St Helens: Crescent Ridge and beyond, Junuary edition

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Chip Down
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St Helens: Crescent Ridge and beyond, Junuary edition

Post by Chip Down » June 11th, 2019, 7:22 pm

This trip mirrors last week's adventure: return to a known place on St Helens rim, and then go as far north as possible. Last week it was east rim, this time west. Last week I bemoaned the surprising lack of snow, this time I rejoiced at a freak load of fresh June snow.

I started at Blue Lake trailhead, hiked to Sheep Canyon, followed Sheep Canyon trail to Loowit trail, hiked Loowit to the Crescent Ridge viewpoint. Then straight up Crescent Ridge, along the no-name canyon that falls into South Toutle.

There had been some trail traffic the day before, and I walked Loowit on trampled new snow over old. But once I got off trail, I could really judge the snow conditions. Firm but not icy, cold and dry (below freezing). Perfect!

Last time I ascended Crescent Ridge, I had no axe/crampons, so I stayed off the snowfield that clings to the north side. This time I was prepared. The snow variation was more scenic and fun. Like last time, I looked across the canyon at the next ridge and watched goats watching me watching them. Again, they ascended faster than me. A difference though: this time I was determined to get over to that ridge and check it out. But how? The canyon walls were steep and crumbly. Not impossibly dangerous, but I wasn't going to risk it.

Repeating my previous ascent, but on the snow variation, I continued to 6500' where the ridge abruptly levels off and turns south. Suddenly the snow turned soft, and I was postholing. Got off the snowfield and hit the crest of the ridge, which was a little wind scoured and firmer. Continued to the end of the ridge at 6900' and rested at a monitor station.

I was worried about snow conditions as I progressed north across a vast featureless expanse (remnant of Talus Glacier?), but it was back to being firm again, and I headed for a steep sided ridge that I hoped I could mount and follow up. But as I came close enough that the curvature of the slope no longer blocked my view of my intended approach, I saw avalanche debris. Severely spooked, I started immediately upslope towards the crater rim, staying on what I thought would be the safest route. As I got higher and could see the entire slope, I realized there was no slab release, I had seen the remains of what had sloughed off my ridge and then flowed downhill. The damage was done though; I was too high to turn back.

The rim caught me by surprise, as it sometimes does. I was between two high points, and their orientation and my perspective made me misjudge where the rim would be, but suddenly I realized it was maybe 50 yards if I took the most direct route to a low point. From there I worked my way north (clockwise) hitting high points, watching for cornices and crumbly rocks, almost to the point where the rim starts to break down and flow into the surrounding terrain.

I considered finding my way down to Loowit trail here. I was pretty sure I could pull it off. But what if there wasn't a good reliable rope at the Toutle canyon drop? I'd be so screwed. And I didn't know what the Toutle crossing might be like. Too risky. So back the way I came, but a little lower for easier travel, crossing what I think is the remnant of Toutle Glacier.

On my return, as I approached Crescent Ridge, I turned down early and explored the ridge across the canyon from Crescent, where I always see goats. I dropped a thousand feet to get to the disctinctive hump on the ridge, from which I saw a dozen or more goats below, on rock and snow and grass, eating and snoozing doing goat stuff. They were unusually timid; the highest ones scampered when they saw me, although I was still pretty far off. I was disappointed that this ridge was more like a canyon rim; to the north, the terrain didn't drop off much, so no great views, no fun sense of exposure.

I didn't want to ascend a thousand feet back to the head of the canyon for a safe crossing to Crescent Ridge, so I went back up just high enough for a moderately safe drop into the canyon (loose but partly cemented by snow) and an ascent up the other side (full snow coverage). The descent worried me, but it went great. The snowy ascent to Crescent was steeper than I realized. Steep enough that I wasn't willing to take pics, so you'll have to take my word for it.

From the crest of Crescent Ridge, it was easy glissading to the edge of Sheep Canyon, and then a trail hike down.

Surprised that the only running water I saw all day was at the lower Sheep Canyon junction. Yeah, there was plenty of clean new snow up high, but it was below freezing when I left the trail at the Crescent viewpoint, so it was hours until I could use it, unless I wanted to stick a bottle of snow in my jacket and wait for body heat to melt it a bit. I did okay, had enough to get by, but didn't drink as much as I should have.

TH was empty when I arrived, just one car there when I left. Other than a couple guys at Blue Lake, didn't see a human all day.

Got my first crop of mosquito bites this year. I wasn't even paying attention. I suspect it was around Blue Lake. Still, better than gorge hiking, with ticks and poison oak in addition to skeeters.

Calves are still sore. Firm snow made for efficient travel, but kept me on my toes a lot.
By the time this appears on the board, I don't know if you'll be able to see the two silhouetted goats on ridge crest. Hump on left was on my to-do list. Hump on right is actually way off in the distance.
Where Crescent Ridge levels off and curves.
Looking down Crescent Ridge.
What the heck is a crow doing up here?
From my high point, I questioned whether I should continue through cornice zone and crumbly rock, but I did.
Looking over at the east slope [edit: east crater rim is what I meant, of course]. Obvious notch at right is Shoestring.
Turnaround point, rim starting to break down and meld into gentler slopes.
Headed back now.
Lots of rime ice up here, melting and dropping fast.
bulge on goat ridge. Ascended back to red line, dropped into canyon, ascended steep snow to Crescent Ridge, then followed continuous "old" snow all the way to loowit trail.

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Re: St Helens: Crescent Ridge and beyond, Junuary edition

Post by sgyoung » June 14th, 2019, 12:22 pm

I've enjoyed reading all your MSH reports but enjoyed this one the most. Great photos! The late season snow cover looks so cool, especially in the shots showing the obvious snow line looking north (toward Rainier). This looks like a really fun off-trail day on the mountain.

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