This Memorial Day a rather large group of us made an attempt at climbing Mt. Saint Helens. You know that mountain here in the northwest that one morning in 1980 blew it’s top.
I stare at that mountain every day. It sits about an hour and a half directly to the north of my house and beckons us to climb to its top and take a peak into the crater left by the eruption.
On 100 climbers a day are allowed on the mountain, so we got permits and started planning. The good part of this story and the reason we had a happy ending is because three of my assistant Scoutmaster were part of the group, not to mention 4 Scouts who just happen to be the sons, and a daughter (Venturing Scout) . And our wives went along, they are avid hikers and were up for the challenge.
I say happy ending, because what a lot of people fail to plan for is weather. I talked with a climber at the camp site the morning of the climb. He did not seem to think that “a little rain” would spoil the climb. And he was right, a little rain would certainly not spoil the climb, but what he failed to recognize is that a little rain at camp was a lot of rain once you got to altitudes above the tree line.. or snow and wind.
We started our assent at 6:00 AM. The hike through the lower section while still in the trees was a gradual climb and really nice trail. The park service does a nice job of marking the trail and grooming, well I suppose with a 100 folks on it a day.. the trail is clearly visible. Once we got out of the trees it is still clear which way to go and as I followed along with my map it was easy to track where we were. Clearing the wood line you enter a lava flow and some rugged terrain. Not that challenging, but the driving rain made for slippery rock and mud. Mother Nature was having her way with us and most of the party was starting to feel the effects of condensation in their rain gear and it was already time to change out of the first pair of wet socks.
We climbed rather quickly and began slugging our way up through the snow. This is where the climb starts becoming difficult. The wet and the step climb really started to take its toll on some of our group.
We started passing groups that were on their way down. They reported 0 visibility and super high winds above the 5000 foot mark. We continued to climb.
When we reached 4800 it was time to make a decision. We could see that the clouds were dropping and the winds were picking up.
A quick assessment of our group told us that Mother nature would win today and the mountain would have to be conquered some other time.
We turned and made a quick decent to the wood line. Took stock of the group, had a snack, and headed back to camp. After 5 hours of climbing we were finished.
We were more prepared than most of the folks we saw on the slope. We had backpacks with extra clothing, especially socks. We were carrying 4 liters of water per person. We had the right gear and did the necessary planning. I know that we were ready. For the Scouts that made the climb it was valuable lesson on knowing when to call it a day and that the right gear would assist in making the day less miserable and ultimately successful.
It was nice to see the motto played out this Memorial day. It is a great lesson to put in that memory bank and know that it works for everything. It certainly makes for a happier ending to what could have been a bad day.
Have a Great Scouting Day!
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