March 18, 2024 – Mt St Helens, Swift Creek

A short weather window appeared to be shaping up for the possibility of scoring some corn turns in the mountains, but it wasn’t certain since it had just snowed a foot or so a few days earlier. The promise of corn however was enough to lure John, Dan and I to head north and give Mt St Helens a try. We left from my house on Sunday afternoon, and after a somewhat slow drive up I-5 due to Portland traffic, we pulled into the Marble Mountain snowpark and settled in for the night.

Heading up St Helens by headlamp
Southside of St Helens just after dawn

After talking with a few climbers and skiers who were up during the day, it sounded like it was a bit on the soft side but it we got an early start we’d probably find some corn. We settled in for the night, with Fischer sleeping on the ground and Dan and I in the back of my pickup, and woke up around 4am for an early start. Dan elected to stay at the truck for the day, having forgot his knee braces at home and he was pretty bummed, but concerned about sloppy snow causing an injury. Fischer and I headed out around 5am by headlamp, and made good time up through the forest under the firm snow.

Mt Hood in the morning light
Sunrise over the ridge

We worked our way up to treeline and continued on up, and soon the sun was rising up over the ridge to the east. It was quite beautiful, and reminded me that I need to get out for more alpine starts. The track we were following from the day before looked like a herd of elephants had climbed the mountain, and was about 75 feet wide with boot steps everywhere.

John heading up
Skinning up St Helens on a beautiful morning

As we worked our way up, Mt Hood was looking nice to the south and Mt Adams was looming large to the east. As the slope steepened, we donned ski crampons and continued climbing. Eventually, we found a nice spot about 1500 feet below the summit rim and enjoyed a nice break to refuel and take in the views. After our quick pit stop, we continued skinning and found a nice path right to the rim.

Enjoying a break on St Helens
Mt Adams from Mt St Helens

As we approached the rim, we took care to stay well back from the edge of the cornice, but as usual were awestruck by the awesomeness of the crater and northside of St Helens. There’s nothing quite like skinning up the mundane southside of the mountain and then topping out to see such a raw display of what nature is capable of.

The view from the top
Truman’s Goddamn by Loowit Brewing

After snapping a few pictures, my next order of business was to get my beer on ice. I’d been waiting for quite awhile for the appropriate time and location to drink the beer I’d been packing along, and sitting on the summit rim was the perfect place to enjoy my Truman’s Goddamn Ale from Loowit Brewing.

Matt up top
Looking north from the rim

Sitting up top, enjoying the excellent views and perfect weather with absolutely nobody around felt almost surreal. We hung out at the rim for nearly an hour, enjoying our beers, enjoying the views and enjoying the solitude on one of the northwest’s most defining landmarks.

Looking at the west side of the caldera
The view up to the true summit

Looking off to the north, Spirit Lake was looking quite blue and Mt Rainier was looming large to the north. I could see Little Tahoma clearly, and was reminded of trips there in years past and it rekindled my stoke to return there later this year.

Spirit Lake and Mt Rainier
The east side of the crater ridge

Eventually, we decided it was time to put the skis and board on and make some turns. I snapped one final shot of John standing on the summit rim before we stepped into our bindings.

The fish up top

Given the amount of ski tracks directly below us on our ascent route, we elected to traverse to the east across the rim and check out the conditions in the far bowl. As it turns out, it was a good decision and we found some perfect, untouched corn.

John dropping in
John looking small skiing the bowl

After our traverse and a quick climb back up to near the summit rim, John dropped in first and I shot some photos of him as he headed down. He made dozens of turns and I could tell the snow was perfect! Once he stopped, I rode down to him and he grabbed the camera, headed down the slope another several hundred feet, and then shot a few shots of me while I came down, harvesting the perfect corn.

Matt enjoying some corn snow on St Helens
Ripping some perfect corn on St Helens south side

The wide open bowl provided the perfect canvas for us to leave our mark on, and we continued on down, making countless turns in the smooth corn. John isn’t one for waiting, so I was usually playing catch-up with him, and shooting photos of him from behind as he was heading down.

John heading down the south side
Perfect turns on perfect snow

When I finally caught up to John at the bottom of the first main pitch, we turned to look back up at the bowl and had to admire our work…

Evidence of fun in the bowl

After admiring our turns looking perfect in the sun, we worked our way down the rest of the mountain, enjoying the soft, but not as perfect, snow on the descent. Eventually, we worked our way back over to our ascent route, and skied down to treeline. The sliding down in the trees was pretty fast, even though the temperature was quite warm, and we made great time sliding back down the trail. Several minutes later, we popped out at the parking lot, super stoked on our ski.

John enjoying some soft turns on the lower mountain
A classic “Fischer” turn on St Helens

We quickly found Dan at the truck, and gave him the report of the great skiing conditions. The next order of business was to get out of ski boots and into flip flops and shorts, and then get the meat on the grill. A bit later we were enjoying some tasty brats, complete with all the fixings, as well as some cold beer that John had stashed away. As usual, I took the apres-ski shot with the tripod, and also as usual, it showed us with all of our stuff splayed out across the parking lot :).

Apres at Marble Mountain Snow Park

Eventually, with our bellies full and spirits high after a great day of skiing, it was time to head out and make the trek back down south to the southern Willamette Valley. We loaded gear into my truck and headed out, stopping a few miles down the road to take a couple shots of the mountain on our way home.

St Helens from the road home
St Helens and my truck on the way home

The drive home was filled with the usual traffic in Portland, but outside of that was uneventful, and soon we were back at my house, approximately 30 hours or so after we’d left the day before. All it all, it was a great trip to St Helens, and I’m already plotting another visit back up that way as soon as I can get up there.

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