Have you hiked both Table Mountain (in Oregon, USA) and Mt. St. Helens?
July 5, 2012 12:27 PM   Subscribe

Have you hiked both Table Mountain (in Oregon, USA) and Mt. St. Helens? How much more difficult was Mt. St. Helens?

A couple friends of mine are planning on hiking up Mt. St. Helens at the end of July. I'm trying to determine what "strenuous" means from the information on the internet. Yesterday, I hiked up Table Mountain via the route where you start at the Hot Springs resort, and then go past that little pond, and then make a right up the "Heartbreak Ridge" trail, which is insanely steep. We came back the same way we went up. I think at some point we were on the PCT, but we didn't go the loop way where you go over to the PCT and through some ecologically-fragile meadows and stuff.

I found this to be a pretty difficult hike, as I'm in more or less decrepit physical condition. Also, the guidebook we had had labeled this hike at something like 7 miles, but RunKeeper showed it as about 12 by the time we were finished, so maybe we went the wrong way at some point.

We had been using as a ballpark that the MSH hike would be about 2x more strenuous than this Table Mountain hike, in which case, I don't want to do it. That sounds too difficult to be fun to me. However, if it was, say, less than 20% more difficult, I'd do it. I just can't figure out how hard it really is.

I think the plan on Mt. St. Helens is to start from some campsite, possibly called Climber's Bivouac, and then it's an out-and-back trail, home the same day you left.
posted by jeb to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have not climbed either but I'll be heading up Mt. St. Helens a week from today and can report back if you like. Current conditions are that Climber's Bivouac just opened last week (snow), and there is snow most of the way up. My understanding is that it can be done with boots and hiking poles, but it's recommended that you have crampons, ice axe, snowshoes, to be prepared for any conditions. Here are the current climbing conditions, and here's a trip report from last weekend.

It's not a particularly techincal climb, but yeah it's going to be significantly more difficult than hiking up an 3500 foot mountain (Mt St Helens elevation is 8300 ft.) and also potentially a lot more dangerous. You will likely have to deal with snow and ice at some point, and if that is mostly melted by the end of July you'll be scrambling over ash-covered boulder fields. Honestly, I don't think I'd attempt it in "more or less decrepit physical condition."

Note that permits are required to climb Mt. St. Helen's (they limit it to 100 climbers per day in the summer), and it appears that this season is sold out, although there may be options to pick up unused permits. They also offer guided climbs, which might be a good option.
posted by Balonious Assault at 1:43 PM on July 5, 2012

Table Mountain is 3200' gained over 8 miles (according to the internet - did you do this route)? Mt St Helens is 4500' gained over 10 miles, so the grade is roughly comparable, but the distance is obviously longer. Working in your favor, the elevation profile is very consistent, which will be easier overall.

The big difference will be the terrain. You can break down the Mt St Helens hike into a few different types: Regular trails (the beginning), rocky trails (most of it), annoying boulder scrambling (a small amount), and ashen gravel hell (the top). As reference points, you will probably want to be wearing pants and thin gloves if you want to avoid scraping your hands and legs during the boulder scrambling part, and you may want gaiters to keep the sand out of your boots at the top (though not required by any means).

I think ~20% harder is probably a reasonable estimate here. I haven't done Table Mountain, but it looks similar to Mailbox Peak in terms of distance and elevation profile. Hikes that shoot up in elevation at the end are always much harder than ones that gain their elevation at a steady clip. The hard part on MSH is really the last ~1/4 mile that has you climbing up to the crater rim - you'll slide back on each step and it's very demoralizing. On the plus side, if you're good at exploiting that on the way down, you'll have a very easy descent.

The route up is very wide and there are lots of places to sit with a nice view and rest, so if you're willing to leave earlier, you can make it a more leisurely thing. It's often worthwhile to do this anyway since the clouds move so fast that you'll want to have some time to wait for a view to open up.
posted by 0xFCAF at 1:44 PM on July 5, 2012

You will find Mt. St. Helens to be a challenging climb, but you can do it if you plan well and have the right climbing partners with a lot of patience. MSH is a much higher elevation and you will find yourself out of breath if you haven't spent much time at altitude.

If you are not in top condition, plan on at least 7 hours up to the summit. Take a forced five-minute break every 30 minutes and have some water and a bite of some snack. If your partners aren't committed in advance to this slow pace, you should probably pass. Allow another 5 hours back if you aren't a conditioned hiker. This probably means starting your hike, being on the trail, at first light about 6 AM.

This is really about perseverance and a slow disciplined pace. When you are tired, stop, rest a few minutes, and then get up and go again. I've seen little children, small dogs and senior citizens on Mt St Helens, so it can be done.

Take four liters of water. You will be on a sun-exposed south-facing slope the whole way. Wear light gloves to protect your hands -- in some places you will be scrambling over knee high boulders that have rough and sharp edges. Wear layers of clothes. You will be sweating when hiking but chilled when stopped. Short ankle gaiters will help keep sand and gravel out of your boots. You probably won't need crampons but there will be sections on snow in July. Trekking poles are highly recommended. Take a headlamp or small flashlight if for some reason you are delayed on your descent.

I would recommend another hike up Table Mountain or a similar hike a week or two before your Mt. St. Helens hike as a warm up. If you don't feel better about your Table Mountain hike the second time up, you might reconsider Mt. St. Helens.
posted by JackFlash at 5:44 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

You need permits to hike St Helens in the summer btw, and the snowpack was considerable this year so you will be on snow, always take the 10 essentials, but do NOT forget sunblock and sunglasses if you are going to be trudging over a snow field for hours. on the upside, the glissade down will cut hours off your return time ;-).
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:16 PM on July 5, 2012

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