Climbing Mount Saint Helens

This post was first published on Rad Girls Collective, a community of female adventurers that inspire women to explore the outdoors. Their format has since changed, so the post is included below:

On May 18, 1980, I was 4 years old and much too young to fully remember the Mount St. Helens eruption.

The very first time I saw the mountain was when I moved to Seattle in the summer of 2000. Witnessing such destruction and yet such fantastic regeneration was a truly humbling experience. Since then, and especially over the last few years, I’ve transformed into a complete outdoor junkie. If I’m not on the trails, I’m daydreaming about them—the possibilities in this gorgeous state are endless!

Last year my best adventure partner and bad-ass mountaineering friend suggested that I climb Mount Saint Helens. I guess it’s a good time to mention that despite my outdoor addiction I’m actually terrified of exposure and heights. It’s a fear I’ve grappled with for years. I’m not too proud to admit that I’ve crawled across narrow exposed ridges on all fours. A mountaineer I am not!

The thought of climbing Mount Saint Helens was both exciting and scary, but my friend is a sneaky one. She plants an idea and then there you are, doing the very thing that scares you to death! And while you’re cursing her name, she tells you with unwavering certainty that she has complete faith in you. I equally love her and hate her for that.

I think somehow she knows me better than I know myself because sure enough, a few months later the Pacific Northwest had a rare stretch of December sunshine and I found myself organizing a Mount Saint Helens New Year’s Day climb with two friends, one a very experienced mountaineer.

Nothing says ringing in the New Year quite like attempting your first alpine climb on a volcano, right?

I bought my very first ice ax and crampons over Christmas, then spent the next hour getting them attached to my pack. Somehow I miraculously escaped with only minor injuries. I hit the road south on New Year’s Eve, giddy with excitement but uncertain of what to expect. Though Saint Helens is considered a great beginners climb, its slopes are often icy and still require a bit of mountaineering skills. I had none. When I got my first glimpse of the mountain my heart stopped.

It looked so big. And steep. And icy. Excitement turned to fear.

What in the world did I get myself into? I was not the kind of person who handled steep icy slopes or exposure well.

That evening my friends and I made a snow camp at the base of the mountain and enjoyed camp fire follies, staying up just long enough for a New Year’s champagne toast. I barely slept. The next morning we hit the trail at 7am, hiking through snow under darkness until a spectacular sunrise left us swooning. I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

With perfect snow conditions we made it halfway up the mountain before switching to crampons. My first few steps were nerve wracking until a very patient and experienced friend helped me to relax, breathe, and put one foot in front of the other.

I got into a rhythm and realized I was going to do this! I was going to climb this mountain!

The summit loomed large for what seemed like hours. The climb continued endlessly but as we pushed up the last steep section to the crater rim any remaining fear or nervousness turned to excitement. The views were incredible in all directions!

15 years ago I stood gazing at the Mount St. Helens crater rim, wondering what it must be like to stand in such a place. Well today I wondered no more. Today I stood on the summit of Mount Saint Helens, celebrating the start of 2015 and the conquering of my fears. It was a spectacular feeling.

The three of us snagged the summit all to ourselves for over 30 minutes, enjoying warm soup and soaking up the perfect weather and views. When we started down we passed hoards of people heading up. Our timing had been perfect!

As we descended, our crampons broke into the top layer of ice and sent it cascading down the mountain like broken glass. I’ve never seen anything quite so beautiful.

Climbing Saint Helens on such a perfect day was a dream come true! I still can’t believe I was actually there. When I got home and told my friend about our successful climb she congratulated me.

Then she smiled and said, “Hey, have you thought about Mt. Adams?”