Alas, our trip to climb Mt. St. Helens ended without our reaching the summit. I’m not particularly disappointed because we did the best we could given the situation, and the situation was far from ideal.
We got up at 4:45am yesterday morning. Sarah T, Sarah M, and I rolled ourselves into the car and started the short trip north to Mt. St. Helens national park in Washington. The drive was simple and quick. We had already purchased our climbing passes so all we had to do was stop at the registration office to sign in. The lady behind the desk looked out the window at the drizzle coming down “This should be about as bad as it gets. The national weather service says that all the rain will pass by ten.” We were pleased. We found the climbing bivouac easily enough, it’s a starting point at about 4,000 feet elevation where the summit path begins. The three of us got out of the car, rechecked our supplies and started hiking! In total, the hike is 9 miles round trip with 4,300 hundred feet of elevation. The first two miles of the hike are mostly flat woodlands.
The beautiful path leading to the mountain.
We tried to stay in good spirits despite the drizzling rain. After those first two miles the trees break rather suddenly and the pitch of the climb increases dramatically. It became immediately clear that we were on a volcano.
The new landscape
Boulders and rocks of various sizes lay strewn about, surrounded by ash. Apparently the ash can be really annoying sometimes, but the drizzle which had turned into a light rain was keeping the ash reasonably tame. It was kinda like hiking on wet sand – wet sand that couldn’t be packed down at all.
The hiking on this side of the tree line was awesome. Big boulders to climb over and fun navigation between tall pickets that the national park association put into place to help guide you on your way. We got another 1000 feet up or so when we saw the first group coming down.
“Did you make it to the summit?”
“Nope. It gets really cold really fast up there”
We paused and considered our current water logged clothes, but continued onward. About 250-500 feet further up we saw a group of young guys coming down the mountain. They had passed us a short while before this.
“Yeah, it’s too cold with the rain.”
At this point the rain was coming down rather ferociously and the wind was coming straight down the mountain at us. I was frigid, and I didn’t have it as bad as Sarah T who had loaned her water proof pants to Sarah M. Visibility was poor as well, we could just barely see to the next and the previous marker on the path. We decided that it would probably be smartest for us to turn around as well. At first, I regretted our decision. After climbing down a bit, the rain subsided and it looked like the sun was going to come out. But when we reached the tree line, the skies opened up again and just drenched us. We were miserable. When we finally made it to the car we tossed our clothes soaked through and through into the trunk and tried to recover any dry piece of clothing we could from our water logged back packs. We sat in the car with the heat on full blast, until we could move our fingers enough to eat the peanut butter sandwiches we’d packed for the trip.
I know we’ll try again in fairer weather. It was really awesome to climb what we did. And for fun history, check out this national geographic youtube video (part 1 of 3) that explains the eruption. Outside of the tacky CG camera zooms into the magma build up, it’s a really great video.
Magma is typically between 700 and 1300 C (1300 and 2400 F)
Lava is Thixotrophic and Sheer Thinning. Thixotrophy “fluids to show a time-dependent change in viscosity.” Sheer Thinning fluids have a viscosity that decreases as shear stress increases. Like ketchup which as wikipedia points out “When shaken or squeezed out of a bottle, ketchup will thin and flow readily but will retain its shape on a burger or plate.”