Mount St. Helens via the Worm Flows Route

Date

May - July 2022

Location

Washington

I was really eager to climb Mount St. Helens after arriving in the Pacific Northwest and its famous eruption on May 18, 1980 has certainly made it a very popular hike. It’s no walk in the park but does not require technical skills to summit (not to say it doesn’t require some common sense and a comfort with winter hiking). In total the climb is about 10 miles and 5,700 vertical feet. Its summit rises 8,307 feet above sea level, a reduction from 9,677 feet pre eruption.

Date

May - July 2022

Location

Washington

I was really eager to climb Mount St. Helens after arriving in the Pacific Northwest and its famous eruption on May 18, 1980 has certainly made it a very popular hike. It’s no walk in the park but does not require technical skills to summit (not to say it doesn’t require some common sense and a comfort with winter hiking). In total the climb is about 10 miles and 5,700 vertical feet. Its summit rises 8,307 feet above sea level, a reduction from 9,677 feet pre eruption.

ABOVE: A look down into the crater of Mount St. Helens. That's Mount Rainier poking above the clouds

I was lucky enough to snag a last minute climbing permit for May 27, 2022. This would be my first attempt at Mount St. Helens. I left Thursday evening and arrived at Marble Mountain Sno Park, the base of the Worm Flows Trail where I met up with a group of guys I had connected with via AllTrails. The lot was pretty empty except for our cars and we (tried to) get some rest from 8pm-midnight for a 1am start.

In the downpour we made our way up the trail at a pretty quick pace. It wasn’t until a couple miles in we ascended above the treeline and really started to feel the rain, wind, and comprehend how poor the visibility was. We navigated pretty well in the dark and managed to start our way up the ridgeline until it just didn’t seem safe to continue. We turned back about 3.5 miles in after ascending roughly 1,800 feet. We still had nearly 3,800 feet to go up the ridgeline to the edge of the crater. We only saw one other group as we made our way back to the cars. I took a quick nap and headed back to Seattle around 6am.

It wasn’t until a few days later that I found out there was a fatality on the mountain over that past week in the horrible weather. It was pretty devastating news to hear.

ABOVE: Sunrise looking southeast towards Mount Hood from the ridge-line, the black and white image is Mount Adams looking east, Mount Hood peeking through the clouds.

I was sure to log onto the permit website first thing on June 1st to grab permits for the following month. As the July 4th climb date approached the forecast fluctuated quite a bit.

The day before the hike we enjoyed some backcountry camping in the Mount Margaret Wilderness just on the other side of Mt St Helens. We couldn’t see the mountain the entire time due to the cloud cover but maintained some optimism for a clear early morning the following day for our climb. After a relaxing dinner we headed to Marble Mountain Sno Park to car-camp before the hike in the early morning. (You can get you Mount St. Helens permit here)

After a pretty poor night of sleep (I will definitely choose a quieter spot away from the trailhead next time) we woke up at 2am and hit the trail by 2:30am. We heard several groups depart before us. We made quick work out of the first few miles until we passed the previous stopping point and began up the rocky ridge line. It was a crystal clear night and Mt St Helens started to emerge as we climbed above the tree-line. We were in for an amazing sunrise and had a beautiful view of Mt Hood and Mt Adams. 

The loose, volcanic rock was made for some tricky footing as we continued our way up. About a mile and a half short of the summit we finally reached the snow and could make use of the crampons and ice axes we had carried all that way. 

I was prepared for the false summit but it is still quite deceiving as you make your way to the top. Thankfully we had started so early at night that the snow was hard packed for the entire climb up and we didn’t struggle with any post-holing. After a slow grind up the steepest section on the mountain we could finally see the crater rim above us. As we approached we could just make out the top of Mt Rainier over the edge of the cornice. Just last weekend I was on top of Mt Rainier admiring the crater of Mt St Helens from the other side. Mt Adams stood to our east and Mt Hood to the south. It felt amazing to be back above the clouds admiring these peaks from a new perspective.

ABOVE: The crater of Mount St. Helens and the cornice edge

True to the reports, the cornice was nothing to mess around with and we steered far away from the edge.

True to the reports, the cornice was nothing to mess around with and we steered far away from the edge. It wasn’t until we made our way around the crater edge that I could really make out the size (and beauty) of the cornice. We took in the view and hiked down just a little further along the rim to get a better look at the lava flows. We could see the sulphuric gas leaking from the bottom of the crater. It wasn’t until we had this view at the top that I really comprehended how much of the mountain was blown off during the eruption. Half the mountain appears to be missing. This distinct, large crater is due to the fact that Mt St. Helens erupted out of the side, not straight out of the top.

We made our way down after some time at the top. The snow had softened and there were plenty of places to glissade down. The clouds had started to move in and cover the summit as we descended and I was happy to have already reached the top (and taken in the view). We made quick work out of the snow but the loose, volcanic rock on the ridge-line really slowed our progress for a few miles. Eventually we made it back through the forest to the trailhead. Everything on the way down looked so different in the daylight. In total it was about 10 miles and 5,700 vertical feet.