Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mt. St. Helens Mother's Day Ski

Emily and I had a rough end of the week culminating with her in the emergency room on Thursday night with a severe migraine, blind from the pain.  The emergency room doctor in Salmon Creek gave her a cocktail of pills which didn’t really seem to do the trick like the IV of narcotics did when we had to go in Corvallis a year ago.  

Her head was still hurting on Friday when she went to see a doctor at the Vancouver Clinic who told her stupidly that she had hyperventilated to cause it..  She said the guys was nice but was super young and straight out of med school.  I made her promise that if it happens again within a year that she will get an MRI done.

Because of her migraine we both decided it probably wasn’t a good idea for her to attempt Mt. St. Helens with us on Saturday which is a 6,000 ft. ascent.  The worst thing imaginable would be her with a migraine on a bright glacier unable to see and skiing down in bumpy snow that would jar her head.  If there were any signs of her relapsing I would not have left but on Friday she seemed to be on the mend and doing much better.  

I barely had time to stop at the store and Panda Express for some grub before Eric arrived at our house to pick me up for the trip with Dominique and Matt.  We quickly jammed all of our gear into the back of his spacious Forester and headed north to the Lone Fir Resort about an hour away to meet up with Erica and Craig and pick up our climbing permits we had bought online for $22 the night before.  

When we arrived we quickly got in line for our permits with our receipts which was a great idea because about five minutes later the line was 30-40 people deep and out the door.  Apparently we had just beat everyone also getting out of work from Portland and heading up there which made Eric’s early pickup totally worth it.  

Traditionally, this is the last weekend of the year that the park service issues unlimited climbing permits.  After this weekend the mountain is limited to 100 people per day.  It has become tradition over the years to climb the peak in a red dress in honor of Mother’s Day.  Because the weather looked crappy on Sunday everyone had come up on Saturday for the sunshine this year instead.  When we picked up our permits we learned that this year the record had been broken with over 650 permits being issued (we learned later that it was closer to 700 people on the mountain).  Yeah... it was going to be insanity.  

We left the Lone Fir with Erica and Craig following us up to the Climbers parking lot at Marble Mountain Sno Park.  After a brief wrong turn we made it to the parking lot just before 9pm and had time to set up our area before the sun went down.  Eric was able to find his friends Kate, Elliot, and Sandra shortly after and we spent the rest of the evening sitting in the parking lot in warm clothes drinking some beers.  We certainly were not alone as there were dozens of other groups partying around us as well.  Around 11pm I gently encouraged us to call it a night as it was getting pretty quiet and I knew other climbers would be getting up early and needed their sleep.  

Eric and Dominique walked down to the lower lot to sleep and Craig and Erica slept in their car.  Only Borish and I were left outside in our bags which turned out to be a bad choice because the upper lot became extremely loud around 3:30-4am when inconsiderate climbers began to awake and make a lot of noise putting on their dresses and yelling to each, as well as accidentally setting off their car alarms on multiple occasions. Needless to say, Matt and I didn’t get much sleep while the rest of our party slept like babies in quiet cars or the lower lot.  

Our alarms went off around 6am (late compared to most of the other climbers) and we all met around Eric’s car to gear up and head out on the trial.  All of us had skis or snowboards besides Sandra so we weren’t too worried about getting a later start.  Sandra had ridden up with Kate and Elliot so she wasn’t really with the group of us 6 who had planned on skiing over a week before.  I had my gps and downloaded iphone maps with me but none of it was needed do to the highway of people we simply had to follow up the mountain the entire way.

We left the parking lot around 7:30 after a group photo and found that we had to hike nearly a mile on mostly dry trail until we hit enough snow to put our skis and skins on.  The past two weeks of sunny 80 degree freak spring weather in Oregon had certainly done its toll on the spring snow pack.  It didn’t take us too long to reach the tree line beneath the worm flows on the southern face of the devastated volcano.  Matt had been skinning along with his phone blaring tunes along the trail but by the time we really started to climb into the open his batteries wore out.  Dominique who didn’t have a split board kicked ass hiking in just her snowboard boots, often staying ahead of us all on the well packed-in trail.

