So first I'll back up to Tuesday, which was the day my Dad and I went to the Ape Caves. We chose to go through the longer section, which ended up being closer to 1.5 miles and from the time it took to go through, felt more like 3 miles. I decided on this trip, that trails at Mt. St. Helens should both provide the actual distance and then provide the 'feels like' distance. With all the rock scrambling you do, it really adds the time on as you're trying to negotiate where the next best step will be.
The Ape Caves were definitely a worthwhile experience. You cross over 27 rock piles in the 1.5 miles and climb up two rock walls that have ropes to help you up in the very dark, cold lava tube (remains about 42 degrees year round).
My Dad getting started up one of the 27 rock piles
Wednesday was our actual climb day. Back in February, my Dad booked our climbing permits. They only sell 100 a day to keep the numbers on the trail low so they can book up fairly quickly for the summer months. Since most of the trail is out in the open you usually have other groups of hikers in your view during most of the day. The other thing you have in view most of the day is the rocks that you get to climb over. I didn't read up on the hike enough to know that a majority of our time would be scrambling up rocks. I enjoy this, but after about a mile of it you'd like to able to just put one foot in front of another rather than negotiating where your every step is going to be.
One of our major breaks during the hike up of course included finding a couple geocaches. There's a traditional cache as well as an Earthcache near a GPS monitoring station. The location also provides some pretty incredible views, so it makes for a nice stop on the trail.
Because of all the rock scrambling, I decided that the hike to Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier is much easier than climbing Mt. St. Helens. On the way to Muir you're spending a lot of time on snow, which can be much easier to walk on - and allows you to glissade down so you get to save your knees from some pain! Most of the way going up on St. Helens my Dad and I were worrying about the pain going down might cause. Luckily it actually proved to be a little easier going down than we anticipated - though I know both of us were sore the next day. :)
Getting to the top of St. Helens makes it all worth it. As you come up to the top of the ash-filled skree section at the end, you instantly get an amazing view to the North that had been blocked by the mountain the entire day. It's amazing to see just how big of a chunk of the mountain was removed with the eruption in 1980. You can also see why they warn you about climbing the mountain in winter with the snow cornices - once you get to the top, you don't have much to go to be over the edge down into the crater. It's a pretty quick drop-off. My Dad and I stayed at the top for about an hour eating lunch, getting lots of pictures and talking to a Forest Service Ranger before making the journey back down.
It was a great experience and I'm glad that I got to share it with my Dad. I know he was thrilled to climb the mountain that has such an interesting history. I was already thinking on the way up that I'd like to climb it again sometime - maybe in the Springtime when there's still snow for a different climbing experience.
Dad early on in the day on the trail
Morning clouds and Mt. Hood
Some of the many rocks to climb over
Flowers toward the bottom of the trail
View toward the top with the rocks to climb over
GPS monitoring station
Last stretch up to the top
View of Rainier from the top
New dome forming
Hikers on top and view of Mt. Adams