We couldn’t see the mountain as we ascended a Forest Service road well after sunset.
But as we settled into a parking lot full of car-campers, beer drinkers and a VW bus whose occupants boasted a salmon dinner, I spotted it through a clearing of evergreens.
We’d be atop Mount St. Helens about sixteen hours later. Some 5,700 feet separated us from its highest point, however, as we fixed macaroni on my camp stove and suited up for the climb.
We clamored into my car, opting the spend the night there rather than in a tent pitched in subfreezing temperatures. Four a.m. arrived quickly, it seemed, and we made breakfast, grabbed our bags and headed out shortly after sunrise.
Conditions were pristine, with no wind to speak of and temperatures hovering around freezing. We made good time skinning up a cross-country ski trail to treeline, where we pointed our tips uphill and began the more intense part of the trek.
About halfway up we hit a rocky ridge flanked by a steep slope and cornice, respectively, prompting us to shoulder our skis for a few hundred yards. After a break for fruit, water and candy, we kept climbing — this time in boots, with our skis strapped to our packs. This made for a heavy load but more efficient travel while we kicked our way up the steepest part of the mountain.
We strapped crampons to our boots before ascending the final pitch to the crater rim. The extra traction eased the strenuous climb — an extended jaunt at an approximate 30-degree angle — and we clamored onto the rim ready for a meal and rest.
The crater is a sight to behold, the product of the mountain’s infamous and deadly volcanic eruption in 1980. Steam rises in the crater, puffs of ash incrementally float onto rim and three larger peaks are visible in the distance. It’s the kind of beauty you want to absorb, a scene you’ll drift back to on a drizzly weekday morning.
We spent a few hours on the rim — drinking coffee and tea, eating snacks and taking photos — before ascending to the true summit and heading back down the mountain.
Frank clicked into his skis and descended first, cutting cautious turns on the patches of ice that adorned the summit. I followed on my snowboard, taking a similar route while he snapped photos. We continued down the mountain as such, yo-yoing past one another, taking pictures and enjoying soft spring snow.
We were able to glide all the way to the trailhead, marking the longest run I’ve ever taken on a snowboard. The day was equally serene and exhausting, exhilarating and peaceful. Dare I say, the trip was near perfect.
Regular Postscript will return next month.