Writings

Thoughts, ideas, comments, diatribes, and rambles. A subjective take.

Mt St Helens Speed Ski

Mt Rainier from Mt St Helens

St Helens crater rim, with Mt Rainier in the distance.

Mt St Helens – Worm Flow winter route – 5500′, 11.3 mi, 3:37:01 car to car.

I’m past whining now. Everywhere in the West (barring BC) is pretty shy of snow. I could keep whining about how this was forecast to be an average season, but that get’s old. Fast.

Most snow conditions, except full-depth facets with a punchy crust, are good for something. Look on the bright side right? What does our snowpack look like right now? A spring snowpack. What’s that good for? Big days in the mountains and corn skiing.

Rather than sit on my petard, I decided to explore Mt St Helens. I’d never been, despite looking at it on the horizon for years, and I was told that it was the place to go for spring skiing.

St Helens is not a technical climb by any stretch of the imagination, so I decided to see what kind of speed I could lay down from the car to the summit and back.  Conditions weren’t ideal but I was happy with how it panned out.

Sunrise over the Columbia River from Mt St Helens

Sunrise over the Columbia River from Mt St Helens, Mt Hood in the distance.

Yesterday was sunny and clear, with temps forecast above freezing overnight. The above freezing didn’t prove true, and the snow surface was frozen to the summit.  Additionally frustrating was the mile of snow-dirt that had to be walked before skinning could start.

It was fun to catch skiers and snowshoers on the way up, and I quickly found myself high on the hill with no company. The snow was unsupportable in a frustrating middle zone, requiring boulder hopping as I hadn’t brought ski crampons.  Above, the still-frozen corn necessitated lengthy cramponing to the crater rim. In retrospect, I think that I finished my climb about 100 yards east and 50 ft below the true high point of the crater.

Mt St Helens Speed Ski Map and Elevation

Worm flows route and elevation profile.

Impatient, and not willing to wait for the snow near the top to thaw, I down-climbed the upper pitch to a mellower angle and skied from there. Quickly, snow turned to corn and the bowl that I was skiing narrowed into a beautiful little moraine couloir. The left side was flanked by an exfoliating cylinder of lava, leaving just enough space to make some buttery turns.

After negotiating a few small cliffs and rock outcroppings, it was back down the up-track past the later-rising climbers. Reaching the dirt, I jogged to the car down the snowdirt path for a final time of 3:37:01 with a moving time of 3:06:51 per Strava (11.3 mi, 5500′ vertical).

Could it be done faster? Definitely. Don’t drink too much wine the night before, choose a time that allows for skinning the better part of the route, and return when there’s snow extending to the parking lot. Under 3 hours is possible.

Skiing next to a Lava Cylinder

Skiing next to a Lava Cylinder, Worm Flows, Mt St Helens

Golden sunrise, surprisingly good skiing, and a full day accomplished before 11 am.  What’s the problem with too little snow?

8 Comments

  • a on Jan 23, 2014 Reply

    5k up and down in ~3.5 hours? That’s damn fast in my book, under any mode of locomotion. I probably couldn’t have kept up ;) -a

  • Ramanathan on Jan 20, 2014 Reply

    was wondering if this is a good time for snowshoeing or just hiking up? what do you think with the snow conditions?

    • Patrick Fink on Jan 20, 2014 Reply

      Depends on your experience!

      If you go early in the day, the snow surface is still frozen and makes for good travel. You’ll need crampons or snowshoes with metal cleats.

      Later in the day, the snow may get soft enough to allow for travel in boots, but it could also become punchy and miserable to walk in. Later in the day, the risk of rock fall and wet avalanches increases, so its important to pay attention to those.

      Overall, if you use good judgement, it should be good! there were lots of folks snowshoeing up as I was coming down. I hope that this helps!

      If you need avalanche education, which you might consider going into the mountains often, you can find a class near you through http://avalanche.org/.

      Be safe out there!

  • Steve Weiss on Jan 20, 2014 Reply

    As always, great photos man, and I agree better to look on the positive side than complain about the low snow. You should really factor in the photography into your time as well…and drinking the night before. 3:37 is fast regardless though. Nice work!

    • Patrick Fink on Jan 20, 2014 Reply

      Steve, thanks! Strava says I was only moving for about 3 hours, so if we subtract the amount of time that I spent being social with other skiers and climbers, I’d say 2:37 is a more appropriate time ;-)

  • @brodyleven on Jan 20, 2014 Reply

    wooooowww good on ya! killer.
    you like those PDGs or whatever those toothpicks are?

    • Patrick Fink on Jan 20, 2014 Reply

      They’re PDGs for sure. Honestly, they don’t ski all that much worse than my 176 cm BD Stigmas, and the weight is pretty…enlightening.

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