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St Helens Early October Climb


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Hey y'all simple question here.  Depending on weather in the upcoming weeks, I plan to make my first Cascade ascent on St Helens Oct 6.  Does a light glazing of snow make that boulder field impassable?  I know climbing season is "over" but I also know St Helens is a relatively simple peak.  I plan to take the Worm Flows route for whatever it's worth.



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  • 2 weeks later...


My best guess is that weather & conditions actually look pretty favorable for an edge-season scramble of Mt St Helens this week.  The light glazing of snow might not even be there.  What I'm seeing in the weather is that our region did indeed get a few inches of snow in the mountains last week, falling through Thursday, the 28th.  That snow seemed to stick down to maybe 5000' elevation, then all the days since then (except Monday) have had clear skies where likely most or all of that has melted away in places the sun has been able to touch.  (And I somewhat doubt Monday added any snow, the precip amounts were small, and it may have even been warm enough to fall as rain instead of snow, and if it was warm-rain it would actually speed up the melt of any lingering snow.)  Since the weather forecast for the next few days to come looks mostly clear & dry, there's a reasonable chance the route itself will be nicely clear & dry by your Oct. 6th date.  The aspect that a slope faces relative to the sun makes a huge difference too.  Since that Mt St Helens route is entirely south-facing, then sun is going to help clear snow & dry it much much faster, whereas if you went somewhere else and were on a north-facing-aspect, you'd probably find bits of snow, frost, and re-frozen ice still hanging on.

Some data sources that go into my thought-process for making guesses like that:

Though obviously, go prepared for some shallow snow potentially being there nonetheless.  If shallow snow is present, the route is probably still do-able if you have the right experience & right gear.  Some Kahtoola Microspikes are likely the perfect tool for the job on Mt St Helens Worm Flows route.  If it were me, I'd also bring an ice axe at this point in the year, or at least poles.  Likely the snow is too shallow for any ice-axe-arrest to make sense, but when there's a little snow on the ground, a mountaineering axe is still my favorite version of a walking-stick to give me an extra point of contact with the ground while making any step that might be slippery.


Keep in mind that we are just random strangers talking over the internet, so I don't have any knowledge of what your outdoor and mountaineering background & experience is so far, which makes it hard for me to right-size the advice I should give.  I'm assuming you're someone who already has a lot of experience with off-trail travel, snow travel, navigating above treeline, etc.  So you probably already know these things, but you know I gotta say them anyway just to cover the bases 🙂

  • Really take the "10 Essentials" seriously on this.
  • Make sure you have redundant ways of finding your way back.  An app like Gaia GPS on a smartphone with GPX tracks loaded and offline-maps pre-downloaded is a great start, but have at least one more something as a backup in your group too, whether that's some other second GPS device, or a paper map & compass that you know how to use, or at very least a partner with a second smartphone who also has it covered.  Remember that navigating up volcanoes is easy, navigating down volcanoes is the hard part.
  • Only go if there's not going to be a whiteout.  You're going to want a fairly cloud-free day in that weather forecast, because on a volcano, if there are clouds in the sky, there's a good chance that you're traveling to a high enough elevation to be in them rather than simply below them.
  • Bring snow-appropriate boots, and gaiters, so you don't get snow in the tops.  (Wet socks & cold temps are no fun.)  At this time of year I'm usually using some 3-season mountaineering boots, or some sturdy leather hiking boots that have been treated with Atsko SnoSeal wax.
  • Bring enough layers that you can stay warm even if you're forced to stop somewhere.  Although rare, there's always a slim chance of badly twisting an ankle or getting lost or something else that limits your ability to keep moving.
  • Be hyper-aware of what time dawn's first-light and dusk's last-light are.  Plan your timing so that you get back to your car with at least a few hours to spare before dusk arrives, so that you have a safety margin.  If need be, make a pre-dawn start, it's infinitely better to wear a headlamp at the beginning of an alpine day than at the end of one.
  • If you find you're getting into fresh snow that's deeper than about 10 inches, at least start to think about avalanche potential.  If you're not already AIARE Level 1 certified (and thus know the importance of the holy trinity of beacon/probe/shovel when the fresh snow starts to pile up,) then don't keep going forward, just turn around before there's any possibility of risk at all.  (Also: if you're not already AIARE Level 1 certified, I highly recommend finding a course and signing up!  The human-factors and group-dynamics topics are awesome to learn about even if you think you'll never do anything where avalanches are possible.)
  • Don't go alone.
  • Don't get yourself into trouble.  Make cautious decisions, especially during shoulder-seasons like this when temps are chilly, walking is slippery, and daylight hours are short; margins are overall smaller right now.  It's okay to turn-around if things aren't quite right, it was surely still a beautiful day out for a hike even if you don't summit 🙂


Be safe & have fun!!

- Rob



Edited by RobUSA
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Hey Rob I appreciate the detailed response! 

I made it up and down no problem minus some toe bang from the Nepals.  That is a killer (in the best and worst way) route with no snow on it.  Was the only person on the entire trail until I hit Monitor Ridge, of course.  Anyways once again I appreciate the reply and I'll take that information along with me for future climbs! 

  • Rawk on! 1
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