#8: Attempt to Summit Mt. St. Helens

There’s a certain kind of Thing that, when we commit to it, there’s no going back, and we have to plan our entire year around it. This is one of those Things.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2018 challenge. Make sure to click on the photos!

Our neighbors are involved with the Syrian-American Medical Society, which is an organization that works directly on the Syrian refugee crisis. Every year they organize a climb of Mt. St. Helens, and sell tickets to climb with their group as a fundraiser. There was no way we were turning down that invitation. An adventure? And we’re helping people? Count us in.

So we set our alarms for 4am the morning of the climb, and carpooled up to Marble Mountain Sno-Park, which is the only trailhead open for our Mother’s-day climb. We huddled up for some advice from our guide, who was very experienced on this climb, and agreed that, no matter where you were at 2pm, you’d turn around and head back down. We all signed into the climbers’ register, and set off on a gentle uphill trail. Which got steeper. And rockier. And snowier. And steeper. And steeper.

Mt. St. Helens isn’t a super-difficult technical climb, but we did have to buy some gear. Gaiters were essential, since the snow was at least hip-deep in places, and we were constantly in over our ankles. Trekking poles were lovely as well, they saved us both from falling over many times. Our hydration packs were spiked with electrolytes, which probably saved us some aches and pains. But probably the best investment we made were these slip-on snow spikes. These aren’t crampons, they’re much more flexible, like the traction chains you use for your car, but on your feet.

Becky and I separated at the 4 mile mark. She had been struggling with some knee issues and decided to be kind to her body. She made it well above the tree-line and is super proud of her 8 hard miles. (Note: right after this she started to see a physical therapist and a few months later the issues are almost completely resolved.)

At one point, one of our troop decided he wasn’t going to make it to the top, so he passed the SAMS flag to me to carry to the peak. Thus armed with a mission, I went on ahead with the matriarch of our group, and resolved to make it to the top by the 2pm turn-around. It was grueling. I’d take 50 steps, then stop and breathe. Another 50, then breathe. Drink some water. More steps. Eat a snack. More steps. I finally crested the top and peeked into the crater at 2:01pm.

From there I had just enough time to wolf down a sandwich and unpack the flag for a drone selfie of the team before we all started glissading back down. Let me tell you, sliding down a mountain on your butt is way easier than getting to the top in the first place. It was a fantastic experience.

Once we got to the less-steep parts of the descent, it became grueling again. The pace is faster, but it’s pretty strenuous clomping down all that way, and it just seems interminable when you’re this close to the cars and a feast.

The aftermath wasn’t what we expected. I kind of planned on not climbing stairs for a few days, and maybe spending a few hours in a hot bath. Turns out the only part of me that had any lasting injury was my face – I had some pretty bad sunburn from the bright snow. We were super hungry for a couple of days, but other than that it wasn’t really that bad.

We really enjoyed doing this. We did something really hard, with really great people, and had a really great time. Highly recommended, especially the Mother’s-day climb if the weather is decent (just remember to wear a gown!).

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