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Santiam Alpine Club

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Mount Saint Helens Climb

May 31, 2013

Coordinator: Fritz Capell

Summit Altitude: 8200 feet
Elevation Gain: 5500 feet
Round-trip Distance: 10.6 miles
Excursion Time: 12 hours (car-to-car)
Carpool ratio: 2.0 (people/cars)

Photo Gallery

As we listened to the rain pouring down on our tents at Marble Mountain all mountain all night, it wasn't looking like a very promising climb day. Yeah, it had been raining for days, but the experts said it was supposed to break any minute... luckily, that minute came right around 5:30am, as we were getting ourselves up and assembling our packs.

We left the trailhead at 6:35, as a group of 10 - pretty good crowd for a Friday! We were myself; 2013 climb school students Carrie and Trevor; 2012 studens Rob, Tyler, Noelle, George, and Adrian; 2011 student Lisa, and her guest Joel.

The clouds hung around for most of the morning, but it was perfect weather for climbing: cool but not cold, and a breeze but not a gale. Visibility was pretty limited for much of it, but not so much that it was a threat to navigation on that route.

Tyler and Noelle broke from the group at Chocolate Falls. They had both just come off from being sick, Noelle was still wheezing and coughing, and they decided they would go as far as they could slowly, but didn't want to hold the team back.

On the lower part of the mountain, we could choose our terrain. The ridges were generally dry, but there was still a lot of snow around. We alternated some, being that whichever surface you're not walking on always seems to look easier, but mostly took the snow, staying out of the larger gullies due to any avalanche potential.

At about 5000ft, Adrian realized that his GPS had made a break for freedom somewhere behind on the trail, and leaving his pack, went back to find it. Rob stayed with his pack, and the rest of us continued up slowly, so that they could catch up. Fortunately, Adrian found his GPS only 200ft or so below, sitting calmly beside his tracks in the snow, diligently observing itself going nowhere. They were able to catch up before too long, and we all united again at 'Tombstone Rest Area', the easily-identifiable antenna at about 5600 feet.

At that point we split. Lisa and Joel decided they would be turning back soon (I think Joel was having some trouble), so they broke from the group. Most of us didn't care about the 'real summit' (being only a few feet above our destination on the crater rim, and a lot more trouble to attain at this time of year), but George was determined to get there, and Trevor accompanied him, so they split out to the west. Myself, Carrie, Rob, and Adrian continued up the normal route.

(Also at that point, I made a stash, and since I had brought quite a bit of extra water for the team, consolidated myself down to one liter for the summit, which I then proceeded to also stash, leaving me with none to carry! I was able to bum a few sips off my teammates, and melt whatever I could for the rest of the climb.)

Conditions had still been foggy up until that point, with a few breaks, but descending climbers were telling us it was beautiful up above, so we were hoping the conditions would hold, and we'd get some views. Things started to clear out about 6000 feet, we climbed above the clouds, and indeed we had blue skies and infinite visibility. Unfortunately the sun exposure brought with it some pretty ugly walking conditions; for 1000 feet or so, we were fighting to keep our footing and post-holing every couple of steps. Fortunately there was solid snow a couple of feet down, so it wasn't unworkable, just difficult. Snowshoes would have been nice - but we could fight our way through it. Just above 7000 ft, the snow got solid again, much to our relief.

Unfortunately the post-holing was hard on Adrian, who had already climbed a few hundred feet extra due to his GPS incident, and was having some trouble with leg cramps. We tried all the remedies we could think of, but it was still varying between annoying and excruciating, and making it really difficult for him. Finally at about 7200 feet he decided he couldn't continue.

Thus three of us - Rob, Carrie, and myself - reached the crater rim at about 2:30pm. We could see little ants George and Trevor on the true summit out the west; they arrived there just a couple of minutes earlier, at about 2:15pm. We sat and lunched far away from the deadly cornices, and about 15 minutes later who should come over the horizon, but Adrian! I guess he just couldn't give it up, and every time he tried, after a few minutes, he would just start walking again. Good strategy, as it turns out!

We had a good half hour to enjoy the summit under excellent conditions, and reconfigured for the glissading descent.

The glissading was perfect. The snow was a little sloppy, but that was good, because it kept us from going too terribly fast, and from hitting any hard ice. The rocks were just starting to peek up through the snow on some parts of the route, but not so much that they got in the way - for the most part, the chutes swooped right around them. It was one of the best glissading descents I've had on that route, and we were able to make about 80% of the descent on our butts. Beautiful!

One last hour of hiking out, and we were enjoying a cold beer in the parking lot (thanks Carrie!) at about 6:30pm.

Congratulations everyone! I believe it was the first time to the top of that mountain for Adrian, Trevor, and Rob. The 2013 students Carrie and Trevor did great, and will be valuable additions to any club climb. Everybody said they didn't realize how tough that climb would be, given its easy repuation from the summer route, but it is a respectable climb on the winter route. Even those that had to turn back did really well, and I hope everyone had a good time!

- Fritz


Post-Event Forum
[View Pre-Event Forum]

Fritz (leader) says:
Photos posted, see "Photo Gallery" link above. If you'd be willing to share yours, it's super easy, see here.


Fritz (leader) says:
3D photos are here!


Fritz (leader) says:
I just realized Adrian does not appear in the trailhead photo! How did that happen?

Adrian answers:
Nature call I think.

Fritz (leader) answers:
There, I just photoshopped you in. You can hardly even tell... :)

Carrie answers:
LOL

Adrian answers:
Nice. Thanks Fritz. Lol.


Fritz (leader) says:
Trip report posted!


Noelle says:
Congrats to you all!!!!Tyler and I continued on for another 40 minutes or so and then hesitantly turned back:( We made it back to the parking lot about 11:45 or so.We look forward to joining the next group climb.Healthy!!!!!I made my way to Urgent Care yesterday and now on anntibiotics,so I guess I'm glad we turned back but we were bumbed.Again congrats!!!!Looks like everyone had a blast and way to go Adrian!!!!So nice to meet new members too :)

Fritz (leader) answers:
Thanks for the report Noelle... yeah, sounds like turning back was the right call. Don't worry, the mountain will still be there!


Fritz (leader) says:
New pics from Carrie! See the Gallery.


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