Climbing Mount St. Helens Mother’s day

I consider Mt. St. Helens one of the funnest scrambles in the Pacific Northwest. For many this is a good introduction to mountaineering. Although a permit is required year round to climb above 4500 feet, Mothers Day weekend is the last weekend where the number of climbers is not restricted to 100 per day. The other fun part of climbing on Mothers Day is most climbers (males and females) wear a dress or skirt in honor of your mom; it’s acceptable to wear the dress over your climbing clothes. There is spotty cell phone reception at the crater rim where some people call mom to wish her a happy Mothers Day, it doesn’t always work.
For more on Permits and reserving ahead you can go to the Mt. St. Helens institute site.


Most climbers climb use the Monitor Ridge route from the south side of the volcano. It is a non-technical scramble, gaining 4,500 feet in 5 miles. Most climbers complete the round trip in 7 to 12 hours as a 1 day trip and leave the trailhead between 5-7AM, if you’re a strong experienced climber you’ll probably be ok with a later start.
The route starts at Climber's Bivouac, at the end of Forest Road 830, at 3,700 feet elevation; Climber's Bivouac has the highest vehicle access on Mount St. Helens. Start on Ptarmigan Trail #216A which climbs 1,100 feet in 2 1/4 miles to timberline at 4,800 feet elevation. Toilets are located at Climber's Bivouac and near timberline.
Above timberline, the route generally follows Monitor Ridge, climbing steeply through blocky lava flows and loose pumice and ash. From timberline the route is marked with large wooden posts to about 7,000 feet elevation. The upper 1,300 feet of the route is unmarked and covered with loose, rock, pumice and ash. Of course in snow conditions (through mid June most years) you won’t experience much ash. Be cautious of the cornice at the crater rim; don’t go close to the edge, although it’s tempting to get a better look into the crater people who got too close have broken the cornice and fallen over the edge. Elevation gain from trailhead to summit is around 4665 feet and 6 miles roundtrip.

On your descent, take care to stay on route, a minor detour may put you far off route at timberline. During snow season many people glissade down, there are a few areas where you can descend over 1000 feet continuously depending on the conditions and ruts created by others. Glissading can be fun and save time and energy on the decent. Many glissade have gotten injured, one Fitclimb member had to extract himself for over a mile down Mt. Hood with a broken ankle after catching a crampon tip in the snow while glissading. Make sure you follow the correct technique, do not wear crampons, control your speed, and watch out for other climbers and obstructions on the way down.

Equipment and Logistics:

1. Climbing Helmet or Hard Hat - Protect your head in the event of volcanic ballistics or rock fall. Most people don’t wear one in the winter months but use your own judgment and climb based on your acceptable level of risk.
2. Summer time (Dust Mask N95 type) - Cover your mouth and nose in the event of ashfall or blowing dust. Dust Masks (N95 type) should be available from any large hardware store.
3. Goggles or Sunglasses with Side Shields, Sunscreen - The Sun reflecting off of snow and ash is intense. Avoid contact lenses, as blowing ash and dust can be a problem. And don't forget a hat.
4. Climbing Boots - Sturdy, comfortable hiking boots and gaiters to keep out snow and ash.
5. Map, Compass, Route Markers (in whiteout or fog conditions), GPS (optional) - Use them to know where you are and where you are going. Be sure to tell someone at home of your plans.
6. First Aid Kit - You may need to come to your own rescue, or help someone else. Be prepared!
7. Knife - Handy for all kinds of purposes, especially the type with extra tools.
8. Extra Food and Water - Bring at least two quarts of water per person. No water is available at Climbers Bivouac or on the climbing route. Carry plenty of food to snack on all day. Reduce packaging to eliminate trash.
9. Extra Clothing - A beautiful sunny morning can turn into a cold rainy afternoon. Plan ahead! Layered clothing including full rain gear, gloves and hat. Layering allows you to adjust your clothing to different exertion levels and weather.
10. Ice Axe and Crampons in snow conditions. I’ve only used my crampons once out of 5 climbs toward the top when encountering ice and was glad I packed them. I take them every time.
11. Flashlight, extra batteries, and bulb - A necessity when the day is short and the trail is long.
12. Signal Device.

To get a better idea of what you might need and more on equipment:

Equipment and packing video.

Equipment for a snowshoe day trip.

Equipment for day hike.

To get in shape you should be able to hike 6-8 miles in a day with about 5000 ft of elevation gain. I've found that most people who can run 5 miles continuesly and are able to get up Mt. Si can do ok on St. Helens. For more on building your fitness click here.

More info on climbing at the official Forest Service page.

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