Mt. Saint Helens (Washington Cascades; 8,365')

Mt. Saint Helens gained notoriety in 1980 when it exploded in a cataclysmic eruption that is thought to have been very similar to the historic eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed Pompei. The eruption wiped out all glaciers, most of the historic routes, and shaved off about 1,500' of elevation. What's left is a scree slog in summer and fall, and a cool ski trip in winter. The views are breathtaking.

Topo Map


Monitor Ridge (I, Class 2, moderate ski descent)


Fred Beckey, Cascade Alpine Guide, Vol. 1 , The Mountaineers (Seattle 1987)

J. Smoot, Summit Guide to the Cascade Volcanoes , Chockstone Press (1992)

The crater of Mt. St. Helens in March; Spirit Lake and Mt. Rainier in the background

Date: March 19/20, 2004

Party: Dietrich and Paul Belitz

Route: Monitor Ridge

Equipment: AT Skis, bivy gear

Time: 4 hrs 50 mins from bivy at tree line (~3,600'); 1 hr 50 mins from crater rim to car

Comments: Icy going up, good conditions coming down

Trip report:

Paul and I had done St. Helens in June years ago, and we were both eager to ski it. The weather forecast for the weekend going into Spring Break was good, and so we started out from Eugene on Friday shortly after 1pm, less than 24 hours after Paul had come down from Seattle for the break. We hit the Friday afternoon rush hour in Portland, and it was almost 5pm by the time we finally got going from Marble Mountain Sno Park at about 2,600'. There was a good skin track up Swift Creek gulch, and we made good progress. A party coming down reported hard water ice with a few inches of fresh snow on top. They were on snow shoes and apparently had had a hard time on the ice. We carried no crampons, but that could not be changed now. At 6:15pm we hit timberline at around 3,600' and found a good bivy site off the trail. After cooking dinner we disappeared into our bags, wearing everything we had since we brought only our light 20 degree down bags. The night was not too cold, though. After midnight a wind came up higher on the mountain, and we could hear it roar above the ridges, but at our site it remained calm.

We got up at sunrise, and while we were packing up the first day trip parties came by. We skinned up another 1,500' or so, then it became so icy that we decided to carry our skis. The party the night before had been right: There was fresh powder over hard ice, and without crampons it was a bit marginal in places. Soon we came into the wind zone, too, and there was a lot of spin drift due to the fresh snow. Still, we kept a decent pace and reached the crater rim a few minutes after noon.

It is too bad that the crater rim is so heavily corniced that one has to stay back quite a bit, but the view is nonetheless spectacular. Just below are the guts of the volcano, just north of the crater is Spirit Lake with Mt. Rainier towering above it, to the East there is Mt. Adams, and to the South, Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson. It's one of the best views in the Cascades, even though one is only at 8,300'.

It was cold on the summit because of the wind, and we did not stay too long. We had some trepidations about skiing the ice, but to our amazement only the first few hundred feet were a bit icy; farther down the ice had been transformed to near-perfect corn. The skiing was so much fun that we had to force ourselves to stop occasionally and take some pictures. Unfortunately, we carried only Pauls's relatively new digital camera, which he is not quite familiar with yet, and I was not familiar with it at all, and so the photo yield was not as good as it could have been. From our bivy site it was just another 20 minutes on the trail, and by 2:30pm we were back at our car. Just before reaching the sno park we met again a snow boarder from a party we had met off and on all day long, and he reported that his buddy had broken an ankle after hitting some softer-than-expected snow and had been rescued by a snow mobile. A good reminder how easy it is to get hurt even on slopes as gentle and open as those of St. Helens!

Great trip overall, and near-perfect skiing!

Photo Gallery:

Click the pictures to see a higher resolution image.

Approaching the mountain Friday night Breaking camp in the morning Skinning up Packing up on hard ice Paul on the crater rim; Mt. Adams in the background Crater, Spirit Lake, and Mt. Rainier

Paul skiing Paul skiing, Mt. Adams in the background Dietrich skiing