Detomo's Abroad

Detomos Abroad

Archive for July, 2015

Ascending Mt. St. Helens

July 12, 2015 6:03 pm

June 25, 2015

Ascending Mt. St. Helens

As a matter of fact, we had not planned to climb Mt. St. Helens in late June of 2015. However, because of a fortunate confluence of circumstances, our good friends, Peter & Nikki, had already committed for an addition spot that suddenly came available, and they were kind enough to invite me (Rocky) along. The trip was planned by another good friend, Cliff, a seasoned geologist and volcanic hobbyist, who had already climbed Mt. St. Helens five previous times over the past 20 years, all since the catastrophic eruption of the mountain that took numerous lives in 1980. Since Julie was committed to family obligation, Rocky took them up on the offer with only a couple weeks of notice, having most of what would be needed already stored in the closet.
The trip would begin with air flights from Orlando to Portland, where the “Team of Ten” would assemble over Thursday and Friday. After collecting rental cars, the earliest arrivals on Thursday would briefly sightsee in Oregon along the Columbia River before heading to our assembly point at a quaint motel in Woodland, Washington.

View east from a major overlook of the Columbia River in Oregon

View east from a major overlook of the Columbia River in Oregon

Friday, as we continued to assemble, we traveled north to the side of Mt. St. Helens which collapsed in 1980. Although authorities were wary of the grumbling volcano that year, and had evacuated much of the immediate area, no one expected what actually happened. An earthquake destabilized the entire north face of the mountain which slid down the valley uncovering the weight which held the volcanic forces in place directing a massive eruption sideways destroying everything within may miles of that north face. Today, the first beginnings of plants and animals are showing life among the desolate landscape.

Rocky-selfie looking south at the missing face of Mt. St. Helens, with the many miles of devastation still visible some 35 years later.

Rocky-selfie looking south at the missing face of Mt. St. Helens, with the many miles of devastation still visible some 35 years later.

 

A close-up of the volcano’s crater.  The large magma-dome in the middle has grown since 1980, but currently has deflated somewhat since 2009.  The “red dot” is where we ascended from the other side up to the crater’s edge.

A close-up of the volcano’s crater. The large magma-dome in the middle has grown since 1980, but currently has deflated somewhat since 2009. The “red dot” is where we ascended from the other side up to the crater’s edge.

Having time left in the day, we re-circumnavigated the mountain and went to the south face near where we would ascend from tomorrow (Saturday). In that area are remnant “Lava Tubes” – geologic features remaining from streams of lava where the ceiling solidifies while molten rock continues to flows in an “underground river.” Sometimes, the molten rock empties the underground channel leaving a “hollow tube” of igneous walls, floor and ceiling. Peter, Buddy and I decided to “hike” the 1 ¼ mile-long “Upper Tube” at Ape Caves, requiring headlamps and sturdy footwear to navigate the treacherous ripple and pock-marked wet floors and numerous ceiling cave-ins in pitch-darkness. The “hike” took us 2-hours, and although the surface temperature was 95 degrees, it was 42 degrees in the cave. Unfortunately, the ankle-busting terrain took one casualty as Buddy twisted his ankle and would be unable to ascend the mountain the next day.

Buddy emerging from the 1 ¼ mile long underground “Upper Lava Tube” at Ape Caves.

Buddy emerging from the 1 ¼ mile long underground “Upper Lava Tube” at Ape Caves.

Saturday required waking at 3am, gathering our 9 remaining climbers and making the 90 minute drive to “Climbers Bivouac” at elevation ~3800’ to start at ~4500’ ascent to the crater’s rim at 8365’. We signed in at left for the first part of our journey through 100 year-old forest for the first 2 hours until we emerged from the tree-line at ~4800’ elevation. Beyond this point, our assigned-day climbing permits were required. These are scarce items as only 100-per-day are made available, and they are grabbed-up almost immediately. Graciously, Cliff had done this for the group and we set off now scrambling over boulders and rocks for the next 3 1/5 hours. Our choice of days aligned with record high temperatures for the area, and as the thermometer exceeded 95 degrees, our climb became that much more difficult. Unfortunately, the grueling, strenuous and dangerous climb took its toll and 3 more of our party stopped before reaching the top of the boulder fields and began their descent down.

Jamie, Cliff, Angel, Pam, Peter and Scott at ~5000’ elevation, ascending onto the “switchbacks” – beginning our next 3+ hours scrambling over boulders.

Jamie, Cliff, Angel, Pam, Peter and Scott at ~5000’ elevation, ascending onto the “switchbacks” – beginning our next 3+ hours scrambling over boulders.

 

Pam taking a break at ~6600’ elevation – still climbing the boulder fields

Pam taking a break at ~6600’ elevation – still climbing the boulder fields

With our remaining group of six, we continued our ascent, eventually leaving the boulder fields and beginning the final 1000’ ascent on steep-faced “ash” – which was actually an assortment of unstable pea-gravel and unrooted boulders that slid-down 1 step for every 2 taken. Finally, after another 1 ½ hours of struggle, we reached the summit!
Once there, after 7 hours of climbing, we relaxed, caught our breaths, ate lunch and toasted each other with champagne. The view was spectacular as the haze cleared, and slowly, a cold front came in causing us to don our coats.

Nikki, Peter and Angel in a distance, making the final trek up the “Ash” fields that characterize the last 1000’ of ascent.

Nikki, Peter and Angel in a distance, making the final trek up the “Ash” fields that characterize the last 1000’ of ascent.

 

The view to the north from Mt. St. Helens crater summit looking at the current lava dome in the crater and viewing the still devastated area from the 1980 blast.

The view to the north from Mt. St. Helens crater summit looking at the current lava dome in the crater and viewing the still devastated area from the 1980 blast.

 

Rocky at the summit of Mt. St. Helens.  The crater is lined by a small glacier, of which the upper edge can be seen behind him.

Rocky at the summit of Mt. St. Helens. The crater is lined by a small glacier, of which the upper edge can be seen behind him.

 

SUCCESS – AT THE SUMMIT!           (from left to right) Pam, Rocky, Angel, Peter, Nikki, and Scott.

SUCCESS – AT THE SUMMIT! (from left to right) Pam, Rocky, Angel, Peter, Nikki, and Scott.

But now, it was time to consider our way down, and, although the snow-pack and glaciers were small, there was still some opportunity to “glissade” down the top part of the mountain. Some of us chose the “sitting method, (those with “tough” butts), sliding down over 500’ in elevation. But, this enjoyment was short-lived, as we needed to spend the next 4 ½ hours making our way back down. It was a long and trying journey, but definitely one of great accomplishment and personal satisfaction.

Glissading down from the summit on the valley glaciers.  This probably saved us 30-60 minutes in descent time and effort.

Glissading down from the summit on the valley glaciers. This probably saved us 30-60 minutes in descent time and effort.