On July 21, 2006, the U.S. Forest Service re-opened the climbing trail on Mount St. Helens in southwestern Washington state. In 2004, the volcano had re-awakened from the slumber it had fallen into after the cataclysmic blast of 1980. With the mountain’s stability in question, access by the public was cut off. Now that St. Helens has begun to settle down a bit, climbers can again ascend the mountain. The route gains 4,500 feet in five miles to the crater rim at 8,365 feet of elevation. Climbers who reach the top are treated to a spectacular view of an active volcano that is in the process of rebuilding itself. The mountain still rumbles with earthquakes and rockslides. A smoking cone of earth is growing from the center of the crater.
This was the highest mountain I’ve climbed since I summited 19,100-foot high Mount Kilimanjaro way back in 1985. That was a piece of cake compared to St. Helens. Of course being 21 years older and out of shape didn’t do me any favors on this climb. All I can say is that I made to the top - barely. The hardest part was coming down. My legs, wobbly from the climb, were no match for the miles of rocks that we had to scamper over and around. For most people in reasonable shape, the climb should be no problem. Come prepared for changing weather and expect some pretty rough terrain.
On this climb, I did find some personal connection with the mountain. On May 18, 1980, ash from Mount St. Helens fell on Spokane. As it blew into town, it turned day into night, coating everything — and I mean everything — with a heavy layer of gray ash. Looking out from the rim of this volcano made me truly understand how large this geologic event was. Tired and drained from the climb, I stood at 8365 feet awestruck at what I saw.
Reporter John Stucke was along for the climb, and is writing a story about his experience, as well as the group dynamic of climbing a mountain. Look for his story in Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.