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  1. #1
    Senior Member BengeBoy's Avatar
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    My 3rd assault on Mt. St. Helens - this one kicked my b*** (trip report w/pics)

    Last year, I rode the 82-mile "Tour de Blast" to the visitor center overlooking the crater at Mt. St. Helens and had a great time. This highway is the main way motorists drive up to the blast area of Mt. St. Helens, and they (and bicyclists who make the climb), get this view from the top. The upper third of the mountain "disappeared" in the 1980 eruption, and the view is breathtaking:



    (This thread was my ride report: www.bikeforums.net/showthread.php?t=432326)

    So last September, I rode the even longer, 113-mile "High Pass Challenge," which takes a remote back road through the blast zone (and posted this trip report: Personal best bike ride today: 112 miles, 7400 feet of climbing). That ride approaches from the east side of the crater to a spot called Windy Ridge, and gives you a look at the crater from the east.

    Both rides went fine. Challenging, but not killers. In fact, I was riding in a paceline at 20+ mph at the end of the High Pass Challenge. Not a piece of cake, but not too hard...

    So this spring, when my 19-year-old son called from college, and asked if I wanted to actually climb up to the top of the crater on foot, I did a little research first. The National Park Service just started climbing permits up to the rim a few years ago, and only 100 hikers a day are allowed above treeline. They provide this helpful warning on their website: "... Climbers may be exposing themselves to other volcanic hazards which cannot be forecast or can occur without warning. If larger explosive eruptions occur, larger material could be carried over the crater rim and in rare instances, result in injury or death. Be prepared to rapidly descend below the crater rim and seek cover. Carry and use recommended personal protective equipment...Climbers should be prepared for a long arduous day, scrambling on steep terrain, and potential weather extremes."

    So of course I figured, why not? Having "conquered" Mt. St. Helens twice on a bike, what can be so hard about a hike to the top?

    Even though this is not a cycling report, thought you might be interested in the "climb" for sake of comparison. Is a hike harder than a long, mountainous century on a bike? To spare you the suspense, here's the punchline: even though it was "only" 10 miles on foot, and "only" 4,800 feet of climbing, the 9-hour round trip hike was *much* harder than a hillly century (and left me sore for several days afterward).

    The climb starts with an overnight camp at a spot at 4,000 feet called the Climbers Bivouac. We planned to wake up at 4:20 a.m. to get started at dawn, but a nearby party of climbers woke (noisily) at 2:30 a.m. to start their ascent and I didn't get back to sleep after that. In any case, we left about 5:45 a.m.

    The first hour is normal uphill hiking through a forest, up to the timberline at about 4,700 feet. After that, you are climbing through a boulder field left by the eruption. None of the climbing is technical, but you're either stepping over boulders, or slogging through fairly deep sand/ash/pumice.

    After emerging from the treeline, we then spent the next two hours climbing up over this:



    About three hours into the hike, one approaches the final zone -- a moonscape of ash and pumice deposited from the eruption. Here's the final stretch looking toward the top:



    And here's the final stretch looking down (fyi, the starting point of the hike was way down in the trees you see at the bottom...at this point we're well over 4,500 feet above the camp):



    I took this shot off toward Mt. Adams (to the East) to show the slope one is climbing:



    With a final reward that one is able to stand on the south rim of the crater, at about 8,800 feet elevation, and look down at the lava dome inside the crater (just for scale...that lava dome in the middle of the crater is about 1,400 feet tall).



    If you go back to the very first picture in the thread above, we're standing on the rim of the crater, just about in the middle. Using Photoshop, my son assembled this panorama of the rim combining several photos:




    From the rim of the crater, you can also look to the north and see Mt. Rainier. The body of water shown here is Spirit Lake, and on the surface there are still logs floating from the eruption in 1980, which felled all the trees across the mountain.



    At this point, I was feeling great! I think cycling was great conditioning for the climb to the top. Seemed to stretch the same muscles, and aerobically I did fine. The first part of the descent went well, even though I slipped and fell a couple of times due to the slope and all the gravel/ash (even though I was using trekking poles). We covered the first part of the descent, through the "moonscape," in about half the time it took to climb up.

    But then we hit the boulder field on the way down. We had hoped to keep descending speedily, but when we hit the boulders it seemed like we kept choosing the hardest path down, and descending through and over the boulders seemed tougher than climbing up. I fell 3 more times, in a couple of cases pretty hard.

    In the end, it took as long to get down through the boulder field as it did to climb up, and I was whipped. When we finally emerged through the boulders and re-entered the forest, two miles from the end, we had been going for more than 8 hours and I was *lots* more tired than on a century - it was the descent that got me. Worse, unlike on a bike ride, when you can ease back and slowly make it back to the end of a long ride, I couldn't find a pace that was comfortable. I tried slow, slower and even slower, and still I found almost every step painful in some way.

