I’ve wanted to climb Mount St. Helens for 3.5 years. Damien has wanted to climb it for 7 years! So on the final weekend of free, self issue permits we finally climbed the peak (or what’s left of it). We left our camp in Seaquest State Park at 3:30am and after getting a tittle lost we arrived at Marble Mountain Sno-park near Couger, WA at 5:15am. This it he entrance to the winter route to the Crater Rim (summit) called Worms Flows/Swift Glacier. We had signed the climbers register and picked up permits the day before in the kosiak in the upper lot. Starting in April permits will cost $22. We began hiking on a snowless xc ski trail to the left of the parking lot. If you begin there the trails are a bit of a maze, but there are signs at the junctions and maps. Ultimately one needs to get the Swift Creek Ski Trail #244B (we discovered later that if we had gone right in the parking lot we would have accessed it directly). The wooded ski trail eventually breaks out into open country. Here we crossed over the dry Swift Creek just above the dry Chocolate Falls and climbed up to the first ridge.

The ridge is narrow, becomes rocky and moves and turns like a worm (hence the name). It was very easy to follow and we hit snow at about 5000 feet. There were good amount of folks going up to the summit, but it wasn’t over crowded pm the ridge. The walking was pleasant and there were no difficulties. About 500ft above the radio tower where the first snowfield begins, the soft snow began to get icy so we put on our crampons. We easily, but steeply climbed over the never ending lumps of snow (this was made easy by following copious tracks). There is a traverse around a corner at about 7,500 feet and then a few more steep lumps to climb before reaching the high point of 8864 feet and the crater rim.

We luck out with views as the mist has cleared and we could see straight down into the massive crater. Damien and I spent some time on the summit eating chocolate and admiring perfect views of Jefferson, Hood, Rainier and Adams. We headed down eventually trying to figure out how cold we were as the wind kept blasting us and then dying down. The descent was easy to plunge step. Glissading is possible, but we only did two short ones due to the exposed rock.

The entire journey took 10 hours (6 to the summit and 4 to descend). We did not break out our snowshoes or ice axes though we brought them up. Crampons were very helpful though. An awesome trip we waited to long to complete!

Damien and I set out over the weekend with the goal of finally climbing Mount Saint Helens. I’ve been meaning to climb it for 3.5 years and he 7 years! We arrived a day ahead though to camp and explore Ape Caves which is the longest lava tube in America (2.5 miles). It is a popular destination so be prepared for crowds.

The entrance to Ape Caves is well marked and reached by walking on a short path from the parking lot. There are metal stairs that lead to the middle of the cave. We turned right and walked through the easy lower cave which looks like a mine shaft. There are some cool features like the “meatball” pictured below. A light source if, of course, required for the underground trail. The lower cave dead ends and we turned back the way be came.

Back up the stairs we followed a trail to the Upper cave Entrance and stepped gingerly down a metal ladder. This section of the cave has piles of rubble and talus throughout unlike the mostly level lower cave. The piles of rock are pretty stable though and fun to navigate through. There is one area with a hand line to assist with a call five move. We ended up meeting up with the lower cave (we didn’t know the two were attached… if we’d turned left on our first entrance we would have headed up the upper cave trail). We exited up the stairs and headed back to camp.

Determined to get out this weekend, Damien and I decided to try for a peakbagging long weekend in the Enchantments. The weather predicted was rainy Saturday, some showers and sun Sunday and sunny Monday. We figured we could hike in the first day, tag a few scramble peaks like Little Annapurna on Sunday and hike out Monday.

The rain on Saturday was as predicted. The Snow Lakes Trail is snow free up until the side trail for Snow Creek Wall (about 3500 ft). There there begins to be icy patches. We put on our snowshoes at about 3700 ft as the small patches began to get bigger. The trail eventually turns to pure snow and without floatation there were be severe post-holing. The conditions were pretty good, though the going with slow in the snow. The sun came out for about 30 minutes too, but the clouds came back in and the rain ensued. We reached Nada Lake around 3:30 which is mostly frozen, but with a few places with running water to filter. We rested here before continuing on.There is a log crossing over a deep creek by the lake. I had to remove my snowshoes to cross

We wanted to make it up to 7100 ft by Inspiration Lake. But the trail was getting thin and the day late. We opted to camp at the far end of the Upper Snow Lake and head further up in the morning.

