Mount St. Helens Climb (Spring)

Mount St. Helens Climb (Spring)

Elev. Gain: 
5,600 ft.
High: 
8,365 ft.
Where:
Cougar, WA
Distance: 
10.25 miles (round trip)
Difficulty: 
Expert
Rating: 
5
Challenging hike to the top of one of the world's most famous volcanoes
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Features

Overview

Climbing to the top of one of the world's most famous volcanoes is an unforgettable experience, and we highly recommend that you put it on your list and get here soon. Whether you find geology exciting or not, we can guarantee there is nothing quite like standing on the edge of an active volcano. The power of those subterranean forces inspires fear and wonder at the same time. Shivers up the spine. Definitely come check it out.

The winter route, known affectionately as the Worm Flows Climbing Route (because of serpentine-like gouges in the mountain created by ancient lava flows) begins at the Marble Mountain Sno-Park and makes a direct line for the summit. Although climbed year-round, this route is best suited for a snow climb. As such, climbing gear (ice axe, crampons, snowshoes/climbing skins), avalanche awareness, and route-finding skills are all necessary to even consider attempting this route. Snow levels will vary depending on season, so be sure to check the latest conditions before you go.

From the parking lot at 2,700 feet, follow the Swift Ski Trail (#244) through towering fir trees to navigate your way above timberline. The route is marked with several signs and even blue diamonds on trees early on, but when in doubt, heading north is usually a good bet.

At just over two miles and 3,500 feet, the trees begin to thin and soon disappear. Cross west over Swift Creek at 3,700 feet, just above Chocolate Falls (there's a good chance that neither of these features will be running or obvious in the winter and spring). At this point the route begins to climb in earnest up an open slope with ridges of rock and the occasional wooden route marker to help with navigation. Avoiding cornices, gullies, and potentially loaded slopes, continue to climb northward (enjoying views of Mount Adams and Mount Hood along the way) up to the crater rim at 8,200 feet elevation.

The upper slopes may be icy enough to require an ice axe and crampons, so use good judgement as you approach the summit. Once at the crater rim (keep off the cornices!), look down into the belly of the beast at the steaming lava dome and then across the crater to the vanished northern half of the mountain. Sobering. To reach the true summit, continue west along the crater to the high point at 8,365 feet elevation.

Permits & Tips

Climbing permits are required year-round above 4,800 feet, and fees vary depending on season. Find out how to obtain a permit, where to pick it up, and how much it costs on the Mount St. Helens Institute's climbing page. In addition, Washington State Sno-Park permits are required to park from November to April, and a Northwest Forest Pass is required from May to October.

Pit toilets available at trailhead. Parking is shared with snowmobilers, and can be crowded on weekends. This is a big climb, bring plenty of food and water and be in good physical shape to even attempt. Most people do this climb in a day, but we've seen snow-camping at 3,500' in early spring. Dogs allowed but not recommended as there is no rescue system.

Please, please, please stay away from the cornices on the crater rim. They are highly unstable and dangerous.

>>Google Directions

How to get there

From I-5, take exit 21 at the town of Woodland toward WA-503E.
Head east on Lewis River Road (WA-503) for 28 miles as it winds along the river to the town of Cougar. (Be sure to register and get your climbing passes at the Lone Fir Resort on the north side of the road.)
From Cougar, continue east for another 7 miles (the road becomes Road 90), and turn left onto Road 83 (signed, but easy to miss).
Drive 6 miles to Marble Mountain Sno Park at the road's end.