    Finally made it back to the car, and took it easy. My legs were sore for 4 more days -- I think every muscle you *don't* exercise on a bike is exactly the same muscle you need to walk down a hill. Bruises on my hands from falling. Ankle a sprained a year ago is sore again, and is still sore, a week later.

    Yet - a fantastic day...great father/son adventure -- but I think my 4th climb of Mt. St. Helens will be on a bike!

    Interested? Climbing permit details here:

    http://www.fs.fed.us/gpnf/recreation/mount-st-helens/

    For those of you who need more cycling content, here's my Tommasini t-shirt at the top:

    Last edited by BengeBoy; 08-06-09 at 07:14 PM.

  2. #2
    Senior Member SaiKaiTai's Avatar
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    Wow! Just... wow!
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  3. #3
    Senior Member drafters65's Avatar
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    thats beautiful
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  4. #4
    Senior Member PrairieDog's Avatar
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    Wonderful report! And from years of experience hiking, I can say that the downhill is always the part I dread for what I'm going to feel like on the following day. Oh the misery!

    Think of it as 8 hours of step aerobics.

    Looks like it was a fun day with your son.
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    Wow!
    I went to graduate school in Seattle, so I've always loved those mountains.

    Thanks for a really special story,

    Paul

  6. #6
    Senior Member George's Avatar
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    I just got back from Alaska and we went to Mount Rainier and I talked to some people that made that climb riding their bikes, man it was awesome. I think you have them beat though, What a beautiful place to ride. I didn't see any riders coming down and I wish I had. How was it coming down? Anyhow thanks for the report, it looks like a great ride.
    George

  7. #7
    Senior Member FL_MarkD's Avatar
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    Great story and one your son will remember always.

    Thanks for sharing the story and the pictures.

    Mark
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  8. #8
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    Neat pictures!! Worked a lot in that area in the 1980s and it's neat to see all the changes brought by time and the 2004-2007 eruption. Amazing to see the blast zone is finally greening up. What a great day to have with your son!

  9. #9
    Slo Spoke Jim kjc9640's Avatar
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    What a great trip that must have been...congratulations on a job well done.
    SloSpoke Jim

  10. #10
    Let's do a Century jppe's Avatar
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    Thanks so much for posting and sharing-and we can keep it in the cycling forum and call it Cycling Cross Training!! Incredible climb and adventure. I second the WOW!!

  11. #11
    gone ride'n cyclinfool's Avatar
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    Great pics, wonderful report. Thanks
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  12. #12
    Senior Member kr32's Avatar
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    That is awesome dude! I think this might have been the best post I have read in a long time. This is what I like about BF..seeing what others are doing in our great country,not to forget others countries either but sometimes I think people forget how diverse ours is.
    Must have been so cool to do something like that with your son too!

    Those views are beautiful.

    Thanks for posting.

  13. #13
    Senior Member rdtompki's Avatar
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    Spectacular! It's great that you and your son can share something like that. Such experiences will be with you for a long, long time. I used to do a lot of hill running into my early 40's and descending fast or steep (choose 1) uses your quads in strange ways.
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  14. #14
    Have bike, will travel Barrettscv's Avatar
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    Great report and photography.

    Michael
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  15. #15
    Spin Meister icyclist's Avatar
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    Great report. Biking definitely helps with climbing - and descending - but probably more for stamina than for working the same muscles, at least in my experience.
    This post is a natural product. Slight variations in spelling and grammar enhance its individual character and beauty and are in no way to be considered flaws or defects.

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  16. #16
    pgk
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    Beautiful country. We went out to Washington a few years back on vacation with no agenda what so ever. Flew out from MI rented a suv and just traveled from one location to another. Had a great time, if you like coffee Seattle is the place to go, fantastic food too..

  17. #17
    Email for new group DnvrFox's Avatar
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    Treasure this time together. You will remember the fun long after you forget the pain.

    And, a really handsome son!
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  18. #18
    Senior Member BengeBoy's Avatar
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    Thanks for the compliments on the photos - we did have a great time.

    This week is the 8th anniversary of our move to the Pacific Northwest, and I still feel as if we haven't scratched the surface of everything we want to do that's just outside our door. The great thing about cycling is that it allows me to get into the mountains frequently, and also helped with conditioning so I can enjoy non-cycling outdoors activities even more.

  19. #19
    Senior Member PrairieDog's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BengeBoy View Post
    Thanks for the compliments on the photos - we did have a great time.

