“This is a summertime out-and-back route to Mount St. Helens' crater rim. A permit is required.
— Chris Flashhard
This is the primary summer route for accessing the South Rim of Mount St. Helens. To do this route, you must have a permit, and those run out fast. We started this run at 1 a.m. and completed it in 4 hours – yes it's that tough. So, what do you get for this hard work? An absolutely amazing view of the crater, dome, and surrounding area. I hear on a clear day you can see Rainier, Adams, Hood, and Portland as well.
Coming up at night and down in the relatively cool early morning, you'll easily burn through two quarts of water, and wish for a third. Any summer ascent up here should be made with a gallon per person, and from how fast it got warm at 8 a.m., it must be roasting by afternoon.
Be realistic about your fitness–even at a slow pace, this is an extremely challenging run. Other than heaps of water, I recommend leather or garden gloves to save your hands through the boulder field, as these volcanic boulders can be very sharp! Hiking poles looked like they we're helpful, though I didn't have any.
Gaiters are a nice on this route to prevent volcanic debris from entering your shoes and shredding your feet.
Warm gear is a must for hanging out at the top if you arrive pre-sunrise and need to wait a bit; no matter what time of year, the wind up here is always cold.
This trail is not suitable for trail running due to its incredibly steep gradient.
In the first 2(ish) miles, you'll steadily gain about 1000 ft through a lovely pine forest. The next 2(ish) miles are tough going, navigating a boulder field while climbing another 2500 ft. The last mile(ish) is best described as a slog up another 1000 ft on loose dirt, ash, and pumice.
The first section is a well-traveled trail through the beautiful forest up to the treeline. From there, the next section is through boulders and is marked by vertical posts every 100 yards or so. You'll be picking your own route through the bolder field, but keep following the posts. This may be challenging in low visibility conditions, but on a clear night we had no troubles keeping to the route. Going too far off route early in the season, you may run into some snow fields, but getting back to the route should be straightforward. After reaching the end of the boulder field, your route is primarily just slogging through the pumice and ash to the rim.
Descend along the same route you went up. The route is well traveled and popular during the day.