The dryer day foretasted for Sunday did not occur. Rain was falling hard all morning. We waited things out for a few hours hoping conditions would improve, but they did not. Concerned about avalanche danger and the fact that everything was getting rather damp we opted to head out a day early. Its a good thing we did as the rain just got harder and packs weight about ten pounds more with the water weight that it soaked up! But it was an awesome trip into the mountains regardless!

 

With the forecast once again being unseasonably clear and warm for this time of year Damien, Rodica, Ian and I decided to attempt an ascent of Eldorado Peak in the North Cascades National Park. It is a classic climb on the Cascades that I’ve been dying to do since i began glacier climbing. However, I had never gotten to it mostly because of the advanced permit from the ranger station required. However, in the winter months permits are self issue at the door of Marblemount Ranger Station. Thus we picked one up and headed to the surprisingly crowded trailhead.

The trail begins across the street…. the first crux is crossing the giant and seemingly never ending log across the large creek. The well traveled track then meanders very, very steeply through the forest wasting no time gaining elevation. By the time we reached the first talus field two hours and 1800 ft later were were pouring all sweat and not looking forward to heading out into the exposed slopes.

The lower talus field is snow free. It is pretty easy to pick through provided you find the cairn marked passage to the right. Otherwise boulder hoping can be a bit more treacherous. There are a few sketching class 3/4 scramble areas made worse by some mud, but we managed okay. Eventually we reached the snow line. The boulders have created moats of course so be sure to watch where you step. Eventually, there was enough snow cover by the time we reached the second snow field to prevent any broken ankles. We never felt the need for snowshoes. There is access to a small waterfall in the second snowfield which were filtered water from. I wouldn’t carry more than a liter up to the trailhead for this reason.

The clear boot track goes up the  steep Eldorado Creek Ridge Ridge and then down a snow gulley to Roush Basin. One can also use the “traverse” route from a spot a bit lower down the the ridge avoiding the steep gulley, but we didn’t find it until the way back. The gulley if fully of snow and we easily plunge stepped down. Ice axes were out at this point. The basin snow filled and one cannot see where Eldorado Glacier Begins. There were no visible crevasses on the glacier and by staying far right next to the head wall any hidden ones can be avoided. Thus we did not rope up. It is a long trudge from here Inspiration Glacier.

By the time we ascending to a flat area beneath a lofty triangular rock feature the sun was  beginning to set. We decided to camp here in the protected depression instead of continuing on to traditional high camp. The cold came in quickly as we set up camp. I was grateful for Damien’s BD Eldorado Tent… it would keep us warm as the temperature plummeted the rest of the night. It was hard to imagine that just as hour ago I was roasting in the sun and wearing short sleeves!

The views were spectacular as we cooked dinnered and a clear skies reviewed numerous stars. Eldorado Peak was illumiated by the mostly full moon and the mountains surrounded up for 360 degees. Breathing in the frigid air as I prepared to spend the night, I knew that this is where I belong. I belong climbing in the alpine of the Cascades. It is where I feel happiest. Not just to be there on the glacier or rock, but it is were I find the most contentment with myself and the world.  Since Eric died I had forgotten what that felt like… and I was reminded there just below Eldorado.

Damien and I spent three hours talking and listening to Ian snoring before finally drifting off to sleep. We rose at 6am and took our time preparing for the ascent. Our muscles were cold and were were waiting for the sun to warm us a bit. We roped up at about 7am. Damien led us across the flat Inspiration Glacier the the rocky ridge on the right side of Eldorado. A carin marks high camp there at “The Gap”. From here we simply went up. There is a pretty defined boot path through the snow as many folks have been climbing here recently. As typical for a glacier climb, every time it seems like you are about to top out a slope it just gets taller. There were a few crevasses here to navigate. Near the top we crossed to the right side of the ridge and began the famous knife-edge traverse to the summit. We trekked carefully here as the way to narrow and steep. The boot track crosses back to the left side before reaching the small, but flat summit. Views abounded us from every direction… and clear skies granted us view as far as the Olympic range!

Ian led down the peak placing two pickets along the knife edge. The descent was long in the now intense sun and we rested in the shade of our tents when we returned. We then packed up and headed back. There are several good places for glissades, but mostly we plunged stepped through the snow until there was none. By the time we arrived at the log following the knee jarring descent through the forest were were exhausted, but still ecstatic about our successful winter ascent of Eldorado Peak.