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Cougar, Washington

Summit Mount St. Helens via Monitor Ridge

9.4 Miles Total - 4585 ft gain - Out-and-Back Trail

Originally added by Matt Klemsz

Summit Mount. St. Helens and stand on top of the most active volcano in the PNW sitting at 8,364 feet. You'll enjoy once in a lifetime views of Spirit Lake, the crater, Rainier, Adams, and Hood. This is hard, but truly rewarding non-technical climb.

Monitor Ridge is the "easiest" of the routes one can take in order to claim that they have stood on top the sleeping giant better known as Mount St. Helens. This route is heavily favored over Worm Flows as the starting elevation is not only an additional 1,000 feet higher but the overall ascent is less steep and long as well.

Beginning at Climber's Bivouac (northeast of Ape Caves approx. 5.4 miles, just off 830-Rd), you will register for the climb at the start of the trailhead. While pre-bought permits are required for those seeking to go above 4,800 feet from April 1-October 31, if you choose to climb outside this date range there are no restrictions. Once you are registered and packed the journey begins!

Starting at 3,780 feet the initial 2.1 miles of the climb are relatively mild, slowly making your way through the forested base of the mountain while gaining only 1,000 feet in elevation. As the trees begin to thin and the boulders begin to grow the mountain will begin to emerge more with every step. It is also at this point where your permits will be required in order to climb any higher in elevation. Depending on the time of year, the trail will be clearly marked with large wooden stakes held up by piles of smaller rock. These makeshift cairns will be your guiding landmarks from here on out.

After breaking free of the trees, the next 2,500 vertical feet becomes much more a scramble than a hike. With the majority of the trail becoming a boulder field it is important to watch your footing so as not to fall and scrape your body against the pumice-like rocks. In the winter months this will most likely be the spot where you strap on your crampons for extra traction.

The last stretch of the ascent will prove to be the toughest. Time and time again it is described by climbers as "two steps forward, one step back." What may seem impossible at the time can be easily achieved as long as you take your time, hydrate, and perhaps eat a snack or two for some much needed energy; heck take five and simply bask in the never-ending views!

As you finally reach the false summit , head west to the true summit and CELEBRATE! You made it! While everyone wishes to explore around at the top and take the traditional selfie, it is important to stay away from the cornices (snow hanging over the edge of the cliff) so as to not fall into the actual crater itself. Once you have your fill of views and catch your breath, simply retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Depending on the conditions of the snowpack you may be able to glissade part of the way down, again remembering to be safe. Within a few short hours you will be back at your camp ready to plan for the next adventure.

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Overall rating: 

Challenging yet doable

A great way first mountain summit. In the summer it doesn't require technical gear and is doable for most people with the proper training. We climbed at night to enjoy a sunrise on the mountain and it was well worth it! Great way to avoid the crowd and heat.

Breathtaking Summit

This is truly a beautiful climb. It is fairly dynamic in scenery throughout the climb. If you do plan on trying your hand in glissading be sure to bring a piece of plastic (I cut up a plastic trash bag) and sit on that.

A great climb

If you are lucky enough to get up there on a really clear day, you get views of Baker, Rainier, the Olympics, The Goat Rocks, Hood, Jefferson and the Sisters! It is absolutely amazing. If you ski, Helens offers a great ride down the hill. Also, there is a legit bathroom at about 4500 feet. Its a good pit stop either going up or going down!

Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

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