Lake George

Lake George
Lake George - from Tongue Mtn Range - 11/11/2011

Friday, October 26, 2012

Mount St. Helens - 10/20/12

Mount St. Helens had been on Leesa's list for quite a while.  She's the one that planned this trip and got our climber permits.  All hikers who go above treeline at 4800' need a climbers permit.   Back in August she got us permits for Saturday October 20th.

Park map at the kiosk

As our day arrived, the forecast didn't look too good.  Rain was predicted for the valleys and snow above 3000' with winds of 20-40 mph gusting to 50 mph.  The temperature on the mountain was
in the mid 20's with a wind chill near zero.

Climbing information at the kiosk

Leesa at Climbers Bivouac

They limit the permits to 100 per day. We didn't think we'd see that many people with the weather the way it was. I later counted 46 people on the register, but some probably signed out after us.

Mike at Climbers Bivouac

An easy 2 mile start on the Ptarmigan Trail

We had stayed the night before at Monfort's B&B in the town of Cougar, SW of the mountain. Cougar was the closest small town to remain inhabited when Mount St. Helens blew in 1980. 
From Cougar, we had quick access to the road taking us to Climbers Bivouac, the trailhead for our hike (click the map map above to enlarge). The first 2 miles are on the Ptarmigan Trail which takes you from 3800' to timberline at 4800'. From there you need the climbers permit to continue on the open rock Monitor Ridge to the summit at 8300'.

Entering the National Forest



Just reaching timberline

As we started up the open rock 3 or 4 groups were coming down. All of them had turned around, saying it was just too windy and fierce up high. We found that to be the case as well. The wind was really battering Leesa around. I had facemasks in my pack and gave her one to protect her face. 


Snow was falling as we reached Monitor Ridge
We progressed quickly on the Ptarmigan Trail and were at timberline in less than an hour. We passed 2 groups before we reached Monitor Ridge. Once on the ridge, we passed many groups. No one had MicroSpikes or any form of traction. I was quite surprised. Traction wasn't necessary, but certainly quite helpful.
We continued to climb. We had parkas and mittens, but Leesa's hands were getting cold and she was having a tough time with the wind. At about 6400' we decided we weren't going to reach the top under these conditions and decided to turn around. 

Leesa is saying "What did I get myself into"? (Remember this was her idea)!

Of course as we started down, the sun began to break through occasionally causing Leesa to question our decision to turn around. The sun didn't remain out for long, but it provided a chance for some different pictures.

This was just after we turned around

It started to clear a little as we were heading down. 

We certainly had a great time anyways, and it just means we will have to go back to see it again some other time.

This was the turn around point


Why blue sky now?  (It didn't last long)

None of the people we saw during the day made it too the top. Only 2 guys that we saw had gone farther than we did. They had made it to about 7000'.

We went down at a leisurely pace, enjoying the sun and the reduced wind as we descended. We stopped to take a lot of pictures. We ended up with many pictures of the same scenes, but under different sky conditions. The clouds were blowing so fast, the scenes looked different every minute.

Since we got back to the car earlier than expected, we went to nearby Apes Cave to check out the Ape Cave Lava Tube.  This cave is over 2 miles long!  It was quite fascinating and made for a good thing to do with our afternoon.
In the end, Mount St. Helens won the battle on this day, but we plan to go back to conquer the mountain in the future.

Our route as shown on Google Earth

Hike Stats:
Hike Distance:  5.8 miles
Hike Time:  4 hours 45 minutes
Total Vertical Gain:  3100'
Trailhead Elevation:  3800'
Turn Around Elevation:  6400'
Elevation at Summit Rim:  8300'

Additional pictures (plus those included here) can be found on my Picasa Web Album.


  1. I'm sorry the bad weather thwarted your summit attempt! I climbed MSH back in 1985. I've been wanting to go back up ever since. My friend skied up it last April - another thing on my bucket list. MSH is one of my favorite places to hike. I was just there yesterday - hiked around Coldwater Lake. Check out a blog post I did last spring with photos from my 1985 climb:

    Enjoying your trip reports and hope you had a good time in the PNW!

  2. Thanks for sharing. It's nice to see what it would have looked like. I also didn't know what the monitors were for. Were you there in 1985 or 1995? Your comment here says 1985, but your post says 1995. In any case, it looks like you had a good trip.

    Skiing MSH would be interesting. :)

  3. Oh sorry - I was there in 1995 - must've been a typo on my part!! :) Yep, I'm hoping to ski up MSH this winter!

    1. Good luck. I hope it works out. I would think you'd want skins on the way up. Or pack the skis up and ski down.

  4. My son and I hiked up MSH 3 days ago, along with 98 others. It is a beautiful hike in the summer, but really challenging. I had not hiked up MSH in 20 years, and I weighed about 25lbs less then. My son is 15 years old, and had never done a hike nearly as difficult before. It as a real adventure. Now I am motivated to get in shape and try it again next summer!