Mount Saint Helens Summit via Ptarmigan Trail

HARD 280 reviews

Mount Saint Helens Summit via Ptarmigan Trail is a 8.2 mile moderately 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

walking

bird watching

forest

views

wild flowers

wildlife

rocky

scramble

snow

no dogs

A summit pass is required above the timberline, so get one and get your slog on! In the summer, a nice and tough hike. In the winter, a snowshoe/climb. All St. Helens trips start out at the Lone Fir Resort the night prior to hiking to pick up the permits. The weather forecast should be checked prior to climbing. It's best to start early morning at the climbers bivouc. The climb rises 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 this climb is a must. At the summit, you have amazing views as long as there are no clouds. glisading makes the trip much faster coming down as long as there is enough snow. Great trip overall. recommend climbing in spring or early summer right around the time that the Climbers Bivouc opens. 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. 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.

7 days ago

went in October and got lucky with weather!!
70 degrees at the base 35 degrees at the top; midday.
takes a while 10 hrs up and back.
forest, for the first 1/3
large rock for next half
soft sand for the last 1/4 mile
soooo worth it when u hit the top!
Need good knees going down.....

hiking
no shade
rocky
scramble
snow
25 days ago

hiking
29 days ago

Beautiful hike and a fall ( October)day going again in October 2019

hiking
29 days ago

Beautiful hike and a fall ( October)day going again in October 2019

hiking
1 month ago

For a somewhat out-of-shape 50 year-old who used to be an athlete in my younger days, this was a great test of Character. Did it solo, as at the last week before, the others I was to be climbing with had to back out. Trained somewhat before doing this hike but not nearly what I would have liked to.
Very strenuous for me. Took almost 9 hours to do the round-trip. Thought I was in the clear after I got to the top but did not realize that coming down (Using hiking poles which, in my opinion is a must) was going to hurt even more. (Oh, my knees!!)
Even so, was a hike that I will remember forever.
If you leave early and pace yourself, it will be strenuous but doable and well worth it!!

backpacking
3 months ago

Done it twice. ready to do it again!

hiking
3 months ago

My first major summit. It's a hard climb, but worth it at the top.

3 months ago

Awesome. That’s all that needs to be said.

3 months ago

Super day out there! Nice and sunny and trail was good. I would obviously still recommend mountain gear, poles, crampons etc. it was a great day! Trails were great!

3 months ago

Sumitted November 8th!... a bit chilly, but no wind at the top, and amazing sunny views! Definitely appreciated crampons near the summit. This is a challenging hike! I am an avid hiker and runner and my body hurts in ways it rarely does 2 days later... but well worth it!!

3 months ago

Hated it but intend to do it every year until I can’t!

hiking
4 months ago

Such an incredible hike! It starts off fairly easy to get you warmed up before the climb really takes off! It’s definitely a tough hike, especially the last trek through the ash and sand up near the summit. But the view is so amazing, all the hard work pays off! The group I hiked with started out in the early morning on October 19th and the weather was perfect: sunny with a gentle breeze! Highly recommended hike! (Always be ready for whatever weather conditions come along though!)

hiking
4 months ago

Completed this hike last Friday (October 12th) and weather was perfect, sunny with a little chill in the air. The last mile was the hardest by far but well worth the effort!

hiking
4 months ago

Completely loved this hike. Perfect weather yesterday, sunshine and no wind. I won’t lie, this was a hard hike for me. Loved the bouldering but the ridge line of ash kicked my ash. Fantastic visibility granted us a glorious view of the crater, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt.Hood and what we think was Mt.Washington. It was incredible. The hike down was hard on tired legs but we found the rocky trail below Monitor Ridge was easier than the boulders. Wonderful. Best hike of my life!

hiking
4 months ago

I FOUND YOUR CAMERA!!!!
Hiked to summit today and found it on the way down. Please contact me with a description to claim it so I can get it back to you. 425-785-1140

4 months ago

Completed this hike on Tuesday, October 2. We had clear beautiful weather in the treeline, then the wind picked up. We were in and out of clouds for the rest of the ascent. The winds were around 55kph when we started and increased to 65+kph (around 40mph) as we were reaching the top. We had ice forming on us as we continued to gain elevation (my calculations said that it as about 19 degrees with the wind chill). Even with multiple layers, it was getting really cold. Made it to the top with the wind against us in about 5 hours. It was 34 degrees at the top, still heavy winds, so we didn’t stay long. Three hours down...the boulder field was a challenge with the wind on our backs. Knocked me down a few times. But we made it! Incredible experience, empowering, and worth the frozen hands, and wind burnt face. =)

hiking
4 months ago

10/2/18

I made it! I started at 6:30am and it took me 7 hours up and 4 hours down. What can I say I'm slow, but I made it and that's all that mattered to me. I saw 7 people turn around because the weather got bad. The weather was about 50 degrees at the beginning, but got very cold as the day went on. The strong wind gusts knocked me over a few times and I had icicles on my hat and gloves. Take your time, stop a lot if you need to, enjoy the views, and start early especially if you're a slow hiker. And remember your head lamp!

