May 31, 2013

Mount St. Helens Summit

Over Memorial Day weekend, Rob and I hiked up Mt. St. Helens. We were number 5 & 6 out of the 20% who made it to the top. Before our journey began, we had no idea we were going to be post holing through waist deep snow just to get to the top. Everyone said, "Ya, there won't be hardly any snow this time of year!" Wrong! A pair of snow shoes would have been a great addition to the hike, but that wasn't about to stop us.

Being that the road to Climber's Bivouac was closed, we started hiking from June Lake Trail head (Elevation 2,700 feet). The trail started easy with a slight incline and a few inches of snow that made jogging feel like I was running on the beach. Every time my foot hit the ground, it slid back a few inches. Would I dare put my crampons on? No way! As soon as Rob said, "Let's see how far we can get with out our crampons.", I knew they would not be touching my feet!

About an hour into the hike, we started rock scrambling up a snowy/ rocky ridge with the risk of falling off the side of the mountain if we were to lose our balance. 1 step into that snowy shelf and "Adios" would have been our new names for the last seconds of our lives. But, that is not how the story goes my friends; we played it smart! A few people followed our rock scrambling path for a ways, then decided that stair stepping through the snow was more of their style. After the rocky ridge ended, we had no choice but to join the stair steppers for next 500 foot climb. At least we were almost to the top! Well, that's what we thought anyway.

The top was not the top, and the wind was chilling my skin, so I knew we had to keep moving.  At that point, there was a group of about 20 people who were turning around. I asked them how much further it was to the top and in a chuckle they said, "This is halfway." My eyes were huge in disbelief as I realized my perception of elevation dramatically changed when snow was involved.  As the group of 20 were leaving, I asked them why they were headed back down. They said the weather was supposed to get worse and an inversion was coming in. This older gentleman looked at us and said, "That's just us old people talk; we can't risk much at our age." Rob and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and decided to keep climbing. After all, there was a group of 15-20 people ahead of us.

The next 3 hours (2,700 feet) of climbing  Mt. St. Helens was quite the challenge. Fellow climbers were strapping on their skis and skinning up the mountain side, or strapping on their snowshoes for a much easier hike. Well, we didn't have any of that, but we were determined to make it to the top. The quickest hiker made it in snow shoes and we were close behind. When we started to climb above the cloud level, I was just struck with wonder. It is one thing to be in an airplane looking down on the clouds, but it is another to conquer those clouds and look back at their beauty with the sun shining on you. The freedom experienced in those moments are completely priceless. It radiates through your entire being and holds you in an enormous bubble of extravagant beauty. This was what the rest of our hike was about: freedom.

As we hit the summit, at 8,365 feet, Mt. Adams was staring, from the right, with a beautiful lenticular cloud hovering over its snowy peak. As we turned around to see where we had came from, we saw Mt. Hood basking in the sunlight. Close behind was a guy that I had the urge to talk to. While I was talking to him, I soon found out that he hiked the PCT last summer and misses being on the trail. I can see why. When you conquer a mountain or a really long trail with people who started out as strangers, you suddenly feel like you have this understanding of each other that doesn't even need to be expressed. It is just known. Your past, future, or where you come from doesn't matter because your spirits are the same in their hunger for the beauty of nature and the adventure it holds.

Eating on top of Mt. St. Helens, made homemade wraps and no bake cookies better than ever! Once we ate our food, we had to get going again because the wind was starting to cool off our bodies and we needed to keep moving.

On the way down, we spent the majority of our times sliding down the mountain on our bottoms. If that is not a freeing experience, I don't know what is. 33 years ago, Lava slid right down that hillside; why can't I? :)

My dad always taught me to appreciate the beauty in everything, to experience nature with all of my senses, to let it talk to me and teach me a thing or two. That is exactly what happened on Mt. St. Helens. I am now able to pull that experience out of my brain and hold it like a little bubble to release that invigorating feeling of the freedom I experienced. Nature is my drug, and I can't think of any better source! When I am surrounded by an area of nature that is rarely touched by humans, I realize that God new exactly what he was doing. We, as humans, believe that we do, but they really haven't a clue.

PCT 2014 Trek for M.S. Here I come!

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