Mt. St. Helens

April 22-23, 2002

Dave Svilar, Matt Elley

Only those who live in a hole have never heard of Mt. St. Helens.  Tourists flock from near and far to catch a glimpse of the fiery giant, while those with enough stamina can climb the mountain and peer into the crater from above.  The real treat comes in the early spring before a climbing fee is required and the mountain is covered in ski-able snow. 

Matt and I had been waiting for a rare April break in the weather, so when the forecast was good for the weekend we made plans.  Feeling the pull of the shining sun I snuck out of my windowless lab early Friday afternoon.  With time to kill I ran a few laps around Green Lake in Seattle.  I met Matt at his house, and we decided to wait for the traffic to die down on I-5.  Therefore we had more time to kill - luckily we were at Matt's house.  Not only does his room overlook Portage Bay, but it also features every type of musical instrument imaginable.  I received a crash course on the bass guitar and before long it was time to head south.

Our waiting paid off as we cruised down the freeway unimpeded in Matt's "new" '89 Corolla.  We didn't exactly cruise though, as our speed never exceeded 64 mph.  According to Matt this was the appropriate speed for maximum fuel efficiency.  Further efforts to conserve gas involved taking the snowboards off the roof rack to make the Corolla more aerodynamic.  Four hours after leaving Seattle we found what we thought was the correct trailhead and crawled into the back of the Corolla.  My fears of having to spoon Matt all night were for not as the Corolla provided ample sleeping space. 

After finding the correct Snow-Park trailhead the next morning we received bad news over the airwaves - Alice In Chains lead singer Layne Staley was found dead in his Seattle home.  We paid homage with a brief moment of silence for our fallen hero, then mounted our snowboards on our backs and set off up the trail in the misty morning.

Dave and Matt setting off in the misty morning from the Corolla.

We predicted that we would break the clouds once we were higher, but the mist soured our moods as we hiked in silence.  We chose to wear tennis shoes, which paid off as we passed other groups clumping along on snowshoes.  After hiking for an hour on mostly flat terrain we broke the trees and started ascending.  Shortly thereafter we were treated to one of every climber's greatest joys - the breaking of the clouds.

Matt celebrates breaking the clouds.


Matt hiking above the clouds with Mt. Adams glistening on the horizon.

We passed a couple of more groups as we trudged along the long snowy slopes towards the summit.  Four hours after leaving the Corolla we reached the top and were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves alone.  We scouted around the corniced summit rim and found a place to peer over the side into the steaming crater.  The valley was a sea of clouds broken only by the protrusions of Rainier to the north and Adams and Hood to the south.  We could see the human ant trail of climbers making their way to the summit, but we were able to enjoy an entire hour of solitude before the cold air forced us to put on our boots for the descent. 

Corniced summit rim with Mt. Adams in the background.


Matt on the summit with Mt. Rainier sticking out of the clouds.

Usually descending a volcano is considered a slog, but in this case it would be the highlight.  The thought of almost 6,000 vertical feet of wide open slopes made us salivate.  Matt went first and immediately started in on some of his patented aerial maneuvers.  I on the other hand, started in on some of my patented face plants.  Once we neared the line of climbers on their way up I realized I had an audience and started riding with more style.  The snow had absorbed enough of the sun's rays to be soft, and numerous lumps in the snow provided small jumps for Matt to do his tricks.

Dave getting up speed for the next face plant.

After stopping for a picture I realized my new SLR camera had popped out of my pack.  I trudged almost 1,000 feet back up to retrieve it, cursing as I passed other climbers.  Feeling fortunate to have my camera we descended back into the clouds.  With the aid of our poles we were able to push through the flat sections and keep our boards on the entire way back to the Corolla. 

We reached Seattle with enough time and energy to play catch in the park.  As we threw the baseball the clouds that had covered the city all morning finally cleared.  We smiled knowing we had enjoyed an entire day above them.  Both of us enjoyed our first snowboard descent of a real mountain, and made plans for future endeavors.

-written May 2002

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