July 20: Hoping to someday climb all the Cascade Volcanoes, I was joined by Mike Rinaldi and Brian Higgins for a whirlwind tour of the Pacific Northwest. We all piled into my van and headed up north with the intent of climbing Mt Hood, Mt Adams and Mt St Helens. Work responsibilities cut our original 5 day trip down to 4 days, so we had to really move fast. Driving passed Mt Shasta and sharing our climbing stories helped set the positive mood that prevailed throughout the trip. With Mt Hood looming in the distance we all agreed it was just as impressive in person as in the pictures. We debated the severity of the potential rockfall danger verses starting times, and after one member expressed a preference to getting hit by rockfall than to getting up at 1:00 am, we agreed to "late" start of 5:00 am.
July 21: We woke to an early morning fog, but on the way to the trailhead we emerged above it, and from that moment on we had fantastic weather the entire trip. The trailhead for the "easy" south route up Mt Hood starts at the Timberline Lodge, and less than 30 minutes later we were in crampons headed up the side of a ski lift that was very busy with skiers in mid July! At about 8000 feet we came upon an impressive looking base camp with four identical North Face Mountain-24's dug into the snow. We were soon met by noxious rotten egg smell from two large fumaroles which I gave as wide a berth as possible. Our late start did prove to be a concern, as the sun had already risen high enough to shine directly on the preferred chute, loosening rocks and snow that were beginning to fall above us. Playing it safe we choose the alternate route, which had less rock overhead. The route was impressively steep, testing, but not exceeding our technical ability. A large bergshung beneath us kept everyone's attention focused and we were on the 11,237' summit four hours after starting. Clear skies provided great views of Mt Jefferson, the Three Sisters and Broken Top to the south, and Mt Adams and Mt Rainier to the north and and Mt St Helens to the west. The climb down was uneventful except for the snowboard competition and the fact there were about a 1000 people on the ski sloops! As we crossed the Columbia River and entered Washington our views of Mt Adams confirmed what we already knew, at 12,276 feet, Mt Adams was taller than and more massive than the steeply shouldered Mt Hood.
July 22: Our great weather continued, and after driving the final 3 potholed miles up to the trailhead at about 5 mph, we hit the trail for a very "late" start of 6:30 am. Again we choose the easy route on the south side from Cold Springs. Soft snow made crampons optional early on, but a steep 1,800 foot wall above the "Lunch Counter" brought out the crampons and ice axes. As we labored up, we passed many people, our previous days acclimation starting to show. We summited at 12:30 and again had fantastic views of all the before mentioned peaks and now Mt Hood also. After lunch and the mandatory summit photos we put on rain pants and started the best "butt" glissading I've ever done. 1,800 feet down in about 5 minutes! Previous climbers had established deep grooves, much like a bobsled run, after initially checking my speed with my ice axe, I eventually just went full speed because of the adequate runout on the Lunch Counter. We eked out every last bit of glissading we could and got down in a remarkably fast time. Everything had been going too smooth, we were destined to have some problem just to keep us honest. After finishing a leisurely dinner half way to Mt St Helens, we planned to arrive at the "Climbers Bivouac" around 10:00 pm, when much to our suprise a washed out bridge closed the road with about 10 miles to go. Scrambling to get the maps out, our hearts sank when we realized we would have to backtrack and drive almost 200 miles to get to the trailhead. Having waken up that morning at 4:30 none of us we eager to drive much further, but somehow we managed to stay awake and arrived at the trailhead at 2:30 in the morning.
July 23: We didn't dare sleep in too long because we because we had to drive home after climbing, so about 7:00 we forced ourselves to get up and get ready. The climb up Mt St Helens is pretty easy, a nearly level hike through a forest, boulder hop up most of Monitor ridge, and then slog through pumice to the top at 8,365 feet. We managed the summit in 2.5 hours and again enjoyed the perfect weather so unusual to the Pacific Northwest. The crater is amazing, the volume of mountain blown out, that created the cavity is awesome. The lave dome is still smoldering and growing, and rockfall inside the crater is constant. In the distance we could see Spirit Lake, still littered with fallen trees 16 years later.
After plunge stepping our way down the pumice slopes, we loaded up and reluctantly headed home. We could see all the peaks we had climbed while looking out the van windows. Three mountains in three days, with perfect weather and company, I can't remember a better trip.
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