Do you ever have that feeling where you have a moment of clarity and think “this is exactly where I should be right now?” That was me on this trip. At like 5pm on Friday after a brutal week of work/SMR/Peaks of Life/closing on a house, I heard from Eva that she had extra St. Helens permits. So I messaged Reid saying actually I was going to do St Helens, and Reid responded that he had bailed on Eva doing St Helens because of car troubles. Wait a sec, she’s the one who just got me a permit!! If you can get yourself to Seattle, I can drive the rest of the way. So around 9:30pm, Reid and I took off from Seattle, arriving at the Marblemount Sno Park around 1am. Skiied 5/12/2018. Oh, and I’m a day late getting this posted, because it would have been cool to post on the 38th anniversary of the eruption, which was May 18th, 1980. St. Helens used to be the 5th tallest peak in the state standing at 9,677ft (I think it even had a lookout on top) and has been humbled to a mere 8,333ft (debatable, I also head 8,365ft) and #92 on the list.
- Distance: ~12mi (GPS said 11.5, WTA says 12)
- Elevation: 5700ft gain, 8300ft highest point
- Weather: 50’s, sunny, and wicked windy
- Commute from Seattle: 3 hours if you leave at 9:30pm Friday (no traffic!)
- Did I Trip: No but I went for a small slough ride
We knew the rest of the group was starting up at 4:30, but we wanted to sleep and figured we could catch up. And also I had forgotten a headlamp.It was easily the loudest trailhead I have ever been at (worse than Snow Lakes off Icicle Creek) and I swear 90% of the people started up between 4 and 5am so I was wide awake by 5. We got ourselves rolling around 6:30. That’s like later than I get up on weekdays.
We hit snow maybe 1.5 miles down the trail at most, and could skin almost the entire way from there besides two melted out steps in the sparse trees at the very foot of the mountain. The route starts in forest, and the trees get smaller and sparser until you’re surrounded by tiny trees that I assume are regrowing after the eruption. The route itself is called the Worm Flows route, and it’s because when you look down from above the various gulleys the lahars flowed through look like a bunch of huge wriggling worms winding their way down to the forest. St. Helens exploded towards the north, blowing a large portion of the northern slopes and causing glaciers on all side of the peak to melt, destroying 70% of the glacial mass on the mountain.
We followed a gully up to the snowy slopes instead of the ridge the people in boots took, which was great until we ended up on a relatively narrow slope where we had to make kick turns every 50ft across the bootpath. In slush. Where half of the steps just slide out from underneath you. It was like I had forgotten how to skin. And The booters were catching up to us. God dammit. I hate when that happens. And the glissade chutes are miserable to cross because some are like three feet deep due to the procession of asses sliding down them day after day. But we finally found an opening to traverse to the wide open slopes to the right of the climbers route, which is where skiiers want to be, and from there on up it was easy cruising with a splendid view of Adams to the east.
I started to wonder when we’d catch up to everyone. IF we’d catch up to them. If they had started at 4:30, then they got a two hour head start and Reid and I weren’t exactly moving fast. Luxurious breaks, a battle with a tail clip, excessive kick turns in slush (thanks Reid for breaking trail) even finding sweet gear other people had dropped. a decent knife, a roll of toilet paper and some socks in a stuff sack, a ski strap, some sunscreen. If you’re low on gear, just go up Helens and you can restock. And chasing after Reid was reminding me of old trips with JT where they’re blazing trail and I’m just scooting along behind them wondering how I got out of shape and when will I be a great skiier.
Anyway, right as I was fretting about finding everyone, I saw a dude in a polka dot dress sitting on some rocks up ahead. I’m pretty sure Tony has that dress. Is that Tony? Those aren’t his skis or his boots. It must not be Tony. At this point I had been staring for a solid 90 seconds and luckily, he recognized me! IT WAS TONY! I ran up to him. Yay!!! Best part of the day!!! And there was Eva (she has a great name doesn’t she?) and Stephen and omg we found them! We chatted for while about start times and why Reid and I were underdressed (usually people wear tutus/dresses for Mother’s Day) and Eva whipped out some spare swag she had brought up for inadequately dressed plebs like us.
We started moving with Tony this time, who I hadn’t skiied with in over a year, maybe two years (is that possible? I hope not. Tonyyyyyy).We caught up on everything we had missed over the past year. His son crushing it skiing, both of us getting new jobs, new ski setups, the adventures we had gotten to over the past few months. I was so happy. Chasing Reid up mellow slopes, snapping pictures of Tony coming up with Adams in the background, knowing we were heading to the “summit” to see a sweet crater and meet up with a bunch of other friends.
We skinned over to the false summit where everyone was sitting and I got to say hi to like 20 people that I knew, including a few people that I have known for years (my plethora of “internet friends”) but finally got to meet in person! We ate all of the snacks, Eva had brought her ukelele and we had some summit singalongs, there was a 64oz flask (it was huge!) of margarita being passed around (wait maybe that was the best part of the day), it was amazing. Easily the most low key, social summit I have ever had. Reid had told me it’d be a party up there and people would be hanging around for a while but wow. It was packed. But the cool part about skiing it is you pretty much take a separate route – you can watch the DC-like cattle trail of climbers, but you’re far enough away that it feels like you only ran into a few people, besides the actual summit. And then you look left at the masses and remember there are 500 permits a day and you’re forgetting about the other 491 people on the mountain.
We pulled skins and convinced Tony to start down with us and meet Tracy at the first rock band when she decided to leave the summit. He agreed and it was party time!! 5,500ft of mellow, awesome terrain, a little grabby but can I really complain? It was fantastic. I had to stop to make a boot adjustment at one point when my calves cramped like mad (I had to sit and undo everything and wail for a few minutes) but I think it was just a new boot issue because as soon as I had loosened the feet and tightened the ankles they felt much better. Wrapping around a small ridge looked easy but proved to be like those American Ninja Warrior stunts where you need to jump and then wrap your body around the hanging cylinder and needless to say I could not bear hug the snow and I took a ride with some slough. But the slope was small and the runout was fine so it was more of a ” 😐 ” mildly inconvenient situation than a “EVERYBODY PANIC” situation. It wasn’t until I managed to get a ski loose (easier said than done when your feet are under sliding concrete snow and still locked into 5′ long boards) and flip it horizontally that I came to a stop. In hindsight if I had stood up I probably could have skiied right out of it but I don’t have skiier instinct yet and I assume that’s easier said than done too. The fact my skis didn’t pop off says how mellow it was though. Like a slow awkward glissade with my new snowball friends.
I popped up and skiied over the lower part of the ridge (way easier) and we continued on our way down. We found a sweet short slope no one had skiied yet that might have trumped the earlier moments and been the real best part of my day. I almost have a harder time skiing the super mellow stuff, especially with these new boots that seem to still have so much ankle movement even in downhill mode. But this short slope was the perfect steepness to actually turn and I wish it had lasted forever. Whatever my sweet spot is right now, that’s what that slope was.
We found Quinn waiting by the cars, and decided to hang out until everyone else got down. I think we waited 3-4 hours, but that meant lots of time for snacks and water and naps and I didn’t want to drive back at 2pm because that would be a waste of an afternoon! Everyone else finally arrived and we hung out for a little bit longer before going our separate ways. If I had known this is how chill Helens would be I’d have brought chairs and a grill and burgers or something. Some of the cars were basically tailgating and it would have been so much fun after a sweet summit and a sweet ski.