January 24, 2022 – Mt St Helens

After a great day of turns on patrol the day before, I woke early with my alarm at 2:30 am. Since all my gear was ready to go the night before, I dressed quickly and was able to hit the road by 2:45 am and head north. The drive up the freeway through the thick fog went smoothly, and I was stoked to be heading out to visit a volcano I hadn’t been to in 9 years (could it really have been that long?). I pulled into the snowpark a few minutes before 6:00 am, and found Joe’s truck in the lot. We got our gear organized, took care of filling out the required permits, and shouldered our packs a little before 7:00 am. Skinning right from the snowpark was definitely a plus, and we worked our way through the trees. After a hour or so we got our first views of the mountain.

St Helens on the approach
Nearing Timberline

Coverage on the upper mountain was looking pretty good, and we skinned on under the firm snow as the sun rose above the horizon and created an orange glow. Looking back at Joe as we worked our way up the low angle slopes, I was definitely pretty happy about our choice to come here on this day…

Early morning light on St Helens
Sunrise over St Helens

A bit later, we caught up with a couple of guys who were on foot ahead of us. After some small chit-chat, we headed on and the slope steepened.  We were able to skin for a ways, but a couple of steep pitches caused us to switch over to booting to keep away from an unwanted slide.

Headed up
Enjoying a quick break

Soon, it was time to enjoy a deserved break, and we refueled with a bit of food and water. As we were sitting there enjoying our food and the views, a lone raven decided to pay us a visit to see if he could mooch any food off of us. I took the opportunity to snap a few photos of him, and then once he realized we didn’t have anything for him, he headed out.

A raven keeping us company
Heading up the boot track

With our break done, we headed on, and it proved to be easier to continue to boot for the time being. As we worked our way higher, the views became better and better, and I snapped a few pictures of Joe with Mt Hood in the background. A short time later, we were able to get back on the skins and get the skis off our backs…

Looking south to Mt Hood
Joe back on the skins

As we continued skinning, the views continued to improve, and we started to get good views of Mt Adams to the east. We kept skinning for as long as we could until the snow conditions became icy, and then it was time to switch to crampons for the final thousand feet or so. A few solo skiers were ahead of us and kept their skins on, but it was quite a struggle, and we quickly passed one of them.

Matt and Mt Adams
Joe nearing the top

One of the things about climbing St Helens is that it always seems like the top is just within reach, but it’s kind of like a mirage on the horizon —- always just a bit out of reach and a bit further out there. Finally, after working our way through some wind blown sastrugi near the summit ridge, we made our way to the top and were greeted with one of my favorite views in the cascades. Looking down onto Spirit Lake with Mt Rainier in the background is always such a visual treat…

First views into the crater
Fisheye view of St Helens

We made the top somewhere a bit before 12:30 pm, making for an overall approach time of just under 5 hours and 30 minutes. I pulled out the fisheye lens and snapped several photos, taking extra caution not to get too close to the edge of the cornices overhanging the caldera. In the below photo, Joe is visible hanging out at the rim on the far right…

Crater view
The view from St Helens

After snapping several photos with the fisheye, it was time to get my beer out and put it on ice, and we sat around and enjoyed the views for a bit. Joe offered to snap a picture of me in my usual pose with my board, and I returned the favor by shooting a pic of him on the rim as well….

Summit shot
Joe on the summit ridge

We hung out on top for about an hour, enjoying the views, waiting for the snow below to hopefully soften some and turn to creamy corn, and enjoying the beautiful weather. Eventually, we figured it was time to make turns, and it was also time to pull out our beers and enjoy them before our long run down. My beer of choice for the day was an excellent Overland Amber Ale from Yachats Brewing. It definitely hit the spot, and by the time I had downed it I was ready to shred.

Mt Adams from the Crater Rim
Overland Amber by Yachats Brewing

Taking off the crampons and putting on the board and skis was the crux of the trip, and once we had our sliding gear on we felt quite a bit better. I shoved off from the crater rim first, and the turns were a bit spicy for the first 800 feet or so through the sastrugi wind polished ice/snow mix. I caught a few pics of Joe coming down, and we were able to work slope for some pretty decent turns.

Joe dropping off the top
Skiing down through the sastrugi

Once we were through the marginal snow, conditions improved significantly, and we headed over to the line Joe, Ron and I skied several years ago. Our timing was perfect, and we were stoked to be in for a really nice corn harvest!

Joe harvesting some ripe corn
Matt heading down

Continuing down, we worked the slope for hundreds of turns. Joe grabbed the camera and fired off a sequence of shots of me harvesting the corn, including the ones below….

January turns down St Helens
Heading down the south side of St Helens

The benefit of climbing over 5500 feet on the approach meant that it would be a big run on the down, and we were definitely in the middle of it and it wasn’t disappointing. Above the worm flows, we spotted some good snow on skiers left, and worked our way over to ride it. Joe kept the camera, and snapped some photos as I rode through the lunar landscape…

Initiating a heelside turn on St Helens
Cruising above the worm flows

More turns followed, and eventually we had to stop to rest our legs from all the action. Needless to say, both Joe and I were pretty stoked to score such nice corn in January.

Joe working the corn
Carving through the corn

As we continued down, we started to run out of real estate and eventually had to drop into the canyon below. After scouting the ridge line, we found a spot that looked like it would go and it did…

Joe ripping
Dropping into the canyon

The ski out of the canyon was fun, and the snow stayed nice. We worked the natural quarter pipe down to the flats below, and retraced our uptrack from the morning back towards the treeline.

Joe working the canyon wall
Headed for the flats below

Once at treeline, we were able to cruise out the trail on the mostly flat slope really easily. The gliding was fast, and we needed to stop a couple of times to rest tired legs. I was able to ride the whole trail with poles out, and it was a remarkably easy glide right back to the pavement’s edge, where the first order of business was to get out of the ski boots and get the brats on the grill. While waiting for the brats to cook, we enjoyed one of Joe’s Sierra Nevada IPA’s along with the exhilaration that comes with an awesome day in the mountains.

Enjoying a beer after a great ski
The brats on the grill

Within a few minutes, the brats were done, and as usual they hit the spot after a great day of turns. It didn’t take long to scarf them down, and they were gone in no time. We hung out for a bit discussing Joe’s plans for the next few days, and then it was time for me to head out for the long drive home. I bid Joe farewell and headed down the road, but had to stop after a couple of miles to shoot one more shot of the mountain bathing in the afternoon sunshine.

St Helens from the road home

The drive home went super smoothly, and I made it through Portland without a hitch in rush hour traffic, which is unheard of. All in all, it was an excellent day of January corn, and completely worth the early morning start and long day. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but really hope a return to winter comes soon. Winter corn great, but I’m definitely ready for some more pow turns! Until then, here’s a parting shot from the day…

Parting Shot from the Crater Rim