Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Mount St. Helens

I hiked Mount St. Helens on Monday with Michele and Loni. It was the best hike I've done so far, by a large margin. I was up at 4:00AM and caught a ride with Loni to arrive at the MK's house around 5:00. She drove, because she's got a hybrid that gets decent MPG. We signed in down at Cougar, and headed up the hill to Climbers Biouvac.

We were on the trail at 7:05 AM, and above the treeline about an hour later. That's when shit got tough. There are some fairly long stretches of non-boulderized hillside, but mostly it's scrambling. My giant new pole was very helpful for stability, and I avoided any major falls this whole trip.

This mountain gives you a choice: You can either scramble straight over rocks, which is pretty harsh on your quads, glutes, and triceps or you can slog up the "trail" which is loose gravel, sand, and ash. The trail is really, really hard on the calves, so I split the difference and switched back and forth.

We didn't follow the poles that mark the trail very closely, because it seemed harder to take that route. Instead, we ran giant switchbacks up either side of the ridge,
which took longer but wasn't quite as harsh on the body. I was breathing
hard most of the way, probably from overall lack of fitness combined with
the decreased oxygen at elevation.

Both Loni and I had some mild hypoglycemia, although I managed to mostly keep up and avoid the crash. We fueled with the PowerBar Gel Packs, and they were not nearly as offensive as I had expected. Next time, we'll eat more packs, more frequently.

The hardest part was the last 1500 feet, where it's just loose ash and gravel. It's about 75% efficient to hike, which means every step you sink or slide back a quarter step. It's just grinding out the steps, and it feels like forever! Eventually, you get to the rim and can see the glory that is a giant pit. The new lava dome is cool, and actually seems surprisingly large. Hopefully I'll get to be around for the next eruption and it's at least as big as the last one. Keep your fingers crossed.

I didn't use my new gaiters - my boots never collected ash or rocks, so there wasn't a need. Oh well, I'm sure they'll see use this winter on some snow hikes. Some things I need to invest in are better sunglasses - it was BRIGHT up there. Maybe some goggles. Also, I need warmer and more breathable layers. My fleece was a lifesaver, but I could've been more comfortable during parts of the hike.

Some highlights of the trip:
Little puffs of smoke coming out of a vent on the lava dome.

Giant eagle soaring directly over our heads. Probably a bald eagle, although we initially suspected it was a golden eagle. Since it didn't have the blazes under the wings and we had previously seen a bald eagle on the way up, that's probably what this one was too. Loni and I each saw a hummingbird, too.

Short glissades down the snow field - I sat on my heels for the first one, but it was super sketchy trying to keep my balance. I stood and skiied in my boots for the second, using my pole as a brake/balance tool. It was super fun and I made fantastic time. I wish I'd been braver and done it from further up on the mountain.

Showing assholes up. Loni and Michele had a little "chat" with some "experienced mountaineers" on the way up. They were loaded down with full gear, ropes, ice axes, the whole shebang. They laughed at the little girls (and me) with their little hydration packs, and made some comments about them not knowing what they were doing on the mountain. Just kinda know-it-all jerks. We passed them again on the way back down, and I heard Loni make a comment about "_WE_ didn't need a belay..."

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