First Obsidian Climb of Mt. St. Helens since Eruption
February 6-8, 1987
Mt. St. Helens hadn’t been climbed by the Obsidians since it erupted. In the years since the mountain blew itself apart, a controversy over whether climbers should be allowed to scramble the scree- and snow-covered slopes of this once-scenic peak has ensued. A number of climbers and curiosity-seekers have illegally climbed St. Helens; however, the mountain is still considered closed to climbing until the State of Washington resolves a legal dispute that will eventually decide whether or not St. Helens is opened for climbing.
On the weekend of February 6th, a number of Obsidians and non-Obsidian climbers climbed St. Helens under the auspices of a permit obtained by a Register-Guard reporter, Harry Esteve, who was researching an article about the St. Helens climbing controversy.
The traditional climbing route on the north side of the mountain is now scattered between Spirit Lake and Montana, so our group was directed to the south side of the mountain for its climb. We began our trip by skiing several miles on a Forest Service logging road, then bushwhacking several thousand feet to the base of Monitor Ridge. Our “high” camp was slightly lower than 6,000 feet; however, we had excellent views of the night lights of Portland.
On the morning of February 7th, our group strapped on their crampons and began the easy walk on a 35° slope to the summit. The summit ridge crowns the crater of the mountain and is heavily corniced. The true summit appears quite formidable from the crater’s rim; however, it, too, is fairly easy to ascend.
It took us a little over two and a half hours to reach the summit from base camp. At 9:30 a.m. the members of our group were carefully belayed one by one to the crater’s rim to peer into the amphitheater of St. Helens. Multicolored rock lined the crater as a result of thermal activity, and sulfur fumes perfumed the air. I had previously climbed St. Helens twice before the eruption, and I was impressed by the enormity of the power that tore the mountain apart.
It was windy on top, so after a few photographs of Mt. Rainier, the group, and naturally the crater, we descended under partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the 40’s.
The most enjoyable part of the trip, in addition to the spectacular scenery, was watching the novice ski-mountaineers in our group descend on touring skis with full packs. Needless to say, there were numerous face plants. We arrived at our cars about 5 p.m. and returned home content with the knowledge that we were among a limited number of climbers who had been able to experience St. Helens’ summit since it was devastated.
Some of you may have seen the article and numerous photographs in the Register-Guard about our climb. I think it’s important that you understand that John Jacobsen did not consciously mug for photographs, ingratiate himself with the photographer, or simply threaten to end his life on the mountain if his picture didn’t appear in the paper at least twice. John simply can’t help it that he was the most photogenic member of our group.
It was fun to revisit St. Helens; I appreciate the assistance fellow Obsidians John Jacobsen and Tom Donnelly rendered; and I enjoyed the other members of our group: Obsidian Jim Russell, and nonmembers Dan Root, Bob Kiene, Sid Pollard, and Harry Esteve. Leader, Sam Miller.