    This week is the 8th anniversary of our move to the Pacific Northwest, and I still feel as if we haven't scratched the surface of everything we want to do that's just outside our door. The great thing about cycling is that it allows me to get into the mountains frequently, and also helped with conditioning so I can enjoy non-cycling outdoors activities even more.
    BB--do you mind me asking where you are from originally? My DH and I have probably enjoyed our vacations in the Pac NW more than any others we've taken. The Seattle area in particular seems to have the sort of things we both enjoy (jazz, water/boats, cycling, gardening) and whenever we talk about a place to retire to, the NW comes up at the top.

    My only worry is that since I've lived all of my life in the southwest, it will be too much of a change in climate and culture...
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  20. #20
    Senior Member BengeBoy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PrairieDog View Post
    BB--do you mind me asking where you are from originally?
    My wife and I are both 5th-generation Kansans (my great-great-grandparents were Homesteaders).

    Since leaving Kansas, I spent a lot of time in the Southwest and other warm climates: Dallas
    Los Angeles, Mexico City, and Houston. Then I moved north, and lived in Chicago, and finally London before moving to Seattle.

    The biggest plus of the Pacific Northwest is the access to the outdoors. You can be outdoors doing something 52 weeks a year. In the winter, if you are willing to dress for rain, you can continue cycling, running, or hiking at lower elevations (where we get rain all winter, but not much snow). It rarely gets below 30 degrees in the winter; generally the day time highs are around 37 degrees. Or, if you like snowsports, you can snowshoe, ski or snowboard in the mountains.

    Summers are spectacular -- last week's heatwave aside (first time it's ever been over 100 degrees), it's generally 75 to 80, no humidity, no wind, no bugs.

    Another plus is the people - generally nice. Plus, the "Pacific Northwest" is a big area - Oregon, Washington, British Columbia - there is a lot to explore. Throw in the fact you're a day's drive from Idaho and Montana and there is plenty to do.

    Finally, there is the variety of living possibilities -- some folks get cabins in the mountains; others get condos right in downtown urban areas (Portland, Seattle are both pretty nice cities); and then there are the islands, bays, rivers, etc. East of the Cascades, you have a whole different climate - the "high desert" areas of Oregon; the Methow Valley in northern Washington, the wine country of Eastern Washington...it's pretty diverse.

    In terms of your interests:
    - Jazz - one of my interests as well; several really nice clubs in the PacNW and enough jazz festivals during the year to keep someone interested.
    - Cycling - check; year-round cycling and variety
    - Water/boats - obviously this is a huge boating center. Sailing, powerboats, whitewater kayaking, ocean kayaking.
    - Gardening - this is the best gardening climate we've lived in; it's a amazing what my wife has been able to do with our yard (I just watch and pull the occasional weed). We do get plenty of slugs but this year they are out-numbered by the hummingbirds.

    Minuses?
    - You do have to be able to tolerate constant drizzle/moisture in the winter; it *will* be drippy from November to March.
    - Higher cost of living than the Midwest/South/Southwest
    - It's a *long* way from friends and family. Anything east or south of Denver takes a big chunk of time to get to, even by plane.
    Last edited by BengeBoy; 08-08-09 at 12:03 PM.

  21. #21
    Senior Member PrairieDog's Avatar
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    Thanks, BB. Those are our impressions. I think I can handle drippy, though I'm not really sure since I'm used to sunshine 300 days out of the year. The flip side of that is the milder temperatures. It can get pretty hot in the summer here in Texas. Being able to be outdoors year-round is a must for me (I can't stand being cooped up), and the jazz is a must for Walt. We've also been looking at Portland, Oregon as a possibility.

    Who knows? I may see you up there sometime in the future!
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  22. #22
    Crazy ole cat lady
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    I am truly impressed!

    Fantastic pictures, too. I did not know that anyone was able to go all the way to the rim.

  23. #23
    Senior Member
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    Thanks for the fantastic report and pictures. I was just telling my husband we need to go see Mt St Helens, and I think this might be just the push we need.

  24. #24
    Senior Member BengeBoy's Avatar
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    Sadly, a 50+ hiker/climber fell into the crater of Mt. St. Helens yesterday, and they found his body today. He fell from the rim about 20 yards from where the pictures above were taken -- apparently he stepped back to have his picture taken, and a cornice of snow gave way beneath him, and he slid about 1,500 feet into the crater. According to some stories he had done this hike more than 60 times.

    A profile in a local paper:

    http://www.tdn.com/news/local/articl...cc4c002e0.html

  25. #25
    Council of the Elders billydonn's Avatar
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    I had occasion to do some extended walking one day last week and found that though my cardio was good for it, my legs were surprisingly sore for a day or two afterward. It was a reminder to not become too specialized I guess. Far out report and pics... thanks!

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