St Helens: west crater rim

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Chip Down
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St Helens: west crater rim

Post by Chip Down » July 8th, 2018, 9:03 pm

I've been poking around the S/W parts of MSH the last couple trips. No axe or crampons. Fighting the urge to go higher. I wanted to get to know the mountain before my first attempt at the west rim, partly for safety, and partly to pick a good satisfying route. I'm not generally so circumspect. I've always been the type to shoot for the highest point I can attain, often to my detriment (I've never summitted Jeff, and my attempts, while exciting and fun, have been reckless and frustrating). I determined there are really only two sensible approaches:

Option A: Back to the top of Crescent Ridge via Sheep Canyon, then pick a route to the top and explore a bit. Mostly known terrain. More solitude. If I fail (unlikely), it will be a bit of a wasted day.

Option B: Red Rock pass up to the Butte Camp/Loowit junction, then stay left of the Butte Camp climbing route (what a stupid name), picking the best route through the labyrinth of snowfields. In sight of the Monitor Ridge route, at least higher up. Less solitude. If clouds roll in, descent routefinding could get a little tricky. If I fail (unlikely), will probably be a more rewarding day than a failure on the Crescent Ridge route.

Well, from the Butte Camp/Loowit junction, it was hard to tell where good snow lines were. I was just too close to the mountain to really assess my options. Okay, so plan C: go far clockwise from the Butte Camp route, where I could see a looong slender snowfield (almost a couloir) leading virtually to the rim. Getting to the base of that line looked like it might be tricky, but it worked out fine. Main challenge was rockfall risk. I had to determine where rock was most likely to peel off the mountain, and what line to take up my route.

Snow on my ascent was fantastic. A little dirty, but very firm, without ever being icy. Consistent, every step was the same. I had a little toy axe (ultra light), but never even used it, because my crampons felt rock-solid reiable.

As my snowfield rolled over into a convex slope, I couldn't see down my route anymore, and the grade eased off. I got out of the gully, was in the sun, scenery improved, things were really looking promising. Then I noticed, down below, to my right as I was facing out (i.e. clockwise), Crescent Ridge! Wow. So happy I didn't go that way. I probably would have ended up in this same place, via a longer and less-interesting route. When I saw Crescent down there (which I knew topped out at 7k') I knew I had to be close to the rim. That surprised me. I hadn't been watching my altitude. When you look at my pics below, you'll wonder how I didn't know my snowfield would end at the rim, but I started in the dark, so I never had that full overview perspective on the mountain from a distance.

Oh, and speaking of my timing, it was perfect. I arrived at Loowit trail as it was just getting light enough to start evaluating route options. Stars were gone, but I could still see Portland twinkling far below.

I gained the rim at 9:30, which is the earliest I've ever done that. Poked around a bit, did some exploring, started down about 11:30ish, back at car around 6pm. So yeah, super slow descent. I did a loop, through unknown terrain, and that caused some problems. And below the snow zone it was hot, and I was unusually tired. Great glissading though, good snow condition, safe runouts, not too steep, easy to link snowfields together.

I have a couple more MSH trips left on the to-do list, but they're really just playing around and exploring. Today's trip pretty much wrapped up the serious goals.

Wildlife encounters: Twice in a row, no goat encounters! Saw a few, but very far away.
Around dawn I heard what almost sounded like a bear growl/roar, but with a little bit of elk bugle mixed in. Got closer, closer, very close. I never saw what it was. Very spooky.
More mundane: had to watch for toads on the trail. Too well camouflaged, I nearly stepped on a couple.
Skeeters were very light today. I can't imagine why. Conditions were perfect, they should have been out in force.
Attachments
1.jpg
When I reached the rim, I turned left and headed over there. Looks easy enough.
2.jpg
Nope, not at all easy. There's nothing over there I have to see.
3.jpg
The east rim is very well defined when seen from the west rim. (Shoestring notch is the best reference point).
4.jpg
great landmark all day
5.jpg
and a little different perspective
6.jpg
I don't think I've seen one of these.
7.jpg
8.jpg
It was fun to get back to Red Rock Pass in the light and see where I'd been.

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retired jerry
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Re: St Helens: west crater rim

Post by retired jerry » July 9th, 2018, 5:59 am

another great trip and report, thanks

is that a way to get to the summit without having to get one of those obnoxious permits?

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Chip Down
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Re: St Helens: west crater rim

Post by Chip Down » July 9th, 2018, 5:57 pm

retired jerry wrote:
July 9th, 2018, 5:59 am
another great trip and report, thanks

is that a way to get to the summit without having to get one of those obnoxious permits?
Well...I honestly have no idea where the permits are checked. I've only gone up Monitor once, but it was post-permit-season. On a day as nice as yesterday, it wouldn't surprise me to see the climbing ranger perched at the summit, waiting for scofflaws.

