Mt St Helens | Winter Route
9.06 miles, roundtrip
(This is from what we recorded on a Garmin Fenix 6x)
Gain: 4565 ft.
Highest Point: 7213 ft.
Every couple of years we make our way down to Mt St Helens to either climb it or snowboard on it, and if we are lucky, both in the same day. This year with the deep snowpack we had, Mt St Helens is holding its snow really well which makes the way down way more fun than the climb up.
Starting at the Marble Mountain Sno-Park, we got moving at almost 4am. With the warm weather our expected plan was to summit by 9am and then ride down before the snow became too slushy.
The snow started about 1 mile from the trailhead, and it was already pretty soft. We expected the night temperatures to re-freeze the snow to make climbing easier, but that didn't happen.
At about 2.25 miles, the trail will open up and you can see the mountain. Now it is time for you to make a decision: follow the normal Worm Flows route, or try something new.
Unfortunately for my group, I decided we should try something new, even though conditions weren't quite as expected. So instead of the Worm Flows route, we went 1 ridgeline to the east. It is a route I have eyed for years and really wanted to try.
The New Route (For Me)
Here's the thing about new routes. Sometimes they look better from afar than they do in person. Looking at it from a distance, it looks like you climb to the ridge and gain a lot of elevation quickly, then it is a straight shot to the summit.
We did gain elevation quickly, and stayed about 500+ feet above the climbers on the Worm Flows route. However, the route wasn't as "flat" as I expected, and it was exposed to wind way more than I expected. In fact, the wind would come from all sides and swirl around us, knocking us slightly off balance with each step, making it very exhausting.
What should have been a 5 hour car-to-summit climb instead turned into a 9 hour climb to 700' below the summit while the sun cooked the snow. That is when we had to make the call to ride back down, otherwise the snow wouldn't be worth snowboarding on.
Snowboarding Back Down Mt St Helens
At this point of the day, the sun had already cooked the snow way more than we wanted it to. The slopes we were on didn't feel too bad, but lower down was very slushy and sticky.
The ride back down wasn't too bad until we dropped about 2000', then it got so sticky it was like trying to ride on tape. The faster you went, the more it would grab, and it took a lot of quad strength to stay upright. We eventually got to the Chocolate Falls where we put our boards back onto our packs and then hiked out.
Since we started in the dark, I didn't realize we could've saved about another 1.25 miles of walking by continuing to ride down the trail. But our legs were toast and it wasn't worth the extra effort, so the hike out was a smarter choice.
Overall, the ridge was a fun attempt that I would like to do again now that I have a better idea what it is like. But if you want to reach the summit, it is probably best to start with the Worm Flows route.
Gear We Use
Practicing LNT Principles, and Giving Back
We really want to encourage everyone to practice LNT principles when they explore these beautiful places. We spent years trying to minimize social impact on these locations, but the cat is out of the bag and these places are easy to find online. So it is our mission to share more about ways to keep these places as pristine as possible.
We also donate 3% of all our profits to organizations supporting the outdoors and working hard to keep these areas protected and safe.