Saturday, September 14, 2013 started out with a nervous, excited feeling in my tummy. We had reserved a cabin close to the mountain for the entire weekend to make sure we were rested and on the trail early in the morning. After checking in at the ranger station and receiving our climbing passes, we drove to the trail head. The first two miles of the hike start out in the woods on a meandering path through the beautiful trees. We were excited and chatting non-stop about what a great adventure we were on.
As we climbed above the clouds and the sun started to really shine, we came to the start of the boulder field. I remember Robert telling me that the boulder field started about a third of the way through the hike. I was so excited. We were already a third of the way finished and we were feeling great. We started to make our way up the boulder field and it slowly started to dawn on us, the terrain was getting steeper and our pace was slowing down. We stayed positive and kept moving.
After what seemed like a few hours, we decided to stop and eat some of the food we packed with us. As we were happily sitting among the boulders, enjoying the view and congratulating ourselves on our progress, a forest ranger came along. We chatted with him for a while before one of us asked the ranger if we were about half way up already. He paused for a long time, carefully considering us and his next words. "It is really important that you listen to your body and stop before you get so tired you can't get back down. Each step you take forward means another step back down." So basically he figured we were in over our heads and would be in trouble soon. We started to worry that maybe he was right. He never said how much farther we had to go, but from his reaction we guessed we were no where near half way.
We climbed and we climbed. We pulled ourselves up and over boulders that were the size of cars. We edged along the side of the mountain with little between us and the edge of the cliff. We stopped for water and food many times. We encouraged each other to keep moving forward and blamed each other for getting us in this mess in the first place. These pictures don't even begin to describe the views and the challenges of this trail.
After three hours of climbing through the boulders we finally reached the ash. My mind was so confused about what to feel. Elation at finally getting through the boulder field and absolute dread at the thought of what I had left to do. The very last leg of the journey was straight up the side of the bowl in nothing but ash. I was tired. I was dirty. But I was going to finish. It was hard to take one step forward and feel your foot slide back, almost to where it was before you lifted it up. At this point the wind really kicked up and you were being pelted in the face with ash. I covered as much of my face as I could and I kept repeating to myself, "one more step, one more step, one more step".
I was the first in our group to make it to the top and I felt such a feeling of accomplishment. I had done it. I had climbed to the top of Mount St. Helens. I turned around and cheered on Joel and Jackie, who were right behind me. We took a moment to enjoy the amazing view before sitting down to eat more food. You could see all the way to Mt. Adams and even to Mt. Hood in Oregon. It was a beautiful, clear day and it was amazing.
We took our time at the top. We ate our sandwiches, which was difficult to do with the wind blowing ash everywhere. Jackie and I even laid down and took a little nap to rest up for the trip back down. But mostly, we sat and stared at the amazing view, soaking in the feeling of accomplishment and joy.
Eventually we had to face the fact that our journey was only half over. We still had to get down. We took one last look around and started down. It was easy to get down the ash, you pretty much slide down and before we knew it, we were at the top of the boulder field.
On our way up the boulder field, we could easily look up ahead and pick out the best route. Going down, you had no idea which route was the best route. You just had to lower yourself down the other side of the rocks and hope your feet found something solid. It was really tough. By this time, my arms and legs were worn out and starting to shake. I tried to stay positive in my head and focused on continuing to move, "one more step, one more step, one more step".
It was about the middle of the boulder field that I started to loose my mind. I was tired. I was exhausted. I my footing was constantly slipping and I was getting afraid that I would injure myself. I was getting frustrated and tired and I just wanted to get off this stupid mountain already. But I kept at it and kept moving. I had no choice really. I just kept thinking about making my way to the next trail marker. Counting all the trail markers I had already passed to encourage myself to keep going.
As we came around a corner and I saw the end of the boulder field, I nearly cried. We had done it. We had made it through the toughest part of the entire hike. I was filled with a feeling of joy that I don't know how to explain. I remember telling Joel and Jackie, "I feel like I could skip all the way back to the car! I'm so happy we didn't die up there!"
As we walked the last two miles through the trees, we laughed at how eager, excited, and naive we had been when we started this hike. If only we had known what was in store for us, maybe we would have stayed home that morning. This circle of emotions seems to be a common thing for me. I start a challenge with hope and excitement, the middle part is hard and I get frustrated, then the end arrives and I am so excited to have accomplished my task.
Hiking Mount St. Helens was amazing. I am so glad I did it and that I was in the company of Jackie and Joel. I would recommend this hike to anyone who is up for a challenge but would strongly caution them to be realistic about their abilities. It isn't a walk in the park, that is for sure! Who knows, maybe I will venture up again one day.