Friday, July 21, 2006

I really wanted to climb Mt St. Helens.

20 years ago, all you had to do was to stop at the grocery store in Cougar, Washington and sign a book that was next to the entrance. I don't know what you have to do today but jotting down the date, amount of people and license plate number was all that you needed to do back then. It was september and perfect,cloudless weather and I wanted to get up there.

By late evening I got to the campground. I couldn't even see where the campsites were so I just rolled out my sleeping bag and slept next to my old car. Slept is a euphemism I guess, the stupid place was bustling and noisy and unfamiliar so if I slept 4 or 5 hours I was lucky. Still, I had made it up to The Mountain and that was all that needed to be done for the day.

At first light I had some tea and something to eat and checked out the campground. There were a lot of people, even a school bus. You could see The Mountain very clearly from the parking lot. There was still a little snow at the top, not much because you were looking up at the southern side and the summer sun had melted most of it. I stuck a gallon of water and some raisins in a day pack, grabbed my sunglasses and locked the car.

The first third of the hike was through the trees and relatively level as you got to the base. A pleasant walk in the park because the path was well trodden and clearly marked. When the volcano erupted the north flank of the mountain collapsed and the explosion blasted the countryside in that direction. You would hardly know that hundreds of square miles were burnt to a crisp on the other side, on the south slope it was still a lush forest.

It's about 5 miles and a 4500 foot climb to get to the top from the campground. About halfway the trees disappear and you have to hike around huge boulders. There's no trail at that point so you try to find your own way up the scree - two steps up only to slide one step back.

By now the sun was beating down, it was getting hot and my gallon of water was gone before I got to the top. It actually was anticlamactic being on the rim - the view up top was impressive of course, but when you're climbing you're constantly stopping to catch your breath and taking in the view. Some guy and I swapped pictures with each other's camera - my photo is lost somewhere deep in the bowels of my memorabelia. The trip down was much quicker and very, very dry. In all it took about 10 hours to go up and come down and I arrived back home with a sunburn and really wobbly legs.

I'm reminiscing about this because today is opening day of the season for climbing the volcano.

I'm also thinking about a good buddy that died the day Mt. St. Helens erupted. On May 17 that year, a guy named Bruce Faddis stopped by to ask me if I wanted to go up to Spirit Lake and do some fishing and check out the rumbling. My other friends and I declined because we were preparing for some other fishing trip. Bruce went up to Spirit Lake to camp and was there when the volcano erupted. There wasn't any trace found of him or his pickup. I like to think that he was out early that morning in his float tube on the lake, enjoying the sublime beauty of a gorgeous spring morning, maybe playing a good sized trout when the mountain blew. I'm sure he couldn't entertain many more thoughts than wonderment of the situation as the 300 mph, 600 degree lateral blast incinerated the lake. Happy Hour, you were a good dude.

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Blogger Lesley said...

Wow! I don't think I would ever attempt a climb like that. Sorry about your bud, but he probably had a far quicker and better death than most get. I hope I die quick like that instead of slowly and painfully rotting away with cancer or something.

22/7/06 2:04 AM  
Blogger nolocontendere said...

Yeah he died doing what he loved, which few people get to do I guess.

The funny thing on the mountain which I didn't mention were the different strategies for getting up and going down. There were the overnighters who labored under big heavy packs. There were the sleek, swift young ultraclimbers whoosh. I found that bounding down the scree was fun and fast. Then there was the guy who launched his hang glider over my head.

22/7/06 6:14 AM  
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12/8/06 2:12 AM  
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17/8/06 7:15 AM  

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