Mt. St. Helens Summit – Monitor Ridge

Mt. St. Helens Summit

Distance Roundtrip: 10 miles RT
Elevation Gain: 4500 ft.
Highest Elevation: 8365 ft.
Location: South Cascades
Lettering Medium:
Images taken with an iPhone6

My first mountain summit. Mt. St. Helens.

A few years ago I didn’t even know summiting volcanoes (other than Rainier) was a thing. Last year when I joined some outdoor groups it became quickly apparent of all the mountains waiting to be climbed. Discovering it too late in the season last year we didn’t have a chance to get permits (even on so I set my alarm for this year and snagged a group of them for Sunday, June 12, 2016.

Flash forward to this weekend, we packed up the car and drove to Portland to leave our pup with my in-laws then met our friends at the teeniest tiniest cabin you’ve ever laid your eyes on. At 9pm we crawled into our bunkbeds (yes Dustin didn’t fit) and fell asleep to the sound of the highway and dreams of mountains.

Our alarms went off at 3am and we anxiously got dressed and ready to beat first light. After signing the trailhead register and fixing our permits it was 4:30am and we were off for our first alpine ascent. We hiked in the dark for about an hour or so, chatting away to avoid unwanted encounters with wild animals.

The sun started to rise just as we caught our first glimpses of Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood. It was breathtaking. We were the only ones on the mountain (most folks start around 6am) and it was so peaceful.

Mt. St. Helens Summit Monitor RidgeMt. St. Helens Summit Monitor Ridge

Mt. St. Helens Summit Monitor Ridge

We continued our climb, eventually making our way up the boulder field until we hit the snowline. Because it was so early, the snow was super firm and icy. We opted for donning our microspikes and climbing the snowfields. So much nicer and I think a bit quicker than scrambling up boulders and sliding on loose scree. The angles of the snowfields were steeper than anything the four of us had done before. The whole morning was just the crunching of our microspikes. And stopping way more than the boys liked to drool over Adams, Hood and Jefferson.

Mt. St. Helens Summit Monitor RidgeMt. St. Helens Summit Monitor RidgeWe avoided the scree/boulder field the rest of the way and kept to the snowfields to the summit. It got super windy near the top and thankfully the sun came out to counteract the windchill. I think wind is my least favorite element.

Up and up we continued. Not another soul in sight.

That last mile was killer. The summit just teases. It looks so close. But with every step it feels so incredibly far away. At this point it was mostly a mental game and I had to force myself not to look up. Dustin with his long legs pushed on ahead of us and all I could see was his little dot.

We were the first group to arrive around 9am. It was incredible. A 360 view of Rainier, Adams, Jefferson and we think the Sisters popping up. At the top the wind miraculously disappeared and we lounged around, taking pictures, eating snacks and soaking in the summit views. The ledge of the crater is one big (and weakening) cornice so we stayed pretty far from the edge and stood on our tippy toes. It was so cool to see inside of the crater and watch the steam rising.

After almost an hour we started to see another group making their way up to the summit and decided now was a good time to start our descent. We were a little nervous about glissading with the snow so hard still and opted to start our descent on the boulder fields. Going down the boulder/scree fields was pretty terrible. More work than coming up. Eventually the snow started to warm up and we found some mini glissade chutes. Most of them are unusable with all the exposed rocks. None of us had ever glissaded before so I was definitely nervous to try it. It ended up being a lot of fun and a thousand times better than slipping on scree or soggy snow. There were a few places where glissading was unsafe and we had to (miserably) slow side step down the hill. There’s no doubt about it. Going down sucks. Any chance we could we glissaded and it’s basically my new favorite thing. Well except the last chute where I semi-wiped out. Need to work on my control skills.

After some more knee numbing boulder fields we made our way into the woods. We continued the last flat couple miles to the car reflecting on what an amazing day it had been and how fortunate we were to get this weather window. We arrived at the car — a lot more sweat, a little less energy but all smiles. It was a great day.

Mt. St. Helens Summit Monitor RidgeMt. St. Helens SummitMt. St. Helens Summit Monitor Ridge

Mt. St. Helens Summit Monitor Ridge

500 ft away from the summit and Dustin’s just a little spec.

Mt. St. Helens Summit Monitor Ridge

Feeling like a poser with my ice axe but determined to learn it’s ways

Mt. St. Helens Summit Monitor Ridge

Mt. St. Helens Summit Monitor Ridge

Looking in to the crater

Mt. St. Helens Summit Monitor Ridge

Mt. St. Helens Summit Monitor Ridge

Down we go as the clouds roll in. So pretty!

Mt. St. Helens Summit Monitor Ridge

Clouds rolling around Adams

Mt. St. Helens Summit Monitor Ridge

Leave a Reply