Mount Saint Helens Summit via Ptarmigan Trail

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Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument

Mount Saint Helens Summit via Ptarmigan Trail is a 8.2 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Cougar, Washington that features beautiful wild flowers and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round.

Distance: 8.2 miles Elevation Gain: 4,583 feet Route Type: Out & Back

backpacking

hiking

nature trips

rock climbing

skiing

snowshoeing

bird watching

forest

views

wild flowers

wildlife

rocky

scramble

snow

no dogs

A summit/climbing pass is required above the timberline, so get one and get your slog on! In the summer, this is a nice and tough hike. In the winter, it can be turned into a snowshoe/climbing route. Permits are now obtained online. There are 2 primary routes: the "summer" (Monitor Ridge) route starts at the Climber's Bivouac trailhead. The "winter" (Worm Flows) route trailhead is at Marble Mountain Sno-Park. The weather forecast should be checked prior to climbing. It's best to start very early in the morning for either route. Both climbs rise steadily as you go up in altitude. The wind and the altitude can affect many climbers but as with all physical activity being in shape to attempt these climbs is a must. At the summit, you have amazing views as long as there are no clouds. Glissading makes the trip much faster coming down as long if there is enough snow. Great trip overall. Recommend climbing in spring or early summer right around the time that the Climber's Bivouac opens. The Worms Flows (Marble Mountain Sno-Park) is an option if winter snows have made Climber's Bivouac inaccessible. Although strenuous, both of these non-technical climbing routes are 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. While climbing to the crater rim is permitted, entry into the crater is strictly prohibited. Mount St. Helens is an active volcano in southwest Washington State and the central feature of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Mount St. Helens is a popular climb for both beginning and experienced mountaineers. Although people are able to climb Mount St. Helens year-round, late spring through early fall is the most popular season.

12 days ago

My first summit with a friend Oct. 2019. We camped the night before, ate a big breakfast, and got on the trail around 9am. We had good boots, microspikes, poles, food, 3+L of water each. Wished I had brought more food, other than that no regrets. It was clear and beautiful and still when we got to the top. We chatted with the one woman up there, she left to find her friends, and we sat and had lunch. The boulder field on the way back down kicked my ass (well, my knees and hips really). I was tired and wanted more food. Luckily, my friend helped me pull through and we made it back around 7:30pm.

hiking
16 days ago

Climbed on 7/21/18. Time to the top: 4.5 hours (including some leisurely snack breaks and taking photos). Couldn't have been a more pristine day for this climb. As another reviewer mentioned, this is a non-technical climb, not a hike. When I started off from the Climber's Bivouac at 7AM, I saw several people, including a group of women, dressed in yoga pants and sneakers, and simply ill-equipped to be climbing 4500 feet over jagged lava boulders and scree. Needless to say, I did not see them at the top. Up to this point, this was the highlight of my hiking life, as Mt St H has been on my bucket list for years. It was an unforgettable climb and tested my physical limits. The first two miles are a mellow incline up through the forest that mislead you about the difficulty ahead. Then once you reach the tree line, the fun begins.... The next couple of miles is a full-blown scramble up a steep boulder field, where thinking two steps ahead is necessary in places to figure out the most passable route. The path is marked by wooden stakes in the rocks so you don't stray wayward. This is where having gloves, sturdy hiking boots, and gaiters are essential to keep your hands and ankles from getting torn up by the sharp rock as you climb. Once you have scaled the seemingly endless boulder field, the last 3/4 of a mile is a straight shot up to the summit through ash and scree, which means for every two steps forward you slip one step back. This was excruciating! Elevation was a factor at this point, and you're just reeling after just a few steps before having to rest again. Being blasted by powerful wind gusts made it all the more daunting. Even the super-fit German guy legging past me was on his knees with exhaustion. But you just keep pushing bit by bit, and pretty soon you look up and the summit is near. I cannot even describe the sensation of reaching the summit, and the glorious feeling of conquest when you stand on the rim and stare and listen down into the hollowed out bowels of the massive crater amphitheater below. One of the most memorable experiences of my life. You can hear the rumblings of rock slides in the crater walls, and see the steam bellowing out of the bulge in the center. This is a living, breathing mountain! After an hour or so, eating lunch in an absolute state of awe and admiration, heading down was almost as challenging. You can literally 'ski' down through the scree to the boulder fields. However, great care must be taken navigating down the steep cascade of jagged lava rock. The footing isn't stable and one false step could mean severe injury if you take a spill. Overall, I would recommend doing this in mid to late summer, unless you are skilled in climbing over snow and ice. I would also say equipping yourself with the following items is essential for a successful hike: -sturdy hiking boots -ankle gaiters -Buffwear to cover your neck and face -sturdy gloves (for climbing over sharp lava boulders) -trekking poles -sunscreen (lots of it!) -eye protection (polarized goggles or glacier glasses - the UV reflecting off the snow and ash is killer on your eyes) -3-4 liters of water (optional: Nuun hydration tablets for electrolytes) -wearing layers (you'll get warm as you climb, but you get cold quick once you summit) -plenty of snacks for energy -ice ax and microspikes (if earlier in the climbing season) Start early in the morning at or shortly before sunrise. Not only will you get ahead of the rush of hikers, you'll avoid the worst of the afternoon sun. You can enjoy lunch at the summit while watching the line of hikers slog up the scree as the sun beats down on them. And, lastly, get a good night's rest before taking this on. It will make your experience so much more enjoyable. Even with getting a permit more competitive these days, this should be on everyone's bucket list. It's a right of passage for any Pacific Northwest outdoors enthusiast.

