Monday, June 25, 2007

The Oregon Trail Part 1: Taming the Mountain

Rob, Reuben, and I spent an awesome weekend exploring Reuben's neck of the northwest - Portland. To start the weekend off right, we decided to hike to the top of Mount St. Helens. St. Helens in an active volcano about 60 miles northeast of Portland, just into Washington State. Mount St. Helens is most famous for its catastrophic eruption in 1980. The eruption blew off 1400 feet of mountain, killing 57 people, and causing the largest debris avalanche in recorded history! It completely changed the landscape for hundreds of square miles. That all sounded cool enough for me, so up we went.

The hike was 10 miles round trip with a 4500 ft. elevation gain. We knew ahead of time it would be very challenging and it was estimated as a 7-10 hour hike. Our plan was to leave at about 6:00 am on Friday morning from Reuben's so we could be hiking by 8:00. However, Delta Airlines had a different idea. Our flight on Thursday night was delayed to the point that we were going to miss our connection so Delta put us on an earlier flight. Long story short (I'll elaborate on the now-comical-story someday), we missed checking into that flight by exactly 1 minute, they didn't give us any grace, and we had to wait until Friday to fly out. This took a huge chunk of our day and we didn't start hiking until 2:00 pm.

The hike started mildly as the first two miles were a gradual uphill through the forest.

Suddenly the woods broke away and we were faced with the bare rocky slope of the mountain.

The terrain was a mixture of boulders and loose gravel and rock on a steep incline. From this point on there wasn't really a trail, but just a general direction upward. There were also lots of snow fields that we had to stay away from because they were too slippery to climb up.

At the top of the very first rock hill we met this old dude.

Like the rest of the hikers we saw, he was equipped with a good coat, hiking sticks, hiking boots, gloves, hat, and sun protecting goggles. He took one look at us and started preaching doomsday. He saw we had tennis shoes, no hiking sticks, no gloves, regular sun glasses, t-shirts, and we were just starting the hard part at 3:00. He basically told us to turn around. He said if we went to the top with those shoes on we wouldn't be able to walk the next day. He said the mountain was one punishing hill after another and that the last 1000 feet were so bad that "he wouldn't wish it on his worst enemy." We listened to his warning but within 2 minutes of leaving him Reuben said "lets decide right now that we'll summit, even if it means walking back down in the dark." Basically, we weren't going to let an old dude like that scare us off.

So we pressed on. We alternated between climbing up boulders and clawing our way through the loose gravel. We had excellent views all the way up.
The higher we got, the windier it got and soon we were engulfed in a cloud. With 1500 vertical feet to go our visibility was limited to about 50 feet and it was snowing and blowing at 30 mph.

We pretty much never stopped to take a break the entire way up and went at an extremely fast pace. Most hikers who passed us on our way down said it took them 4-5 hours to reach the top. We made it up in 2:30. It was kind of weird at the top because we couldn't see more than 30 feet in front of us.
Look closely at where we are standing in the above picture. Mount St. Helens has a huge crater in the center that drops down about 1000 feet. We are standing at the dirt rim of that crater and the camera is set up on the glacier that goes down into the crater. I didn't really think of it right away but when I went to set up the camera for this picture I was standing on a glacier with nothing below it for 1000 feet. As Reuben was taking this next picture of me I realized I was not in a very smart position, but of course it was quite a thrill to look down to 1000 feet of nothingness.

Usually the hike back is painful and unpleasant, but the hike down from Mount St. Helens was very unique and really fun at times. The loose gravel was steep enough that you could kind of 'ride it' down in the same way that you can skip down a sand dune. But the best part was a new sport we learned called glissading. This is kind of like sledding except less controlled, much more fun, and more hazardous. You slide down the snow slopes on your butt and try to control your direction and speed. The danger lies in the fact that there are bare rock spots and you might get going a little too fast.

Here is a nice video of me glissading down one of the slopes near the bottom of the mountain.
It was an awesome hike and we made it to the top! It was a lot of fun climbing the rocks, peering into the crater, and glissading back down the mountain. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes adventurous hikes. Our total hike time was 4:40 so we easily made it back down in the light and totally proved that old dude wrong. There can't be too many people who can say they hiked to the top of Mount St. Helens after traveling over 2000 miles to get there that very day.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks fun. I'm jealous. I think hiking gear just gave that baby boomer something to spend his money on.
- Jason

1:32 PM  
Blogger E said...

I think you were pretty dang stupid, and fortunate to make it back in one piece. Of course you were fast and smoked the old guy's time--that is always something that motivates me when I climb. But seriously. In that "equipment?" And walking out on that glacier? I am something of a minimalist myself--the uber-equipped Japanese laugh at me and my lack of gear--but you still have to be smart about it.

7:11 AM  

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