Conquering Mount St. Helens: A Journey to the Summit

Jun 30, 2024

Few adventures in the Pacific Northwest offer the same blend of challenge, history, and breathtaking beauty as the trek to the summit of Mount St. Helens. This iconic volcano, notorious for its catastrophic 1980 eruption, now serves as a haven for hikers and adventurers seeking a unique and rewarding experience.

Preparation is key when tackling Mount St. Helens. The climb is no walk in the park; it requires a solid fitness level, proper gear, and a permit. The most popular route, the Monitor Ridge trail, is a 10-mile round trip with an elevation gain of approximately 4,500 feet. For starters, hikers should ensure they have sturdy boots, trekking poles, layered clothing, leather gloves, and plenty of water and snacks. The weather can be unpredictable, so being prepared for sudden changes is essential.  Do your research before making the climb.

The adventure begins at the Climbers Bivouac trailhead. The first part of the hike winds through a lush forest, with towering trees providing shade and a tranquil start to the journey. This section is relatively gentle, allowing hikers to warm up their muscles and enjoy the serene surroundings.

After a couple of miles, the forest gives way to a rugged boulder field. This is where the real challenge begins. The trail becomes steeper and more demanding as hikers navigate over and around large rocks. This section requires careful footing and the use of hands to scramble up the more challenging parts (and where those leather gloves are important). The effort is rewarded with increasingly stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

Beyond the boulder field lies the final stretch to the summit: a long, steep climb up a slope of loose ash and scree. This part of the hike is physically demanding, with each step requiring significant effort as the loose material shifts underfoot and the air is much thinner. The key is to take it slow, maintain a steady pace, and keep the summit in sight.

The sense of accomplishment upon reaching the crater rim is unparalleled. At the top, hikers are greeted with panoramic views of the crater, Spirit Lake, and, on clear days, a glimpse of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and Mount Hood. The stark landscape within the crater, with its steaming vents and the growing lava dome, serves as a reminder of the mountain’s explosive history.

The trek to the summit of Mount St. Helens is a physical challenge, but also, it’s a journey to experience up close, nature’s raw power. Standing on the edge of the crater, looking out over the landscape transformed by the eruption, one can’t help but feel a sense of awe for the natural forces that shape our world. Mount St. Helens offers a trek that is as rewarding as it is challenging. Prepare well, do your research, pace yourself, and embrace the journey to the top of one of the Pacific Northwest’s most remarkable peaks.