Each spring, the Alpenglow Sports crew spends a few weeks in the Eastern Sierra skiing peaks and enjoying the High Sierra. This spring, however, with the East Side hovering around 35% of normal snowpack, the call was made to head to the Cascades of Oregon and Washington. After spending three days skiing spring corn at the Three Sisters Backcountry Yurt at a Black Diamond Equipment Dealer Camp, it was off to Mt. St. Helens in Washington. Before we could get on the mountain, however, we were forced to spend two days waiting out the weather in Hood River, Oregon. The Pacific Northwest is notoriously wet, but it was a good time to rest, fuel, and hydrate for the upcoming trip.
When the rain finally stopped, we were all secretly hoping for powder at the higher elevations. But as none of us had skied in the Northwest, we resigned ourselves to just go and suss it out and whatever we found, we would ski and enjoy. Needless to say, our party of three was extremely exited to ski such a famous volcano, especially considering that the peak is still active and could erupt again. Best known for its catastrophic eruption in 1980, Mt. St. Helens stands as the most deadly and economically destructive volcanic event in the history of the United States. A massive debris avalanche triggered by an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale caused an eruption that reduced the mountain’s elevation from 9,677 feet to 8365 feet and replaced it with a 1 mile wide horseshoe-shaped crater.
We left the Marble Mountain Sno-Park (elev. 2650 feet) around 830am after a casual drive from Hood River, Oregon. As we worked our way through the lower forest towards timberline, we were all in head-to-toe Gore-Tex as the rain hadn’t quite subsided. However, when we popped out a few miles above the trailhead, we were treated to wonderful bluebird views of our objective. We ascended the standard winter climbing route, and the higher we ascended, the more we realized how big of a treat we were in for. Boot-top powder and wonderful windbuff allowed us to skin all the way to the summit without having to use even ski crampons or deploy axe or whippet. The climb went quickly, and in a matter of hours, we were taking in the amazing views from the summit.
From the summit, the views of the 1980 Crater down to Spirit Lake were absolutely amazing, despite a stiff, cold 30+ mph wind. The Lava Dome in the center of the crater is still very pronounced and was spouting fumes the entire time we were on the summit. The catastrophic nature of the eruption stretched north for many miles and is truly “devastated.” It is still so gnarly there that summer hiking is required to stay on developed trails. What caught our eye the most, however, were the amazing couloirs and spines that descended into the crater itself. But as the area is crevassed, still volcanically active, AND illegal, we thought it best to stick to our original descent line.
The roughly 6000 foot descent was rip-able windbuff and boot top powder. Hoots and hollers were let out over the ancient volcanic giant as our skis ate up the vertical. The snow quality was some of the best of the season, and our group was completely fired up. Only when our legs were gassed at around 3000 feet did the snow turn just slightly sticky. Cold beers awaited us at the car, and we rallied back to Hood River to enjoy micro-brew, good food, and begin planning for the next objective, Mt. Adams. At 12,281 and the second highest peak in Washington, Mt. Adams made Mt. St. Helens look like a mere warm-up. But it was a great warm-up at that, one that set the tone for the next adventure!