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Mount Saint Helens Rim
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mini location map2012-07-18
18 by photographer avatarsbkelley
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Mount Saint Helens RimVolcano, WA
Volcano, WA
Hiking9.40 Miles 4,500 AEG
Hiking9.40 Miles   7 Hrs   30 Mns   1.25 mph
4,500 ft AEG
 no routes
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
Talk about an exercise in luck! En route to Mount Adams after a successful climb of Mt Baker, we stopped in Cougar, WA for the night. Knowing permits were hard to come by for a summit pass to St Helens, our motley group of five decided to walk in and try our luck. Worst-case scenario, we'd hike up to the legal 4800' level and get some good pictures. There were five of us and five permits left that day: how about that?

Only trouble was, we didn't finalize the permits until 10:00 a.m. that day and the permits were only available for the current day - time to get moving! Looking at the elevation gain and mileage, we all knew we'd be in for a full day: we all threw headlamps in the bag. This route was a nice change from the gear-heavy Baker and the snow-slog of Adams. In fact, I'd find out my Arizona desert hiking would provide a key advantage that my compatriots lacked!

As usual, the morning held full mist and terrible visibility in Cougar area, which persisted all the way to the trailhead. Somehow, people find this consistent weather endearing...

The first couple miles until the 4800' level are pleasant and easy. The trail rolls through an evergreen forest. We spotted red columbines near treeline and ferns were plentiful. After breaching 4800', the whole hike changes. The trail becomes rocky, and navigating becomes a matter of "pole to pole" - hiking from each 6' wooden post to the next. As we climbed above 5000', the clouds broke and we were in full sun. We looked across the ocean of cloud tops and then up into cobalt skies towards the distant St Helens crater rim. Long way to go to the top.

Shawn and JD set a steady pace ahead, while Alex got acquainted with rocky terrain in volcanic territory, a new sensation for her. For those of you that have hiked the Humphreys summit ridge, you'll be comfortable on this stuff. The black basalt absorbed the sun's heat and turned the hike into an oven, making progress difficult. The basalt portion of the trail becomes a bit of a maze, picking its way through blocks and rockbands, until reaching the upper pumice reaches of the mountain. From here, the routefinding is easier but the loose rock makes for obnoxious progress.

Sweat poured off of us as we admired views of Adams and Hood to the east and south. Dave, Alex, and I stuck together as we plodded up the hill, admiring nearby crevasses on neighboring glaciers. Shawn and JD waited as we neared the crater rim, and we all finished together as hordes of hikers headed down past us. Due to our late start, we enjoyed utter solitude and sunlight on the St Helens crater rim.

The view into the crater of St Helens is other-wordly. The north side of the volcano is still a zone of devastation, devoid of large-scale plant cover, but an amazing view. Loose rocks continually fell into the crater, and we admired the steam rising from the new lava dome building inside. We spent a good hour on top, drinking our summit beers and basking in the sun, looking at Rainier to the north. It was a sublime view. Daylight wasn't going to last forever, so we headed down.

Progress was steady on the descent, and we re-entered the clouds around 5000' again, emerging into the misty and rainy forest, wholly detached from the hot route above. When we finally returned to the trailhead, a boy scout troop was setting up camp in the mist and rain, but we headed down to Cougar for some food and beers, barely making it to the bar by the kitchen's closing time at 9 pm.
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