Since the time we met those hikers at Mt.Rainier, who told us about the potential St.Helen climb, we were itching to climb it.
After the hikes in Rainier, we headed south to the town called Cougar in WA.
Climbing Helen requires permit and it’s sold online. When we checked, the permits were sold out till end of September. However, there is always a possibility of last minute cancellation. So, we decided to head to Lone Fir Resort in Cougar, WA, where the permits are picked up from. You can call and put your name down for wait list if someone cancels at the last minute.
Irrespective of whether we get the permit or not, we decided to check out St.Helen at least from the rim area. There are plenty of trails for everyone’s need at this National Volcanic monument.
There are days when stars are beautifully aligned and you get to climb the mountain, successfully summit and be back in decent shape.
It’s a 10-mile round trip hike. But, don’t under estimate it. This is one of the toughest 10-miles I have hiked in a while. It is almost a 4500ft elevation gain for 5-mile stretch. Essentially the trail just goes straight upwards to the peak.
The first two miles are in the woods with nice and gradual climb. The moment you come out of the timberland into the Volcano part, the trail requires stability, rock scrambling skills, walking on the scree from the Volcano, and ice-climb at times.
At a slow pace, it took me about 5:30 hours to reach the peak. After spending close to an hour at the peak, taking pictures, eating lunch and enjoying the view, it was time to climb down.
Climbing down through lose gravel didn’t appeal to my knees. So, for the peak stretch, we did butt slide that took us down for about 1000ft or so. It was freezing as we didn’t wear snow pants. Sliding down on hiking pants, and fully getting wet, wears you down quickly too.
The remaining miles took another 4-5 hours to climb down at a real slow pace as my old knees required care and attention.
[Yes, “we can’t do that, we don’t have snowpants” was my first reaction. But, we still did it.]
– Stayed at Cougar campsite for two nights. The campsite has full facility with warm showers. But, who cares about the shower when there is a lake to take a dip in ?!
– Get permit ahead of time for Helen climb. But, if you can’t, do test your luck.
– Start the hike really early in the morning. It gets hot in the afternoon and I got sun burns on my nose.
– Take plenty of water and snacks on the hike. There is no water access on the mountain. I had at least 4-litres on my backpack.
– Take something to protect you from snow, such as snow-pants or waterproof pants.
– Even if you don’t climb the mountain, still go to St.Helen for the drive through the intense green National Forest or smaller hikes.