Fadgen's Adventures

Fadgen's Adventures
Green Creek Lake

Monday, June 17, 2013

Mount St. Helens - Worm Flows Route

It's back there somewhere...
Knowing that Dylan would be working at the Boy Scout camp outside of Tillamook again this summer, I obtained three permits to climb Mt. St. Helens back in February for Friday.  The forest service limits the climbers to 100 per day during the warmer months. We arrived in Cougar, Washington, Thursday afternoon in a downpour, to check into our cabin and register for the climb.  After a pizza dinner, a S'mores pizza for dessert, and a couple of beers we hit the sack with the alarm set for 4:45AM.

A quarter to five is awfully early, but when I looked out the window and it wasn't dark, I was kicking myself for not getting up earlier.  After a quick breakfast we made the short 30 minute drive to the Marble Mountain trail head at 2650 feet.  We had hoped to be able to take the shorter and higher Climber's Bivouac route, but it was still closed due to snow.  So, we had to settle for the winter "Worm Flows" route.

We were on the trail in cloudy skies a little after 6AM.
All smiles at the start
The first couple of miles are very gradual through the trees on ski trails until you reach Chocolate Falls.  No water falling this day as we made our way out on to some lava formations.  These formations run the length of the mountain in the shape of a worm, and I assume that this is where the trail name originates.
Pizza?  It's not just for dinner...
Unfortunately, with the cloud cover, we could not get a glimpse of the mountain and just blindly followed the trail up.  Eventually the trail steepened and we entered the clouds.

The trail at this point was pretty interesting, a mixture of sand, gravel, and large lava rocks?  With the overcast skies, it all stayed moist with no dust at all, making for a pleasant hike.  In a couple of spots Tam mentioned that it felt like walking on the beach. 

So we kept climbing up through the mist on the ridge as the snow crept up on us on both sides.  Just before we reached the end of the ridge at 6500 feet the skies parted and the sun was shining!

There's the sun!
At the end of the ridge, we stopped and put our crampons on, just to be on the safe side.  The snow wasn't too bad, a little soft and punchy, allowing us to move quickly.  At this point it was just a matter of heading straight up to the crater rim and that is what we did.  I took the lead and Tam followed right behind me in my footsteps.  Dylan, who now had the camera, took his own path to our left.
Surprisingly, other than a party of six that we had been leapfrogging most of the morning, we saw no one else on the climb up.  Where were all the other 90 or so people?  The last 1000 feet to the crater rim went quickly, and soon we were all together gawking at the views from the crater rim.  We had the rim all to ourselves!
Tamara enjoying her first volcano summit

Lava Dome - Spirit Lake is somewhere under the clouds
More Lava Dome

Mt Rainier
But, the crater rim is not the actual summit so we headed to the left a 1/2 mile or so following some faint tracks in the snow until we reached that actual summit at 8366 feet.  It was 11:30AM and again we were all alone.  The sky was clear and it was a bit windy so we only stayed for a few summit shots before heading down to get out of the wind.
Tam and I heading to the summit
Summit shot - still smiling!
Once out of the wind, we stopped for lunch enjoying the views of the complete cloud layer with the exception of Mt Hood and Mt Adams peaking above.
We had promised Tam a chance to glissade down to save on the knee strain.  So, after lunch we all put on our thrift store "fast pants" and strolled over to the ridge edge.  After a quick glissading lesson for Tam, Dylan took the lead and we all scooted on down the mountain on our butts.  We had to stop at one point and move to a spot with a safe run out.  Then we sat back down and cruised until we were enveloped in the cloud bank. It was eerie glissading through the clouds, but after a quick conversation on the merits of not being able to see too well, we continued on down in our fast pants.
In another couple of hundred feet we broke through the clouds and it was all good. 
One last long slide and we were right back on the trail, having bypassed all the steep downhill.  The only way to do it!  We had skipped 3000 feet of down climbing by sliding on our rears!
As we followed the trail down, I continued to turn around hoping the clouds would lift giving us a view of the mountain we had just summited, but it wasn't to happen. 
One final look back
Trip Stats:
Distance: Approximately 10 miles
Elevation: 5700 feet
Time: Summit 5.5 hours, 9 hours round trip

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A team of adventurers consisting of John, Tamara, Taylor, Dylan, and Shadow Fadgen