hiking
4 months ago

Sunday, 9/30/18, was not the best day to go up the mountain! The weather came in and it was foggy, lost trail markers on the way down, app worked great didn’t need to break out gps. Then the weather changed towards the top and blowing wind and freezing rain. Even with full ski gear I was still cold. The trail was everything as advertised though! Three adventures in one, forest, bouldering, and the challenging ash section. Don’t wait to break out your trekking poles!

hiking
4 months ago

Hike starts off nice and easy as it goes for strenuous hikes go for the first 3 miles and then you hit the boulders and loose rocks then the grind begins . Don't forget to look around and take many breaks . We left camp at 6:30am and reached the summit around 11:30 follow the poles but don't be worried about how close you stay to them because there are many trails close by and they all lead to the top . Breathe taking views we were lucky enough to go up on a clear but windy day . Took about a dozen pics and headed back down . The trip down was a lot faster than the way up . Back to camp around 2:30 . Tough but worth it

hiking
4 months ago

This was an awesome trail. I underestimated this trail but it was well worth it. We went up a few weeks ago it was cold and foggy the way up but the top was gorgeous. I took up a 40 lbs pack to prepare for some hiking my wife and I are going to do in Peru in a month. This was a great test. I’m on the thicker side and was definitely feeling the weight going up. The boulders are harder going back down than coming up. The ash is not fun going up but much easier in the downslope. Went with a group of 6 and I was the slowest. The entire trip up and down with lunch and observation time at the top was like eight and a half hours. This trail can be done by almost anyone as we met younger kids (12ish in age) to older like mid-late 60’s going up. Just have to be ready to suck wind for a while. We were stopped by rangers and asked for our permits, so make sure you have them. Make sure you take poles. It would have been much harder coming down the rocks without those. Anyways an amazing trail.

hiking
4 months ago

Had bad luck with the weather on our hike yesterday. Thick fog, driving rain, and relentless wind. Our party of 12 split into a slow group and a fast group once we arrived at the Last Chance bathroom. This was a good point to add layers, have a snack and a rest. Once you pass the tree line, the boulders were a fun challenge. A little difficult to see the trail, but easy enough to see the trail guide pole even in the fog. Unfortunately, the wind and rain made the journey too cold to continue to the summit and we turned back just before the ash field. I’d say the decent in the boulder field was by far the most challenging. Wear gloves - using my hands was far more effective than my poles. I read on a previous post that the trail hike back feels longer than it does on the ascent and it absolutely does. Can’t wait to try this hike again, hopefully in better weather next summer!

For gear, I was grateful for my poles, warm wool hat, neck cover and gloves, though by the time we returned to the car, I don’t think a single article of clothing on me was dry...

5 months ago

Did this yesterday, September 19, 2018. Great experience. The scree at the top was easy since it was wet from recent snow melt. No need for poles going up, but would have been useful for the down trip. Up in 4.5 gours, down in 2. Beautiful weather at summit...sun and no wind but clouds to the south, spent and hour up there which I hear us unusual.

hiking
5 months ago

Super hike/climb.
The boulder field was a lot of fun.
The ash was fustrating.

5 months ago

I loved this mountain. We climbed it yesterday, the weather was terrible, the views were non existent, but memories for a lifetime. It only took us 6 and a half round trip. Left our car at 6:18 am and back to the car at 1:45. I’ll be doing this again next year, hopefully with better weather to catch the views.

5 months ago

Not too difficult except the last ashy area, super windy!

hiking
5 months ago

Hiked on Sept 1st, Started at 5am, reached summit at noon and reached back down by 7pm. We took a lot of breaks and spent most of our time at the boulder field. Starting early, we crosses the treeline for a beautiful sunrise and got lucky with very clear skies. Get gloves for scrambling over the boulders and rocks. Suggest wearing Gaiters for the gravel trail.

5 months ago

Hiked this on 8Aug with my wife and 12 year old son. He only really complained on the way down but i don't blame him, lol. It wasn't as bad as we thought it would be but our legs are still burning two days later, lol, and we're avid hikers. Nonetheless, what an experience to be standing atop an active volcano. There's plenty of reviews that cover the terrain so I won't get into that. We started from Climbers Bivouac at 0400, got to the summit at 0845 and got back to truck at 1245. We took 2 long breaks and multiple short breaks on the way up and a 45 minute rest at the top. Recommendations: 1) start early. Getting up at 0330 sucked but it was worth it. Coming down at lunchtime was Hot. 2) Take plenty of breaks. 3) Pack lots of water. I went through about 4 liters which seemed to be plenty for me. 4) Pack good snacks. 5) when you get to the ash, step in other people's footsteps, much easier. 6) Have a full change of clothes at thr bottom and more snacks and drinks. 7) watch one of the YouTube documentaries on the history, makes it much more enjoyable to actually relate the two. All of those recommendations are pretty standard for most hikes so nothing out of thr ordinary. Enjoy.

hiking
5 months ago

Summitted on Labor Day 9/3/2018 and in my humble opinion late Summer to early Fall is the BEST time of the year to do this hike - cool temperatures and one does not have to deal with added complications brought on, and additional gear needed, due to snow & ice. I got extra lucky and was fortunate to experience a clear day with blue spotless skies!

