike the last 2 miles to the car. Arriving back at the trailhead at 1:20pm; we completed the trailhead-summit-trailhead climb in 5 hours 25 minutes. After removing our gear and disembarking from the parking lot, our next goal was certainly less audacious, but no less appealing to our sweaty bodies; celebratory milkshakes at Rosie's Restaurant in Woodland, WA.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:4500 ft / 1371 m
    Distance:10 mi / 16.1 km
    Route:Monitor Ridge
    Trailhead:Climber's Bivouac  3833 ft / 1168 m
    Grade/Class:Class 3, Grade III
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail
    Nights Spent:0 nights away from roads
    Weather:Hot, Breezy, Low Clouds
Ascent Statistics
    Time Up:5 Hours 25 Minutes

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