hiking
2 months ago

This was my introduction to mountain climbing. Completed in July 2004 before she blew again. Coming from the Ozarks in Missouri, I was definitely ill prepared for this. We made the lottery for the hike but woke up hung over as hell the next day. We decided to go for it anyway because it was so late in the afternoon. The ranger told us to prepare for a six hour climb. We ran up it in under three hours! Beautiful 360 degree views on top and I almost fell in the crater as I bent down and my legs were so tired. The pitch is so steep up there that we grabbed some sticks and skied down on our boots and there was plenty of snow still in July of 2004. A couple of weeks later she blew, spewing massive ash clouds viewed from surrounding cities. The trail was closed until 2007 (I believe) and that little lava dome we saw in 2004 is now a mountain inside the mountain.

hiking
3 months ago

BEGINNER REVIEW: I climbed in November 2019. While I had done bouldering before, I had never scrambled. The reviews online are misleading because most people who review are experienced adventurers or at least with some. This is not a “hike,” as there is no marked trail. There are various routes one can go. The boulder fields were a bit hard for my first mountain in the dark and then we went down the easier route parallel to the tree line. If this is truly your first major mountain climb, I would suggest doing it with some friends, unless you are in excellent shape (no tweaked knee like me etc), have little fear of heights, have 110% motivation, and a good sense of direction. The climb is absolutely beautiful and it is worth it at the Summit. Just know what you are doing. You are scrambling for MILES from one steep rock until another, with zero solid ground until you get to the scree. You need electrolytes, trekking poles, correct footwear and an extra wind proof jacket for the summit. The two steps forward, one steps back saying didn’t apply to me as it had rained and the scree was solid. I’d say scrambling the giant rocks without poles was harder than the last two miles of scree. Some people were worn out and had difficulties. Some experienced climbers also cut their ankles, rubbed killer blisters, etc. So yes, compared to South Sisters or Hood or Rainier, etc this is a beginner climb I’m told. However, respect the mountain and know what you’re getting in to. I was able to do it with a tweaked knee on no sleep (as the weather changed the day before and I had to try to sleep in my car), and it also took 16 hours with the help of some certified climbing guides I befriended in the parking area. Would I do it again? Yes. With poles and better shoes and a daypack of Gatorade. It’s amazing if you know what it is.

hiking
5 months ago

Great hike and experience with my dad and uncle. I’m in really good shape so it really wasn’t much of a challenge. All the training I do for running races made this hike a nice one. Packed day pack that had a 3L bladder along with a Gatorade, sandwich, trail mix, jerky. Ended up carrying stuff from my dads pack to help him out as it wasn’t as easy for them but they made it... I very happy that the three of us were able to share that experience together. I see where there are recommendations for special equipment but I honestly don’t think it’s necessary. No poles or special shoes or spikes or anything like that. I wore some running shoes and had my Gregory Nano pack stuffed with essentials (food/water/leatherman/first aid kit) that was it... You don’t need much more than that to make it to the top and back.

