Mt St Helens - Ice up top, corn down low
Jessica & I are making it a bit of an annual tradition to ski St Helens once a winter, this is our 3rd year doing it together, and my fifth time to the top overall.
The conditions were exactly what you'd expect from our recent sunny & dry week of melt-freeze cycles. The parking lot was full & overflowing by dawn at 7am. Plenty of snow down low (thank goodness they plow the Marble Mountain SnoPark, the parking lot itself & the road up to it were dry & bare, despite 3 or 4 feet of roadside snow.) The initial trail through the forest is getting dirty from all the traffic, but is still entirely skinnable & skiable. There were a couple of big blowdowns across the trail, but side-trails to dodge them are already very well established at those points. Above 4400', where the uphill route follows that rocky ridge, we put the skis on the pack and booted it, since a lot of spots are melted down to rock there. The parts that were snow were firm and icy, but crampons were optional so far, since there were so many well-frozen boot pockets that you could just step in. At the weather station at 5600', nearly everyone fully committed to crampons; the icy snow there was not quite bulletproof, but it was close to it. I stubbornly proved that it was possible to skin with the aid of ski-crampons from there to the summit, but I was definitely the outlier, and I will admit that booting it with crampons and carrying the skis would have been the better choice for the conditions. There were some wild glide-cracks in the snow around 7700'. The remaining top was the firmest & iciest I've ever seen it there. There was a biting cold wind from the south up there that more than negated the 1pm full sun we were getting. From the crater rim and coming back down, Jessica & the majority of people out there opted to stick with boot crampons for at least the first thousand feet of descent. Stubborn again, I skied from the top, but it was the most chattery ice washboard skiing I've ever done. At about 7100', Jessica & most other people out there put on their skis. A little below 7000', the rough ice skiing suddenly gave way to perfect spring corn and super fun turns. We cruised from there to the parking lot in less than an hour. Overall, it took us 6 hours up, and 2 hours down. With the perfect crampon snow, it definitely could be done faster on the up, I'm just never in as good of shape as I'd like to be. The need to crampon down the upper portion added nearly an hour to our downhill time relative to previous years. Overall a really great day out in the mountains and getting some exercise and sunshine!!
Bring both your ski-crampons and boot-crampons if you're going.