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Mt. St. Helens 12 miles

  • Elevation gain: 6,348 feet
  • Highest elevation: 8,365 feet
  • Starting elevation: 2,528 feet
Photo: Nick Mealey

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Tour description

Worm Flows Descent

From the Marble Mountain Sno-park follow the Swift Creek Ski Trail north through the forest. At 2.5 miles and 3700 feet you'll cross over Swift Creek at Chocolate Falls. You'll know you're there when you pass the northern rim of a large bowl downstream and then take a short steep section onto a higher ridge. Here on this higher ridge is where a lot of people set up camp amongst the smaller trees up to around 4800 feet at the treeline. A climbing permit is required to go beyond 4800 feet ($22 in the spring and summer, free in the fall. See the logistics section below for more information). From here, pick a path and work your way up the bowls and ridges. Some sections can get as steep as 35 degrees but there are several path options that will allow you to take slightly mellower terrain. Bring an ice axe and crampons for the steeper sections since the mountain is wide open and receives a lot of wind scouring. At 5600 feet you'll be on the small Swift Glacier. Don't worry, there aren't any crevases. In fact, you won't even notice that you're on a glacier unless you look at your map. The crater rim is at 8,365 feet and offers magnificent views. You'll think you're almost there on the last few hills to climb in the rolling terrain but stick with it until you get to the top. The true summit is a bit to the West from where you'll initially come to the crater rim. Remember to stay a ways back from the rim due to cornices. There have been a couple of accidents here over the years when people have gotten too close and the cornices have collapsed. Expect to take about 6.5 hours to reach the rim. Descend back the way you came.

Logistics: Mount St. Helens has a slightly confusing permit structure. Climbing permits are required above 4800 feet. Permits are available online only through the Mount St. Helens Institute April 1st thru October 31st. Permits are self issue and free of charge Nov. 1st thru March 31st and available at the Climbing Registers at Marble Mountain Sno-Park. After April and during the summer you have to pick up your permits at the Lone Fir Resort in Cougar, WA. It's right on the road so it's difficult to miss. The tricky thing is you have to purchase your permits online during these months at least 24 hours in advance but then you have to physically pick them up at this store. You're also supposed to sign in and out of the book there so they know if you don?t return and can send out a rescue party.

A Washington Sno-park pass is required in the winter until April 1st.

Directions

From Seattle - Head South on I-5 for 140 miles to Exit 22 for Dike Access Road. Turn left from the exit onto Dike Access Road and continue straight through two roundabouts. Turn left onto E Scott Ave and at the intersection near the little market take a left onto Lewis River Rd (503). When you get to the town of Cougar be sure to stop at the Lone Fir Resort to pick up your permits. It's on the left side of the road across the street from a gas station. Eventually Lewis River Rd turns into FR 90. Look out for FR 83 and take a left. It has signs for Ape Cave and the Climbers Bivouac. Follow 83 until you reach Marble Mountain Sno-park.

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