Curiously, I arrived at the summit accidentally yesterday. From the rim, after exploring clockwise as far as was sensible, I returned to where I started and worked my way counter-clockwise to a prominent spot. At the top, I discovered a cairn, and a path up from the other side. From where I started, this point did look higher, but I saw hikers way off in the distance working their way clockwise towards a high point, and I assumed that was the summit. This was actually my first time at the tippy-top, and it was unintentional. Crazy, right? :lol: My aversion to sumitting was because I hate crowds, I hate interacting with USFS (aka The Devil), and the crater rim is amazing all over (I still kinda want to get to shoestring notch, the low point on the rim; rockfall is my main concern on that route).
Attachments
20180708_110708.jpg
Go ahead, Tom, you know it will be rebuilt.

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Arturo
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Re: St Helens: west crater rim

Post by Arturo » July 10th, 2018, 1:26 pm

Did you happen to record a gpx track of this?

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Chip Down
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Re: St Helens: west crater rim

Post by Chip Down » July 10th, 2018, 5:35 pm

Arturo wrote:
July 10th, 2018, 1:26 pm
Did you happen to record a gpx track of this?
I wouldn't even know how!
I own a GPS, but never did that much with it, and recently "downgraded" to a barometric analogue altimeter, which I'm quite content with.

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Arturo
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Re: St Helens: west crater rim

Post by Arturo » July 10th, 2018, 5:51 pm

I asked because this "route" intrigues me. I never thought of trying to summit from anywhere but MR or WF.

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Chip Down
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Re: St Helens: west crater rim

Post by Chip Down » July 10th, 2018, 7:34 pm

I think the Butte Camp route, perhaps with a snowfield variation, would be more fun for most people. Or Crescent Ridge. But my route was very direct. If you're okay with assessing rockfall hazard, picking the safest path, and moving fast through the danger zone, while being trapped in a relatively viewless gully, it's a fairly satisfying route. I like steep couloirs, which this almost qualifies as, but I'm sure some folks would find it boring. If you don't have traction, don't try it, unless you want to hit it later on a warm day and hope it's softer than I found it.

If you're still interested, here's the approach: From the Loowit/Butte junction, face the mountain straight on and look up to your left, maybe about 10:00. Find a instrument cluster on a hill. Head up that way, staying right of the hill, curve around, take an ascending traverse clockwise up the mountain through gentle greenish slopes. You'll see a ridge up to your left, which defines the edge of a little canyon that runs up the mountain. Follow the ridge up until the canyon becomes gentle enough to cross. You'll likely spot a nice rest spot on a little dome around the elevation where the vegetation ends. From here, it's across easy rock-strewn terrain, which steepens gradually into the snow gully. As much as possible, stay right, as the right side of the gully is very unlikely to dislodge anything. There's no headwall here, so no danger of rocks coming all the way down the middle. It's the left side you have to watch out for.

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kepPNW
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Re: St Helens: west crater rim

Post by kepPNW » July 11th, 2018, 9:13 am

Really been enjoying these posts! You had me hooked with the Crescent Ridge idea, and I was eyeballing that all weekend. But I've also wanted to go up from Butte Camp. Now I have three ideas to explore! :)
retired jerry wrote:
July 9th, 2018, 5:59 am
is that a way to get to the summit without having to get one of those obnoxious permits?
Technically, no, anywhere above 4800' requires the permit. Practically, meh... More likely to see a cougar on the rim than a ranger over there.
Karl
Back on the trail, again...

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Chip Down
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Re: St Helens: west crater rim

Post by Chip Down » July 11th, 2018, 5:32 pm

kepPNW wrote:
July 11th, 2018, 9:13 am
Really been enjoying these posts!
Thanks! Feeling weird about dominating this forum with my MSH obsession, so I appreciate the positive feedback.
kepPNW wrote:
July 11th, 2018, 9:13 am
You had me hooked with the Crescent Ridge idea, and I was eyeballing that all weekend. But I've also wanted to go up from Butte Camp. Now I have three ideas to explore! :)
Crescent Ridge is awesome! Scenic, fun, several variations to consider, safe/easy to follow if it gets cloudy. There are no interesting routefinding challenges, but a classic clean route is fun in its own way. The only other route I've found that offers the same clean simple line is Ape Glacier on the east side, accessed from Plains of Abraham. To repeat my earlier caveat on Crescent though: the last thousand feet gets a little sloppy, not good for hikers inexperienced in alpine travel, especially in questionable weather.
kepPNW wrote:
July 11th, 2018, 9:13 am
Technically, no, anywhere above 4800' requires the permit. Practically, meh... More likely to see a cougar on the rim than a ranger over there.
They look the other way. And they should. The stated reasons for the permitting process is to preserve the fragile mountain and relieve crowding. I promise you, if the restrictions were lifted tomorrow, the only real difference we'd see is a surge of hikers on Monitor Ridge. :roll:

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romann
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Re: St Helens: west crater rim

Post by romann » July 15th, 2018, 1:13 am

Great report, very entertaining. Thanks for new ideas! Looks like some dust clouds in the air in your second picture - wind? good sized rockfall?

How was beargrass bloom there (if any)? Looks like this is good beargrass year in many places, and there's quite a bit of it on on west side of Helens.

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