Have you ever considered hiking to the summit of Mt. St. Helen’s? If you are like me, having never lived in the Pacific Northwest, and never thought much about volcano hiking - Mt. St. Helen’s was just some crazy volcano that exploded sometime before I was born in the early 80’s. I knew the name but didn’t know much about the history or the fact that you could hike to the summit of this beautiful beast!
Every year around February, 100 permits to climb up the infamous volcano become available for each day between April 1 and October 31 on the Mount St. Helen’s Institute website. The permits are highly sought after, and are snatched up very quickly. The site crashes for a few hours causing everyone to panic about getting a permit on the day they are hoping to go. Who knew?!
I signed up for this hike on a whim, mostly because a good friend, and co-worker of mine had this crazy idea to get a group of us together to hike up to the summit. She had done the hike before, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’m a decently avid hiker (especially after living in Colorado) and have had some incredible experiences trekking around some notable spots in the world. So I figured, why not? The 12 mile round-trip hike and accompanying 5,699 feet elevation gain is future Christie’s problem.
As the date of our hike inched closer (May 24, 2018), I started to get more serious. The more I read, the more I realized this thing is intense! No one has died hiking to the summit of the volcano since the trail reopened in 1987 - but still. Through my research, I saw that there could be plenty of snow still on the volcano, no shade, and some people have actually gotten lost before. I refused to be a volcano hiking nincompoop and prepared as much as possible ahead of time (although, some things you can never fully know until you do it!)
Therefore, for anyone that is interested, I wanted to share my small amount of knowledge and packing list on successfully and tranquilo-ly completing this summit. Because yes, although it took me 12 hours and it was HARD (I mean, HARD), it was 100% worth the views and the feeling of accomplishment. So, let’s dive in!
First, it is important to know which route you will be hiking up the volcano. There is a summer route and a winter route. The route you take will completely depend on the amount of snow left on the mountain. We still had a ton of snow on May 24th so we ended up taking the winter route called the Worm Flows Route. If you are going at a different time, or a different route, or have different weather than I did - you will need to adjust your packing list to fit hotter days and less snow. If you scroll to the bottom of the linked page to the Worm Flows Route, you will see trip reports which are VERY helpful and I would recommend reading many of these leading up to your hike to see what the conditions are.
Second, do yourself a favor and begin the hike very early. We ended up starting at 5:08 am (yes, on the dot) which ended up being great because the sun was just coming out - so we didn’t need flashlights or headlamps. However, we met people who started even earlier (2:30 am!) and were back in town having beers nice and early in the afternoon. To start early, I’d recommend staying or camping near the trailhead. This helps avoid adding on a long drive, on top of a long day of hiking. We stayed at the Lone Fir Resort and couldn’t recommend it more! The cabin was the perfect size for all 7 of us, it has a great little restaurant (with cold beer!), and was only about 20 minutes to the trailhead. Super convenient!
Third, get yourself a GPS or an app on your phone that tracks the hike. We used “Hiking Project” and it worked beautifully. It’s nice to see how far you’ve gone, how much you have to go, and to make sure you are still on the right trail. And now what you’ve all been waiting for… the packing list!!
And that’s about it! It’s a difficult, intense hike but was really worth all of the effort. With a bit of physical training before hand, plus these packing tips, you can do it too! Even though it was super challenging, I'm so glad I pushed myself to do it. Getting out of your comfort zone is where all the magic happens. Feel free to comment if you have any other questions, I'd love to help! You won’t see me on Mt. St. Helen’s next year (or probably ever again) but I’d love to see you up there!
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