Although a strenuous climb, the summit of Mt. St. Helens is attained as a day hike, due in no small part to the loss of the mountain’s top third during its 1980 eruption. However, the hike must be planned well in advance. The required climbing permits (available for reservation through the U.S. Forest Service via the first “Required Pass” link above) are limited in number per day and most sell out soon after they become available for reservation in February of each year. In addition, a standard Northwest Forest Pass or equivalent is also required to park at the trailhead.
Although the Monitor Ridge climbing route is considered the April-through-October “summer” route, snow may linger late or arrive early during that period, which, depending on individual preference, may render the mountain’s boulderfields and loose, ashy scree either more or less difficult to navigate. (This profile features photos from one hike when snow was present and another when it was not.) Be sure to check the Forest Service’s site for weather forecasts and recent trip reports to help prepare for the conditions that chance to exist on the day you reserved your climbing permit. And, given that this hike is considerably more extreme that most other day hikes, be sure to consider the Forest Service’s recommendations for appropriate apparel and gear.
The 10.00-mile/16.00-km round-trip climbing route can be roughly divided into three distinct sections. From the trailhead at the Climbers Bivouac (i.e., parking lot, although an outhouse and a few campsites are available), the wooded Ptarmigan Trail leads approximately 2.20 miles/3.50 km to the treeline and base of Monitor Ridge. The ridge’s trail-less boulderfield then stretches approximately 2.00 miles/3.20 km in a seemingly endless series of rocky knolls, each unseen until the previous is attained. Although the ridgeline is fairly easy to follow, aided by wooden posts planted at intervals to mark the way, some boulder scrambles are required. Finally, the last approximate 0.75-mile/1.20-km section follows a trail of sorts up steep scree slopes with the loose consistency of fine gravel or course sand, requiring extra exertion for forward motion just when energy is waning and air is thinning.