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