Moderate avalanche danger. Clear Saturdays skies. Moderate temperatures. Could it be that the forecast gods would actually supply a perfect summitting conditions. We held our breathe all week and when Friday arrived and things still looked near perfect we opted to go to Mt St. Helens. Damien and I had climbed this last year as a walk up since the snow was at 6500ft, but had always wanted to do it as an AT ski. This year the snow was right at the trailhead, plus it was our 1 Year Anniversary. Helens was the first peak we summited together as couple so it seemed fitting.

We arrived at the trailhead at about 7:00am. We were certainly not the only folks planning on taking advantage of the weather window. Throngs to snowshoers, skiers and booters were getting ready in the Marble Mountain Sno-Park to join the conga line up the mountain. We ran into Jeff at the trailhead among the many outdoor adventurers… all the mountain in Washington and its amazing how often we run into people we know. We also ran into Michelle further up the mountain.

The route begins on the Swift Ski Trail which is more packed down then any of the other adjoining trails. There are also signs for Worm Flows Climbing route to prevent confusion. The trail ascends through the trees until in breaks into the open at treeline and revealing the first views of Mt St Helens which was 100% mist/cloud free. Chcoclate Falls was frozen and easy to cross unlike last year when it was running. Once on the other side folks can spread out on the ridge leading to Worm Flow.

We stopped at 4200 ft and dropped down into a wide trench to set up camp. We had originally planned to camp on the summit since I couldn’t find information saying that camping was restricted there…until just before leaving the house that morning. Camping is prohibited above 4800ft. It all worked out well though as it were. We were able to climb faster and skiing down was much more fun without excess weight.

After setting up the tent and dropping some overnight gear we continued our journey up. There is an obvious rock ridge leading up the flow. We had taken this talusy route last year when it was snow free. Snowshowers were following it now, but most skiers don’t bother weaving around on the bouldery ridge. We followed the skin track up the steep slopes just left of the ridge along switchbacks. Here we noticed a group where one split boarder was boot-packing up the slope and post-holing right in the track ahead of us. Damien advised them that this was bad wilderness ethics, but the senior skier insisted this was necessary since the spitboarder was a beginner and needed confidence. Ugh. Why is a beginner on Helens? Some other folks joined in showing their displeasure though which ended the post-holing in the track. I don’t like folks with bad manners in the backcountry.

We continued up at a descent pace, but eventually the sun took it toll and we stopped for a break at 6700ft. A cloud of mist had settled over the summit, but I had hope that it would dissipate by the time we arrived and it did!We reached a cloud free summit at about 2:40pm. The winds were high and we wasted no time putting on our big yellow puffys! The crater was 100% clear unlike last year were there was lingering fog. The views all around were perfect as was the climb and since we had started later most people were on their way down and not on the crater rim. I could not have picked a better summit to spend our anniversary weekend. I cannot describe how happy we both were.

We we were even more thrilled with the descent! There are two routes down the mountain (that I saw). One is to stay skiers left of the worm flow and follow open slopes down. The other is to more or less follow the climbing route down, but stay slightly right to avoid foot traffic and makes turns on more open slopes. We stayed right to ensure that we got back to our tent. The first 1000ft down was pretty steep, but after that the slopes mellowed out and we made excellent turns on spring corn snow! Conditions could not have been any better and they were consistent! Not an icy of slushy patch to be found! We were able to ski all the way back to the tent door!

It rained on and off a all evening, but nothing major. An almost full moon lit up the night and before down we looked up at the mountain to see headlamp of some folks hoping to beat the bad weather. It was picture perfect and it was March 20… our official anniversary. Morning revealed thick grey clouds coming in from the south as we packed up camp. We hoped most folks would avoid climbing Helens due to the the bad weather pushing in. Skiing down the treed lower trail with a bunch of folks marching up would have been tedious. As luck would have it we had an awesome run through the lower slopes of treeline on snow as excellent as the day before. We ran into a lone climber that SAR would have labeled a “future subject”. He had on blue jeans and a cotton, short sleeved shirt. From his tiny non-technical backpack dangled mountaineering boots fitted with crampons (the spikes were not protected in any way and the boots were swinging freely). He wore low, mesh hiking boots on his feet. Damien gave him a warning about climbing in such attire especially with the incoming rain. The man said that he climbed mountains dressed like that all the time… plus he had a blow up sled in his pack to descend. The pack was so tiny with a sled I expect that layers food, water and other safety gear did not also fit. Just wow.

The rolling trail in the trees was much more fun that we expected. It was like being on a groomed fun with lots of fun twists and turns. We only stopped for one team heading up the mountain and skier right up the the door of my car! I noted though that some portions of the trail had some very thin snow cover which was very different than just 24 hours prior. I expect that these areas are now dirt patches.

The whole mountain was amazing. The very best AT ski we have both done! We finished off the weekend by going to Ape Caves. You have to walk the road .75 miles to the TH since the road is closed in the winter so we had the cave mostly to ourselves… its a great place to hike in the rain (though there are some leaks). Once again it was the most fun we’ve ever had on talus and a great end to a perfect weekend.

I love you Damien. Happy 1 Year Anniversary! VIEW VIDEO

 

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