Climbing Mount St. Helens

Climbing Mount St. Helens

Trek Essentials

Where: Cascade Mountain Range, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Skamania County, Washington, USA
When: Late spring to early autumn
Best sights: A brand new lava cone of a mere three decades old eruption
Watch out for: Volcanic activity – check with the USGS and get a permit before attempting the climb
Remember to bring: warm, waterproof clothes, a first aid kit and water

No trip to the Pacific North West would be complete without visiting Mount St. Helens, the volcano with a volatile history. Mount St Helens is one of the many peaks that make up theCascade Mountain Range in Skamania County, Washington. Northeast of Portland and south of Seattle, in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Mount St Helens is an active volcano that can be climbed – seismic conditions allowing. The most popular time of year to climb Mount St Helens is late spring to early autumn.

At 8.32 am on May 18th, 1980, Mount St. Helens exploded with 500 times the force of the Hiroshima bomb. It wiped out enough trees to build 200,000 two-bedroom homes, shrouded Washington in an ashy darkness, and caused the largest landslide ever recorded. 57 people were killed or never found, and the National Forest is slowly returning to its original state.

Suggested Route

Starting at Climbers Bivouac, trek alongMonitors Ridge to the edge of the crater. The terrain is rugged and the lava fields look like the surface of the moon. The trek takes seven to twelve hours to complete depending on your level of fitness and ascends 4,500 feet over a distance of five miles. The crater is now a mile wide after the 1980 eruption and a new lava cone has formed. It is not permitted under any circumstances to enter the crater.

Other Hikes

There are various hiking trails that you can do in the National Forest if it isn’t safe to climb the volcano:
– Ape Cave Trail passes through the longest lava loop in the 48 continuous states and will take around three hours to do.
– You can climb up to the United States Geological Survey’s (U.S.G.S.) bunker at Harry’s Ridgeto observe the volcano.
– You can also trek the Lahar Trailhead near Ape Canyon, which goes into wild volcanic landscapes and recent mudflows lead to a waterfall.

Traveller’s Tips

– The volcano is active and is prone to dangerous, volcanic activity. It is very important to check the safety situation before you plan a trek up to the crater. Check out the U.S.G.S. website for the latest news.
– As well as potential seismic activity, the weather is also something to beware of as it can change drastically and you must be prepared for all eventualities. Freak snow storms are not uncommon, which affect visibility and cause temperatures to plummet.
– Take warm and waterproof clothes as well as cooler, thinner layers and always make sure you have a first aid kit and plenty of water.
– It is compulsory to have a climbing permit issued by the U.S.G.S. before you can climb the mountain.

More Information

USGS Science for a Changing World
This website gives you the current volcanic status of Mnt St Helen’s.

USDA Forest Service
Follow this link for current weather conditions in the Gifford Pinchot National Park.

By Faye Welborn

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