Above treeline on the lower slopes we all chose to start skinning but after some time we found the well trampled boot pack to be a faster option and strapped our skis to our packs.  Matt, on the other hand, declared how much he hated boot packing and chose to switchback all the way up with his split board on, very impressive as the snow was mushy and slick.  

We all caught up with Sandra at the weather station area about halfway up the volcano.  We took a break there for a while eating some food and resting while I wrote messages on some poster board Kate had brought up to our mothers.  I even wrote “mom” on the golden belt of the red dress I was wearing the whole day.  We snapped some photos of all of us holding the signs and soon people around us began to ask if they could also borrow the signs for photos.  They were definitely a big hit.

From there it was a boot pack trudge up to the top.  We took another couple stops to rest but after the last one, with about a thousand feet left I took off out front.  Oddly, my legs weren’t tired at all and I found myself passing person after person as they stepped aside to let me pass when they heard me approaching behind them.  My legs felt so good I almost could have run the last 200m to the top.  Apparently biking, running and CrossFit are paying off.  

Once on top I put on my bibs, puffy jacket, gloves and hat to wait for the others to arrive and busied myself taking photos of the views towards Rainier, Goat Rocks, south towards Hood and down into the massive blown out crater of  St. Helens.  I’m always in awe up there on the rim at how much of mass of the volcano just fell away in the eruption.  It used to be nearly 1,300 feet higher than it is now.  The true summit was further West along the ridge but because I had been there in 2008 I decided to skip it this year and just relax in the sun with everyone else.  

After a few celebratory beers at the top along with sardines and more shot blocks we geared up for the descent.  Matt, being an ex AK heli ski guide, went into guide mode and offered to run sweep and help Sandra down the peak as she was the only one without skis or a board with us.  Sandra had ridden up with Elliot and Kate and wasn’t technically part of our group of 6 that had been planning this climb so when we caught up with them at the weather station we, as nicely as we could, basically said that Kate or Elliot needed to keep an eye on her as Matt and the rest of us had purposely brought skis and boards to enjoy a quick descent.  I felt bad that Matt missed out on the ski descent directly from the summit but he was a good sport about it and from the looks of it Sandra was moving pretty quick down the slopes even without skis.  

I was able to grab some great helmet cam footage and point and shoot footage all the way down the peak, trying to follow each person at one point or another, but occasionally getting over excited a few times and pointing down between them.  Again, my legs were feeling super strong which was definitely a new feeling for me ski mountaineering.  We soon made it down to treeline where we had to take off our skis on a multiple occasions to cross dry rocky areas.  

We had made it to the top in about 7 hours and it took us a little over 2 hours with a lot of stops to get down and back to the car.  On the way out we heard about a couple different mountain rescue events on the mountain which wasn’t surprising given the number of people climbing that day.  The guy who had slept next to us in the parking lot actually was one of the volunteers who helped a woman get down who had severely twisted her knee.  

We also saw a dad who was being really cruel to his son, calling him a pansy although the kid had made it all the way to the summit.  Dominique made a point of telling the kid good job in the parking lot when we saw them later.  Elliot pretty much took off ahead of us down the peak all the way to the parking lot and Kate stayed behind with Sandra to make sure she got down safely. 

We all had a few cold beers that I had stashed in the snow and rehydrated with water and snacks at the cars.  We laid around for a bit chatting and resting before starting to pack up the car for the ride home.  We were planning on possibly stopping for food on the way home but something hit me hard in my stomach and I began to feel truly terrible.  It felt like a mild case of food poisoning and nothing I was doing was helping to alleviate it.  I spent the entire hour and half ride home curled up in the back seat trying to sleep away the pain.  

When we got back to the house I asked Emily to help grab my gear while I ran upstairs and puked.  Puking up sardines may have been the worst vomiting experience ever....  I spent most of Sunday sick in bed, but very thankful that it hadn’t hit me while on the mountain.  It was a terrific trip and I was super stoked to have spent a great day backcountry skiing with Eric, Craig, Erica, Dominique, Sandra, Kate, Elliot and Borish!  Next year Emily will definitely be joining us!

No comments: