Mount St. Helens
Distance: 4.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,600 feet
Summit Elevation: 8,365 feet
The most well known mountain in Washington to people around the world is Mount St. Helens. It is a fine climbing objective, even without the extra 1,300 feet missing from the summit. The climb now offers something even more exciting than just a highpoint, the amazing view down into an active crater. There is a mountain inside building higher and higher! There is no glacier climbing here, the south side is a big dirty rocky hillside. All it takes to reach the summit is some real determination to slog up. Going in winter or spring will dramatically change the conditions from a sandy trail to a nice snow climb. The south route is the only option for Mount St. Helens, other areas including the crater are restricted.
On I-5 at Woodland, take the exit for State Highway 503. Drive past Lake Merwin and Yale Lake. Then, just after the Swift Reservoir viewpoint, turn left on forest road 83. Follow looking for a right turn onto forest road 830. Follow the signs to Climber's Bivouac. Road access often changes, see the link below in the permit section.
The first 2 miles of the trail are a hike through forests. Then the trail follows the rocky ridge and is marked by large wooden posts almost to the summit. After the last post, just follow the ridge to the summit. In the summer, it's a dusty climb where you often take two steps and slide back a bit on each one. In the winter, the route starts from the Marble Mountain Snow Park (shown on map below) and requires a bit more elevation gain and distance. Often snowmobile tracks lead all the way to the summit area and can be walked to save energy. In any case, you'll want crampons and an ice axe for guaranteed success giving the possible conditions you may encounter above tree line.
You will need a climbing permit to climb Mount St. Helens. Starting May 15 a climbing quota is in effect with 100 climbers per day. November 1 thru March 31 permits are self issue and free of charge. You can pick them up outside the Lone Fir Resort. Permits are available 24 hours a day. April 1 thru October 31- Permits are sold online, in-advance, on a first-come, first-served basis through the Mount St. Helens Institute. Climbing Permits are required above 4800 foot elevation on the volcano year round. In winter, you will need a Sno-Park permit to park in the Marble Mountain Sno-Park. Restrictions are often changing including volcanic activity, check the forest service webpage.
Goat Mountain to the west, a county highpoint
Looking north to Spirit Lake and Mt. Rainier
Standing on the summit in the late 80's
Looking south to Mt. Hood
On the summit with my scout troop
Crater rim with Mt. Adams in the distance
The crater rim
Camping in the winter just above treeline
View of St. Helens from Johnson Ridge Visitors Center
St. Helens from Windy Ridge viewpoint
On the summit in winter with nothing to see
In winter or spring, St. Helens makes for a good ski trip
Snowcave camping above treeline on Helens
Discussions of a lookout on St. Helens started in March 1916 with the success of a lookout built on the summit of Mt. Hood the previous summer. By June, the materials were shipped to Castlerock. All the material for the house were cut and ready to be put together by the forest officers without the help of a carpenter. Twelve miles of telephone line were put up, connecting the lookout site with the rest of the patrol lines. From Castlerock, the materials were hauled 55 miles by horse and mules to a point south of Spirit Lake. The final three miles to the summit required hauling the sections up over steep snow and ice by means of a steel cable, using rocks for counter-weight. A bundle of material was fastened to the end of a long rope, away up on the mountain, was run through a pulley fastened to a projecting rock and huge stones fastened to the rope and the stones came down the mountain side while the load of lumber or other material went up. In this way 70 bundles of material for the lookout's house was gradually taken up. There was 7000 pounds of timber and other material for the house and equipment. Construction began on the cupola cabin in 1918, with work continuing until 1921 due to the unpredictable weather on the summit. One of the builders was George Mays. Once finished, a coal oil lamp furnishes heat for cooking and warmth. In August 1919, "John Walker, a temporary employee on the Columbia, was caught in a rock slide while repairing the telephone line to the St. Helens lookout house, and so badly injured that he died before medical aid could reach him." (Six Twenty-Six) The lookout in 1922 was George Schnitzler. In 1924 it was Glen H. Meissner. In 1926 it was Kenneth Macdonald. The lookout was abandoned about 1929. When men were removing the salvageable items from the lookout, in route down the mountain, the Osborne Firefinder came loose from a backpack and tumbled far down the mountain breaking in many pieces, never to be recovered. When the mountain erupted in 1980, only the foundation and a few remnants remained.
Tacoma Times July 11, 1917
Lookout in 1921
Lookout in 1922
Lookout and staff 1925
Construction camp at the summit
1922 Mountaineers visit to the lookout house
Ruins in 1974
Ruins in 1978
A 1912 Columbia National Forest map shows 2 lookouts on the sides of Mt. St. Helens
Probably right after construction