Last Thursday, I hiked up Monitor Ridge to the rim of Mount St. Helens. This was the most physically demanding hike that I’ve ever taken. According to the red book, it was a 9.4 mile hike with 4500 feet of climb. Sullivan rated it as Extremely Difficult. As usual, he really wasn’t kidding. Every hike that I’ve taken in the last couple of months had been to prepare me for this one, and I was still brutalized.
The hike had four fairly distinct stages. The first couple of miles was a well maintained trail through the woods. There was a fair amount of climb, but nothing compared to what was to come. We saw friendly birds and there was a toilet about two miles from the trail head.
The next stage started around 4800 feet, where climbing permits were required. The trail itself dwindled away, and wooden posts marked the way up the ridge. The terrain became a mix of volcanic sand and rock.
The third stage was a particularly rocky section of the ridge. Here I climbed over one rocky knob after another, pausing from time to time to watch the progress of those above or below me. This area would actually turn out to be even harder on the way back down, as I labored to lower myself down on tired muscles.
The final stage to the rim was a long stretch of loose scree. Without poles, I would have slid back a step for every two that I went forward. Sadly, this entire part of the mountain was lodged in a cloud, so there was little or no visibility. In the end, the rim was anti-climactic: no views, just a wet, gritty wind and less than a 100 feet of visibility.
On the way down, I had a fall. Shortly after leaving the rockiest portion, I dropped my guard and fell between some rocks as I was stepping down. My trekking poles slipped and I fell hard, landing with my right thigh against a flat rock surface. It took a moment to be sure that I wasn’t actually hurt and it took the wind out of my sails for a while afterward.
All in all, a strenuous hike with very little pay off, yet somehow I am quite pleased that I did it. There is a certain satisfaction with having attempted a daunting physical task and then succeeding. I have the suspicion that we will wind up talking about doing it again next summer, in order to capture those views that alluded us this time.