Ascent to Mount Saint Helens-Crater Rim on 2013-03-09

Climber: Chad Straub

Others in Party:Al-Rashid
Date:Saturday, March 9, 2013
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Point Reached:Mount Saint Helens - Crater Rim
    Elevation:8121 ft / 2475 m
    Remaining Elevation:212 ft / 64 m (5% left to go)

Ascent Trip Report

This weekend had a perfect weather forecast in the Cougar, Wa area so my friend Joel and I quickly cancelled other plans for what might be the last opportunity to make it up Mount Saint Helens before the Forest Service begins limiting visitors and charging for passes above 4800'. We left Renton at 2:30am and arrived at the Lone Fir Resort at 6, only to find every last pass gone from the box. I knew most folks usually stop here first in case the register at the trailhead is empty, meaning that the one at the TH would likely have some left. More concerning was a laminated note dated for the day before which read

Attention climbers:
Be advised that snow plowing
on road 83 stops 3 miles from
Marble Mountain SnoPark

My tires were solid, but i was a little worried about clearance if the snowy road was too deeply rutted. We had little trouble navigating to the lot with minimal scraping, and we were on the trail by 6:40.

Unlike our last attempt, there was only one route broken through the powder which happened to follow the standard winter route up "Worm Flows", so named for the huge lines of lava rock snaking across the trail. I could tell that Al-Rashid was as stoked as I was to be able to see Saint Helens the other mountains around us. Mount Hood was clear as day and we could just make out Bachelor behind it to the West. Despite the still cold temperature, I stayed comfortable in a single layer due to the warm sun and light wind.

Traction devices were helpful, but our snowshoes stayed on our backs for the entire trip. At a clearing less than a mile from the trailhead we were treated with a peek at Mount Adams in the sunrise glow. There was not a cloud in the sky when we emerged from the tree line. The weather was dramatically different than what we had experienced just a few weeks prior. This made the hike far less challenging and in no time we were passing the sign at 4800' and ready for a short break.

About half-way to the top we experienced a rapid rise in wind speed. Spin-drifts rolled down from above spitting powder in our faces and at times forcing us to brace ourselves or be knocked down the mountain. Around 6000' we passed the first few summiteers of the day on their descent. They confirmed our suspicions that the wind intensity would continue to increase as we climbed. Reaching the crater rim, we began the traverse to the summit but quickly turned back after finding a man-sized hole and the massive void within. If there were recent tracks to follow we may have continued on, but without rope and belay gear the potential risks greatly outweighed the prospect of another summit. We will return for this one, hopefully this year.

After a few minutes of taking pictures the wind died down considerably, and we enjoyed the near-solitude while it lasted as we watched at least 1 hundred others on their way up. The lava dome smoked from several holes in the snow that otherwise covered it. The perspective on Mount Adams and Tahoma made them seem near-identical in size. The lowlands to the North were so hazy that all we could see of civilization were 3 plumes of industrial emissions near the Olympia.

We used collapsible snow shovels to glissade down most of the first 3000' or so. Half of the crowds had snowboards or skis and occasionally one or a few would cruise past, inciting a bit of jealousy in the rest of us. We noticed a solo skier breaking trail as they ascended the heavily corniced ridge to our West along the summer route, then Several small groups following behind. We stopped for a long lunch break and some solar bowls on a big exposed lava rock and tried to ignore the constant buzzing of distant snowmobiles. When we returned to the crowded parking lot I could not help but overhear an irate snowmobiler screaming at the folks parked next to us, apparently upset that he could not load his machines into his trailer without first pulling out of the spot. I held my tongue as he proclaimed that only vehicles with trailers were allowed to park in the lot, and motioned to an imaginary sign. We had a good laugh on the way out and reminded ourselves that one massive douche should not warrant judgement on an entire cross-section of society, simply because they share a hobby:)

Picture and Route Map @
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4441 ft / 1353 m
    Round-Trip Distance:11 mi / 17.7 km
    Route:Worm Flows
    Trailhead:Marble Mountain Snow Park  3680 ft / 1121 m
    Grade/Class:Class 3
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Open Country, Snow on Ground, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Cold, Windy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Time:4 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 30 Minutes

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