You will need a permit to climb above the tree line ~4800 feet. Up to this point, you are just hiking around in a typical PNW evergreens forest. Permits on the USDA website sell out quickly in the spring, but I have found that there is a high probability of getting lucky on the purmit.com website. You will need to note down your permit number on your parking stub and in the Climber's Register, and there are forest rangers stationed along the route.

I parked at Climber's Bivouac at around 6 a.m. but you are allowed to spend the night in your car or in a tent at this parking lot. There are no restaurants or facilities and this is parking-lot is deep into the forest at the end of a gravel road. I ate a hearty breakfast which I had brought, used the )chemical, no running water) restroom, signed in the Climber's Register, paid $5/- for parking and began climbing at 0715 a.m. I took the Ptarmigan Trail up to the Monument Rim.

I am a woman, 43, in good shape and this was a solo hike. I had decided to play it very safe and keep a slow but steady pace. I was able to be back at the trailhead by 4:00 p.m. with an actual moving time of just over 9 hours. I took about 20 minutes at the rim to enjoy the views, and several mini-breaks for rest, scenery and photos along the way. Determined, slow and steady will get you to the top - this hike is challenging but achievable for most hikers.

GEAR: Must-haves for this time of the year are ankle-high boots, gloves, sun-glasses, gators, a buff/scarf to cover your ears, and a wind-proof jacket. Nice-to-haves are hiking poles and a wide-brimmed hat. I recommend wearing full sleeves and long pants/tights to avoid getting scratched on the rocks.

The first ~1.5 miles is a steady uphill walk in a forest. You will be able to see (L-R) Mount Adams, Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson and the tri-peak of the Sisters through clearings.

The middle ~1.5 miles is where you will climb steep uphill among a field of small boulders. Keep an eye out for the route markers as there is no trail, you just have to make your way up to the next marker among the boulders. For the most part, you are holding rocks with your hands and working your legs between/over rocks. If you don't wear gloves you could easily cut yourself on the rock. I did not / could not use my poles as I felt I needed the use of both my hands.

The uppermost section is soft ash mixed with tiny pebbles & scree. Hiking uphill in the ash scree itself is not very challenging assuming you have boots on with good treads. The challenge here is in the steep elevation gain and in taking it one small step at a time and not being overwhelmed by seeming endlessness of the mountain. If ever you feel a bit discouraged, just look downhill to feel good about how much you've achieved, take a deep well-deserved breath to reset and put your next foot forward.

As you approach the rim, be prepared for your mind to be completely blown away by the breathtaking view of Mount Rainier for the first time, the smoldering crater and the glaciers surrounding the dome of the volcano. Spirit Lake with all its floating tree-trunks is at the bottom of the crater, and if you look hard enough you may be able to see the Visitor Center. The "true summit" is a 0.25-mile long walk along the crater's rim, to your left.

Take in the views, and a good rest at the top, because the downhill challenge is about to begin. You will dig your heels deep into the steep ash scree - here is where the gators come in handy. Although it never feels unsafe, be prepared for your shoes to fill up with little pebbles, and to end up with your backside on the scree in a slo-mo cushioned fall. The boulders are also challenging downhill, and I hate to admit it but my knees felt a bit wobbly by the time I got back to the tree-line elevation. The downhill walk seems miraculously much longer than the uphill walk!

This hike will squeeze the juice out of you but will pay you back ten-fold in views and satisfaction. It is worth every last drop of effort and expense you will put into planning this hike.

5 months ago

Amazing view at the top, last section is pretty slippery but overall not bad!

hiking
5 months ago

Obviously, you’ll need a permit so secure one in advance (https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/giffordpinchot/passes-permits/recreation/?cid=fseprd528670) or you can get lucky by posting on purmit.com which is what I did!

My hike began early around 8:00 AM where I got to enjoy the gorgeous fog amongst the forest that starts out the climb. From there, once the trees break away a bit, you’ll soon be climbing boulder “stairs”. Just follow the wooden pylons wedged between the rocks.

After that, prepare for a nonstop, strenuous climb with brief (and I mean VERY brief) moments of respite from verticality. Take it slow and double-down on water. You will also need some sort of hand coverings to help you climb. The rocks are sharp and I could see signs of shreddage on the gloves I had on me (not proper climbing gloves).

The final section is nothing but “sand” aka ash and small rocks. Highly advise you to bring hiking poles of some sort—I did not and paid dearly for it. Without them, you will be taking one step forward and sliding two steps back which can become very frustrating and defeating quickly. Also, at this point, the wind will also be working against you, so be sure to wear a shell of some sort.

Unfortunately, once I had reached the summit, it was far too foggy to see inside :( However, the climb itself is definitely worth it.

Overall, I had not hiked for 9 months and am about 20 lbs overweight and was able to do it within less than 7 hours. I packed ~100 ounces of water, and 4 RX Bars for the trek and used nearly all of it up.

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