Are you ready for the mountain?
It may look and feel like summer down in the valleys, but mountains make their own weather.
If you read Chris's recent blog, you know he & Ryan had an epic day with nine fresh inches of snow up on Mt Adams. Yeah, we love the Cascade Mountains - their glaciated slopes let us ski and snowboard in summer, but the snow is usually old and crusty by the end of June. Getting fresh tracks this late in the season is a real treat, and Chris timed it perfectly to catch a bluebird day after a heavy dump of snow.
That dump of snow came the day before, while Andrew and I happened to be climbing Mt. St. Helens. The morning started out pleasant enough, but as we climbed, it started to rain. Rain turned to sleet, and by the time we reached 6000 feet, it was snowing steadily - mostly horizontally on the exposed flank of the mountain. I've climbed Mt. St. Helens in alll seasons, and I had never experienced such a winter storm, even in winter. At around 8000 feet, the clouds got thicker, and blowing snow cut visibility down to a few feet. It's no fun to stroll over the lip of a crater rim you can't see and fall to your death, so we turned back. (Most people think that a guide's main priority is to get them to the summit -- but it's not. Job number one is to get everyone safely off the mountain.)
Navigating through white-out conditions without any recognizable landmarks has its own challenges, but I was familiar with the route, and my trusty compass kept us on track. The snow turned to sleet, which turned back to rain, and after a few hours, the clouds parted enough to make out some familiar rocks and ridges. By the time we reached the trailhead, we were under blue skies again. Hard to believe a howling snowstorm raged just a mile above us.
Mt. St. Helens may be one of the smaller Cascade peaks, but it is still a mountain.
If you are venturing into the high country this summer, be prepared for all seasons. Plan ahead, carry your trail essentials, and know how to use them.
If you ever get lost, follow the example of this hiker, as explained in an Oregonian article last week.
Stay safe and have more fun!