Back in 2007, a group of us tackled Mt. St. Helens. This was a great adventure, and enough other people were interested in trying it that we decided to go again. I was in pretty good shape, and we had been doing lots of hiking at Badger Mountain and elsewhere, so I was looking forward to tackling the mountain in a fraction of the time we spent the first year. Partly because I intended to go at my own pace and not wait so much, and partly because I was overall in better shape.
Well, better shape except for my knees. They were still hurting, and frankly I was even considering bagging it the morning of the hike. We got to the place and even had the same camping spot. Carolyn made spaghetti for dinner, and we went for a little walk around sunset to see the view and play with cameras. We went to bed fairly early and woke up fairly early, too.
We packed up our tents and gear and got ready for the hike. We were on the trail right on time, and raring to go. I was a lot more prepared for the trip. I had brought my trademark wasabi tuna salad sandwich, but I had tried something new to keep it from getting soggy. I put wax paper between the tuna and the bread in the hopes that it would keep the tuna from sogging the bread. Unfortunately, what happened was the tuna just slid down to the bottom of the bag and I had a very soggy and useless mess of a bag. So I won’t be trying that again. Maybe separate bags entirely next time.
Anyway, we kept up a good pace, and I was doing fine. I could feel my knees the whole time, but they weren’t complaining too much. As the sun came up and we got out of the trees and warmed up we changed our clothing accordingly. Then came the boulder fields, and I was having a lot of fun the whole way. In some parts it was ashy and gravelly, and that wasn’t as much fun, but the parts with the big boulders that we had to climb around were awesome.
We got a firsthand view of weather, too. We could see a layer of haze right under a layer of clear off in the distance by Mt. Adams. We were above the cloud level early in the morning and looking out on the valleys you could see an ocean of white cloud with mountains for beaches. We even witnessed cloud formation right in front of us as the wind blew up the mountain and moisture from the haze level came up and turned into wispy but growing clouds. It was a really cool sight.
I made it to the top of the mountain in under 4 hours. 3:45 to be exact. It was a good time, and I beat everyone else by a lot, not that it was a competition. I was just trying to get to the top. I hung out at the top for a while, then Nick arrived and we followed the rim around to the true summit a few feet higher than where we had been. Since I had been stopped for a while and hadn’t gone downhill at all to this point, going to the true summit was a sharp reminder how much my knees were unhappy with me. Going downhill hurt a lot more than going uphill, and I had at least 4 hours of downhill ahead. We all made it to the top and took group pictures and had a good time and healed a little bit.
Last year I brought duct tape in lieu of gators, and wrapped my shoes up to my jeans in duct tape, making a solid barrier against the ash and small rocks that get inside the shoes. This time, I tried the same thing. Except I didn’t count on splitting my tape with another person, and I ran out. Sadly, the tape was ineffective, and I had to drain my shoes a few times. I was prepared for this trip, though. Last time it was cold and very windy, so I brought more layers and ski goggles to protect against the flying dust and ash. This time, it was nice with no breeze. For food I fortunately had a backup sandwich to eat at the top, and I had trail mix and energy bars that went mostly uneaten or shared. For fluids I estimated fairly well, except for the liter of gatorade that I gave to someone else.
The trip down was bad, but not as bad as the year before. Even though my knees hurt with every step, my brain was fine and the rest of my body was fine and I wasn’t really tired at all. The end sort of jumped out of nowhere and then we were done. We were all happy that we had done it, and proud of our individual accomplishments, but pretty sure that we wouldn’t be going back again. It’s a mountain we’ve conquered twice already, and we want to move on to other mountains.
We finished the day with dinner in Hood River and an easy drive back home.