hiking
rocky
scramble
6 months ago

Hiked on 11/24/2019. Arrived at 7am to a full parking lot! You dont need the summit permit after Nov 1st but still should do the sign-in permit at the kiosk. The first 1.5 miles were a nice casual hike. The bathroom before the talus fields is locked. Once in the talus fields the ground gets a little loose followed by boulder fields. After that it's all uphill from there haha. The summit was quite windy with the pretty good gusts so bring some warm gear! Also the route to the true summit was super sketchy and would advise caution if attempting. Reached the summit in 3 hours and 25 minutes with leisure snack breaks (in pretty good athletic shape not to toot my own horn) so prepare for a steady hike up. It almost took longer to get down in certain regards because of the terrain. Be sure to bring lots of snacks, warm layers, micro-spikes, trekking poles, and maybe even a nice summit beer ;). Cheers and Happy Trails. PS please quit feeding the birds, they would surround us expecting hand-outs

hiking
muddy
no shade
rocky
scramble
snow
6 months ago

Great hike with great views it starts out easy but once you get above the tree line it’s all up hill. You scramble over and around rocks all the way until you get about 2 miles away from the summit then it’s just straight up. This hike is definitely worth it just make sure you’re prepared the weather can change in an instant.

hiking
snow
6 months ago

11/20 Sunrise Summit. Absolutely perfect! First five miles were in the pitch-black, save the slip of the moon and the beautiful stars. The Boulder Field boulders were adorned with pretty dripping icicles. But they were no problem at all. The snow was crunchy and no spikes were needed. Very very windy at the summit, but spectacularly beautiful! Good thing I remembered my sunglasses, even though starting out in the dark, LOL. Summiting is habit-forming!

hiking
6 months ago

Sunrise hike. Absolutely perfect!

hiking
muddy
rocky
scramble
6 months ago

The first half is wooded and relatively flat. Once you get above the tree line it gets tough. It isn’t the steepness, but the loose soil. It is almost like scrambling on loose deep sand. It was rainy today which made it tough. An Elk walked about 15 yards i. Front if me and practically gave me a cardiac arrest.

hiking
rocky
scramble
snow
6 months ago

Awesome hike. Beautiful view. Will do again. It’s hard. I’d consider myself an intermediate hiker and this was the hardest hikes I’ve ever gone on. The terrain changes a lot. Woodsy entry for a couple miles till you hit the timberline. Then turns into a bolder field followed by smaller boulders and steeper. Finally snow covered and very icy! Elevation gets more extreme the further up you go. Definitely recommend pacing yourself early on! Bring 3+ liters of water. I drank all three by the end. Gear will be your best friend. Crampons, good hiking boots, soft shell pants, short sleeve, long sleeve, puffy jacket, beanie, and good gloves (those boulders are sharp). I didn’t bring poles, but I would next time.

hiking
6 months ago

Epic!! Wow, I would definitely do this again. Being on the edge of the crater, the views of Rainier, Adams, Hood, amazing. Weather was perfect. Trail conditions were as good as they’ll get. At a mod-fast pace took about 4 hours moving.

scramble
6 months ago

Hiked to the top on November 10th. were at the trailhead at 7:30 and parking lot was full. The weather was absolutely perfect with clouds down below and beautiful weather above. Never wore more than my base layer and wind jacket. Took us 8 hours to get up-and-down as we had a slow member of our group. Could have made it in 7. There must have been 70 to 80 people on the mountain that day.

hiking
rocky
scramble
6 months ago

blowdown
off trail
rocky
6 months ago

We hiked the summit on november 9th. the weather was pretty bad, had no clear sights unfortunately. last 1 mile was extremely windy + rainy but there was no snow

6 months ago

11/7 Epic!!! Assuming you already know that it's a challenging hike and you should really be prepared... it was perfect today! Seven-and-a-half hours total moving time. The visibility was so beautiful we could see Mount Baker and Mount Washington. Stunning views of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, & Mount Hood. A few snow patches, which made glissading a lot of fun. But microspikes and gaiters got a free ride in the backpack, as they were not needed today. Remarkable weather for November! The view into the crater was excellent, including sulfur emissions from the dome! You need to 2 trekking poles, sunglasses, a buffy, leather work gloves or canvas garden gloves for the sharp volcanic rock during the Boulder Field, and a minimum of 3 to 4 L of water. I wish I had remembered to bring my anti-inflammatories , but super happy we had headlamps and flashlights, since we stayed for sunset. A Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking at Climber's Bivouac. It's not easy, but it's spectacular, incredible, and worth it!!!

hiking
scramble
6 months ago

Absolutely stunning ! The road to the climbers bivouac was easy in a sedan and in the dark. This was my first “summit” and as others have posted no gear was necessary, poles were very helpful for the way down. Highly recommend before the winter weather rolls in.

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