Photos from this trip can be found here.
The boys got their exercise yesterday so I could do this climb today. Ever since our failed attempt on Mount Hood I have been itching to do another hike like this. I missed the opportunity to climb Rainier and Adams with Piotr previously. So when he asked me join him and his friends Javier and Will, I said yes without hesitation. Having driven and hiked all over the Cascades in the last three years, the 3 ½-hour drive to Mt. St. Helens didn’t seem all that long. The four of us went down in my car with only three permits. Lucky for us, we were able to get another one at the registration office after a couple of people had backed out that morning.
The road to the standard route at Monitor Ridge was still snowed in so we weren’t able to get through. After talking to a few snowmobilers we realized that the rest of the climbers had been advised to take the winter route at Worm Flows. After we parked and geared up, the four of us were on the trail by 10:30. Nothing too eventful for the first two miles until I saw the mountain for the first time. Everyone else in the group had already seen the mountain so it was a big deal for me. None of us had gotten more than five hours of sleep the night before and the group energy level felt below average.
About three miles in, I decided to get ahead since I had the lightest load and it was easier for me to maneuver. On the way up I passed quite a few skiers, snowboarders, and people like me who would eventually glissade down the mountain. We got a late start, so most climbers were already on their way down, which means there would be barely anyone at the crater rim. The views of Mount Hood and Mount Adams were just amazing. The group disappeared from my view after I got to the radio tower, and I kept going in hope of getting to the top at a decent hour, hopefully by 4 o’clock.
The final 300-foot climb felt like an eternity, the hardest part for me mentally. The picture of Spirit Lake I once saw on flickr (courtesy of bkraai2003) kept me going, and I was determined to see it for myself. When I finally saw the lake and the south side of Mount Rainier for the very first time, it instantly took my mind off the pain from the blisters on my ankles. My first successful, nontechnical volcanic climb! It was also the first time seeing other volcanoes above clouds all around me. There were cornices on the crater rim, so I got as far as I could and snapped a good photo of the lava dome. Everything felt so surreal and incredibly, indescribably beautiful at the top.
Not knowing if the others were ever going to show up, I stuck around for a while and snapped as many photos as I could. After forty minutes of being in awe and admiring the views, and with no sign of the others, I started heading back down. On the way down I passed Piotr at 400’ below the summit, missed Will as he was on the other side of the ridge. The trip back down the mountain was mostly done by glissading and it only took an hour to get to the base. Then it was another hour from the base back to the car.
Javier was waiting for us in the car when I got back, together we waited another two hours before Piotr and Will eventually showed up. We all made it back safe and sound, yay! Now onto our 3 ½-hour drive back to Seattle.