Hiking around Mt. Saint Helens

Hiking around Mt. Saint Helens, WA
from Johnston Ridge to Windy Ridge and back

Friday June 2, 2000

Introduction: You can see Windy Ridge from Johnston Ridge and vice-versa, if you know what you're looking for. It takes about three hours to drive from one to the other even though are about five miles apart as the crow files. This is because there is no direct route between them. You have to drive all the way around Mt. Saint Helens and it's a long and twisty drive. The windy path is about 9 miles in length so the round trip is about 18 miles. It involves a long descent into the blast-zone valley then a long ascent. So a round-trip would mean dealing with two long ascents and two long descents. There are some small hills created by erosion but for the most part, the blast-zone is fairly flat. The whole time you're exposed to the sun and temperatures in the summer are typically 80 or 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Bringing enough water and food is crucial!

I invited my friend Gabrielle to join me because of her fitness level. I had been to Mt. Saint Helens several times hiking around the area and had attempted this hike before but had to turn back. This time I was determined to succeed.

Unfortunately I did not fully explain to Gabrielle how physically demanding this would be. She did not bring enough water. I had enough water for me but not for the both of us. I had planned to refill at Windy Ridge so I only needed to bring enough water for half of the trip.

About half way there Gabrielle started to lag behind and I had to keep waiting for her. I realized that at the rate we were going, that we would not get to Windy ridge and back before sunset. We needed to pick up the pace but she wasn't willing. Heat and/or dehydration was draining her energy so I went on alone expecting to meet her on the way back.

I made it to Windy ridge but I had to cross a very dangerous snow field. I did not have crampons and a slip on this snow could send me down a long snow field perhaps crashing into trees below.

I learned there was a much shorter way back but it was covered with a lot more of those dangerous snow slides so I opted to take the safer longer route back. I refilled my water bottles and headed back.

I reached the half-way point where I had left Gabrielle behind but she was not there. I figured she had gone back to the car and was waiting for me. I ran out of water but refilled on the occassional snow drift I found in the shade. I would wait until I my water level dropped half-way then add snow so it would melt and I would have cold water to drink.

But I reached a long stretch where there was no snow and I ran out of water. When I did add snow to my water bottle it melted at a rate that was too slow and I became dehydrated. My strength was crashing and I took many rests where I felt dizzy and saw stars. Each time it got harder and harder to continue.

I managed to get back to the car but Gabrielle was no where in sight. So I drove to our cabin and she wasn't there either. I asked around but nobody had seen her. I worried she was still out there ... lost.

The next morning I drove back to Seattle and called her and she was home. It turns out that she had hiked back then had gotten a ride home. She said that she got a ride back to the cabin but fell asleep and when she awoke they were long past the cabins so she opted to just go back to Seattle.

When I visited Gabrielle in Seattle to return some things she said that she had an injury that was slowing her down. She was in pain but didn't mention it at the time.

The hike is very demanding and I suffered because I ran out of water. Live and learn.

Date Created June 17, 2000
Last Updated April 12, 2006