They brought my, 7 others, and our gear to Mt. St. Helens so that we could climb it and then snowboard down. Notice the smoke in the crater. Warning: lots of pics!
This little excursion starts last week with a buddy at work telling me “hey a bunch of us riding Helens Saturday, you should come!”
Me: “... Umm... Yeah!”
But I’ve never done anything like this so I don’t have a split board or snowshoes or a backpack to carry my board. So I immediately jump on Amazon and find a backpack made for such things. A nice Burton with a lifetime warranty and enough room to carry everything I’d need for a day trip. Then I go rent snowshoes and go to REI for the zip all suit, which they didn’t have so I settled for a bunch of snacks.
Before getting home I popped a couple Benadryl so I could fall asleep super early. Get home, new backpack was just delivered waiting for me (yay prime!). Pack my stuff. Pass the eff out at 8pm.
Get up at 1am. Get ready to go. Drink a yerba mate to shake off the Benadryl hangover. Go meet some of the others at my buddies house, but of course I’m late. And one guy backed out last minute because he left work too late Friday and couldn’t get enough sleep.
Then 6 of us take the outback and the Tacoma and drive an hour and a half to the trail head, where the sprinter had “camped” the night before. Next time, I’m taking the Monster and I’m camping the night before, which reminds me I still need to get a mountain bike rack and a snowboard rack for it! Anyways...
The parking lots at the trailhead were packed. I couldn’t believe how many people were there at 3:30am! Tents, campers, others gearing up. It was nuts.
So we gear up and head for the trail. No problem! This is easy! We make our way to the part of the trail known as chocolate falls, at which point I’m sorely disappointed to learn it isn’t a waterfall of chocolate a la Willy Wonka. It’s still dark at this point, and we’re all wearing headlamps. But you could look up and see lights dotting the trail as far up as you could see from people already making the trek.
Four of us were on snowshoes, three on split boards, and one on skis with skins (split boards use skins too, it’s a layer of fabric or something that goes on the underside of a ski that resists sliding backwards to make uphill skiing much easier). It was pretty icy and there were some steep and narrow parts of the trail where the snowshoers had a much easier go of things. Some of the guys on skis kept falling and slipping because the terrain was so difficult.
We keep going, and the further we go the more I realize how big this mountain actually is. What you see from below is maybe a third of it. There are a bunch of false summits. And every single one makes you think “just a little bit further!” Then you crest it and realize “shit, I still have a long way to go.”
We were well above the treeline in time for sunrise. If you’ve never seen a sunrise from up on a mountain, you’re missing out. There’s nothing quite like it.
At about 2/3 of the way up I’m getting pretty exhausted. And at this point I’m expecting it to just keep going forever and ever and ever after all of the false summits. Then I see someone try to snowboard down. But it’s still too icy. They can’t keep the edge. He loses it and slides a few hundred feet down this slope that had to be at least 45 degrees. I don’t know the outcome of that, but I assume he lived. No emergency crews were called, there were no big freakouts, and no one encountered any corpses. But that didn’t exactly help my state of mind. So at this point I’m thinking “THIS IS FUCKING STUPID WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THIS THIS IS BATSHIT FUCKING CRAZY I’M NEVER DOING THIS STUPID SHIT AGAIN!!!”
But I continue on.
I’m not in the physical condition I used to be so I’m stopping every 20-30 feet and testing for a minute. The trail up is just as steep and icy as what that unfortunate soul slid down earlier. With over 50 pounds of gear on my back and snowshoes on my feet. And most everyone else has ice axes so they can self-arrest in case of a fall. I don’t. Nor did anyone else in our group. That made me feel a bit nervous. Maybe that’s what I should use my discount and dividend on at REI... But I digress.
I finally crest the final false summit. But I know my limits. I can see the rim of the crater but I know it’s too far. If I go the whole way I won’t have the strength to make it back down. Everyone else in my group made it though. Next time I will too. It was about 12:30 at this point.
We had walkie talkies. They knew where I was and that I was fine.
Luckily, it was a beautiful day. No wind, sun was shining. Just perfect! So we all relaxed for a while, ate our lunches and just enjoyed the view while the sun beat the ice into submission.
We finally started our descent around 1:30, at which point there snow had turned into soft and heavy corn. Held a carve pretty well! It was awesome!
Unfortunately I didn’t manage to run into my group again until we were back at the cars. There were just so many people it was easy to miss each other. The descent was a blast! Until I took a line through a gully that left me stuck a good distance from where I needed to be. Temps were over 40 near the bottom when I got stuck and snow was easily over 6 feet deep at a minimum. Putting a foot down meant post holing up past my knees. But snowshoes! So I put those back on and trudged back to the main trail. Strapped back in to my board and finished the last couple of miles.
Today I can barely walk. But you know what? I’ll do it again. It was an awesome experience!