Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mt. St. Helens 10-17-10 (It’s a VOLCANO!)

I noticed this odd pain behind my right knee at the Chicago marathon expo last weekend. Oh well, nothing more advil can’t kill, ran the marathon, hopped back on the plane, but the next 2 days, something was not right. By Tuesday I was limping and my calf felt swollen. I could not comfortably dorsiflex my ankle and hadn’t resumed running yet. I diagnosed myself by the dreaded Homan sign. “Larry?” I asked my coworker. “I think I have a DVT.” He gnashed on my popliteal fossa and I nearly hit the ceiling. “Yep, I think you do”. Unfortunately, I was right this time. 9 hours later I lay on a stretcher in the ER, where I swore I would never go again until I was on the verge of death. But I needed to know, “doc, when can I run again?” I don’t think he really knew the answer, but gave the casual reply, “in a month”.

I saw my life flash before my eyes. In an instant I realized, I have no life outside running. I already knew I had screwed myself into being banned from OCPs/ HRT for life and from Ranger Candy (aka Advil) for at least 3 months, had to take lovenox injections and Coumadin and repeated INR checks, but a month without running? I would go insane. I was feeling pretty damn sorry for myself.

My PMD was able to convey to me that there was no convincing evidence that exercise with a DVT while therapeutically anticoagulated was dangerous (wink, wink), but that I should not run just yet, probably skip the 50k trail run I had planned for Saturday, and definitely try not to fall on my face (I’m extrapolating here). She didn’t say anything about HIKING.

So when SPC emailed me that he and Guth were planning to summit Mt. St. Helens this weekend, there was no question I had to go. I had tried and failed once before, it was April 2007 with SPC and Ventoux who had both done it before, but the freezing rain and sheet of solid ice was too much, and so packed up our ice picks and crampons and hung out in Portland at the Poser Café instead. (photo lost on dead hard drive)

Mt. St. Helens is a volcano in southwest Washington. I still remember the big explosion of 1980, when it was all over the news, but it has been active as recently as April 2007. SPC has told me stories of how he and First Class got stuck in a zero visibility storm near the top and that is why he carries walkie-talkies now on every climb. He heard someone died slipping off the lip of the crater just last month. According to the website, it is a beginner-friendly climb: “Most climbers use the Monitor Ridge Route from Climbers Bivouac. This route gains 4,500 feet in five miles to the crater rim at 8,365 feet elevation. Although strenuous, this non-technical climb is suitable for people in good physical condition who are comfortable scrambling on steep, rugged terrain. Most climbers complete the round trip in seven to twelve hours”.

We drove 4 hours down to Cougar, WA, listening to Lady Sovereign and discussing whether time really exists or is just a construct like living in the Matrix. Picked up our climber permits, bought a refrigerator magnet and a pen filled with volcanic ash from 1980, but restrained myself from buying the T-shirt that read, “I kicked ASH on Mt. St. Helens”. Check out the digs at the Lone Fir Lodge: bunk bed and Kleenex/ holy bible at bedside! We ate broasted chicken at the Lodge restaurant (braised + roasted = something that looks exactly like fried chicken) and reviewed the geography of U.K. and Ireland. N.B. Sweet & Low = Scotland, Stevia packet on left = Rebublic of Ireland, and Stevia packet on right = Wales. U.K. = packets on right + Northern Ireland (the sugar packet on left). Then prehydrated with fine Washington beer. Tried unsuccessfully to get a perfect tritone by blowing across 2 beer bottles filled to different levels. Then it was up at 4:45 AM to get ready for an early start.

We started in the dark with our headlamps. Waaaay overdressed (we couldn't ask for a better weather day) due to my recent experience on Ben Lomond, but better safe than sorry.
The worst thing about seeing the rocks is knowing how going down will actually be harder than going up. That's where we're going? But it's worth it to catch the Buttcrack of dawn....

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Every time I scraped my shin or bopped my head on a rock I kept picturing the giant SDH that was forming, and everytime I felt a calf cramp I pictured the massive PE or MCA stroke I was going to have from throwing a clot from the yet undiagnosed PFO I had. In the end, I think I just had a hard time because I had not exercised for a whole week, and because I’m a klutz at baseline. But once you start thinking about nothing but where you're going to grab the next rock, it's all good. Thanks guys, for waiting for Slow Ass again. And stopping to smell the roses... I marvel that the best Nalgene bottles Guth can find to hold his water is old FBS bottles from his dad's lab...
but at least he has cool socks

It is really like being on the moon.

Then we hit the ash at the top, only 1000 more feet to climb. 2 steps forward, 1 step back. 10 more yards, 5 more yards, 2 more yards, then .... BOOM! the crater!
There's actually smoke coming from there:

Of course, we had to claim the mountain for Scotland...

While at the top, we paused for 30 minutes to eat lunch. "Look at that runner", I heard. I looked up and couldn't believe my eyes, an ultra runner wearing nothing but shorts, sunglasses, and trail shoes, and carrying only a 22 oz handheld bottle, was RUNNING up to the crater and past us to the other peak. As he ran by my jaw dropped and I gawked openly. Later we saw him chopping down the hill which I was crawling down on all 4's, like it was not a bunch of loose sharp rocks at 8000+ feet elevation. I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!

The descent was fabulous, all the colors we didn't see climbing in the dark:

It was not as bad as I thought until I bonked big time, just a few hundred yards from the treeline but it felt like 26.2 miles. Luckily SPC talked me out of the quicksand and we made it to the treeline.

We now have some fur on our chests, like the fur Guth photographed growing on the trees, and another rock for the collection.

I still have over a month to train for the QUADZILLA!


  1. T Susie. You's a goods friend. Honestly? The one MEANINGFUL pic that is missing is the British Isles... I respect Higgins...

  2. Guth- nice photos! I still think you should be a nature photographer.
    SPC- I added the sugar packets, just for you....
    Next time we have to get a real flagpole.