St Helens: Monitor Ridge, western snowy variations

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Chip Down
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St Helens: Monitor Ridge, western snowy variations

Post by Chip Down » August 3rd, 2018, 5:50 pm

Plan was to hike from Red Rock Pass TH to the Loowit/Butte junction, then spiral CCW up the mountain, staying low, until reaching gullies parallel to Monitor Ridge (hopefully still snow filled) and follow them up to snowfields that run up to the crater rim. Descent to be extemporaneous.

Started at 2:50, which is interesting, because it's the same as a recent previous departure from that TH (unplanned). No other cars at TH. More frogs than I've ever seen, even in the arid parts of the trail. Passing through Butte Camp, heard a large animal nearby. Seemed he didn't like being near me either. We went our separate ways. Arrived at Loowit trail 4:20, not a bad time for a soft middle-aged desk-jockey packing axe/crampons/melon. Heard the same Bellowing Beast sounds I always hear here. There's something creepy at this point on MSH.

Turned right and followed Loowit to the lava flow. Knew exactly where to leave the trail, no doubt about that. Unfortunately, in the dark I missed it, went XC too early, resulted in too much undulating travel through the lava flow. Damn. Well, by dawn I was back on track, so I lost some time, but I never had to backtrack, so that's cool. My notes show at 5:30 I was at 5500', but no mention of why that was a significant point. I guess that was where I took off the headlamp, had a little snack, put my gaiters on. At 6:40 I was at 6500, as far east as I could go. Getting closer to Monitor Ridge would involve rugged terrain, so I more aggressively ascended to a big snowfield that dominated the view. One hundred hikers situated here would pick the same route, it was that obvious (although some would prefer to follow the rocky margin instead of snow, which is what I would have done if I had left them behind (which I considered). My snowfield was quite steep in the middle, and it was a boring kind of steep, in a viewless convexity, so I needed to veer left, or right on a longer curvy route closer to Monitor. Went with the later, and it worked out well (although I think the left route would have been fun too). Beyond the top of that big snowfield, there was very little snow left, but I followed a little finger up until it ended just west of Monitor. From this perspective, the mountain seemed an indistinct heap of sand. I think if it weren't for climbers on Monitor, I wouldn't have known where to go, except that "up" is a safe bet if you want to get to the top. I headed for Monitor, and on the way I found another bonus snow-filled gully! Yay! Followed it up, parallel to Monitor. Getting a little tired at this point, but no reason to stop, no great scenery or places to sit, so I just picked a sustainable pace and ground away at it. I was glad to be on snow, as I could see hikers kicking up dustclouds with every step, and likely slipping down a little with every step. I bet they envied me as I securely cramponed my way up the snow with slow-but-relentless precision. When I finally reached the end of my looong snow journey, the rim looked so far away. Discouraging. But then I saw somebody on the rim, and I suddenly realized I was almost there! It's hard to judge distance on a featureless slope. I've noticed the same thing when a peak is coated in fresh snow. Without reference points, your goal might be 5 minutes away or 55 minutes, hard to tell. Reached goal at 8:30, my personal record.

So there I was at the top of Monitor, mountaineering boots, full-length gaiters, crampons, axe, huge pack, glacier glasses...I must have looked like an idiot. I kinda hoped people realized I didn't take the ridge up, but of course part of me didn't care what they thought. On the other extreme, I noticed most people were wearing low-top shoes and ankle socks. The misery! I wonder if they didn't know or didn't care that their shoes would be full of gravel no matter how often emptied. A guy asked me if there was a place where one could see into the volcano. I explained the lava dome, told him that's as close as it gets, no open magma pool. I wonder how disappointed he was. I wonder if MSH ever glows at night. Probably not, I don't think magma ever gets that close to the surface. In retrospect I should have pointed out the steam. He probably noticed. Another guy complained about the sea-of-clouds look. Odd. I think most visitors love that phenomenon, but he wanted to look down on forests and lakes and whatnot. I didn't linger long. Windy, dusty, same ol'. It was semi new to me though. I've been at that spot just once before, 20 years ago, in heavy snow (november).

On the way down, I stayed as close to Monitor as possible, which resulted in a common anxiety: will I deadend and have to climb back out? If so, maybe just struggle up the crumbly side of Monitor and return that way? But it worked out great, better than expected, lots of fun. I've yet to encounter a deadend on MSH, but I know they exist, so I always need a Plan B on unknown descents. One of the reasons one needs an early start if looping. At noon (5500') I was confident the challenges were behind me, no reason to think it would be difficult to get down to Loowit trail, so took my first mega-break, boots off, happy and relaxed.

Other than the folks on the rim, only saw one other party (2), at the Butte/Loowit junction.

No mosquitos spotted. Haven't seen any in a while. I suspect the south side of MSH is pretty much post-mosquito now, even the notoriously buggy Butte Camp. Maybe a calm dawn/dusk would still be problematic.

Weather: After what seemed an unusually warm July, August is off to a great start. Was expecting clouds, and encountered them on the drive up, but I broke through the clouds and was above them all day. The sea-of-clouds lasted until, oh, maybe 3:00? For a while, clouds crept up the mountain and swallowed it up, but by that time my route challenges were behind me, so that worked out well.

Snow observations: Some of the snow gullies I climbed in July are now creeks and waterfalls. From the Butte Camp/Loowit junction, the mountain appears almost completely bare, but it's interesting how you can still find hidden snow. As much as I mourn the snowmelt in our hot July, it's fun to go snow hunting, trying to link the patches together in a satisfying route (which, on this particular hike, was immensely successful).
Attachments
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The top of my major snowfield. Great scenery here, much fun exploring.
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On the little snow finger above my major snowfield.
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Fun routefinding on the descent. So many viable options.
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Ascended that mound on the left to get an overview of the terrain. Assumed I'd come down the same way after identifying the best route. Shocked to discover the far side is a gentle slope to semi-parkland, great scenery, goats, fun!
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"Composition With Found Object". Will post in lost/found.
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Happy National Watermelon Day! (Aug 3)
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Clouds were rising and falling here, like slow-mo waves lapping a beach.

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retired jerry
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Re: St Helens: Monitor Ridge, western snowy variations

Post by retired jerry » August 3rd, 2018, 6:00 pm

you found a watermelon? or an ice axe?

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Chip Down
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Re: St Helens: Monitor Ridge, western snowy variations

Post by Chip Down » August 3rd, 2018, 6:06 pm

Jerry, think about it: If I found somebody's watermelon, it would have been rude of me to cut it open.

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retired jerry
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Re: St Helens: Monitor Ridge, western snowy variations

Post by retired jerry » August 3rd, 2018, 6:18 pm

That's what I was thinking which is why it confused me.

So you brought a watermelon to the top of Mt St Helens and cut it open with an ice axe you just happened to find there?

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Chip Down
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Re: St Helens: Monitor Ridge, western snowy variations

Post by Chip Down » August 3rd, 2018, 7:25 pm

retired jerry wrote:
August 3rd, 2018, 6:18 pm
That's what I was thinking which is why it confused me.

So you brought a watermelon to the top of Mt St Helens and cut it open with an ice axe you just happened to find there?
Oh, I did come prepared with a knife. It would have been silly of me to assume I'd find an ice axe.

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retired jerry
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Re: St Helens: Monitor Ridge, western snowy variations

Post by retired jerry » August 4th, 2018, 5:46 am

On the one hand this riddle is closer to being resolved

On the other hand, it's split into two threads so it's more confusing :)

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