Climbing Preparation and Safety

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Mount St. Helens is not a particularly dangerous climb. Unfortunately, some accidents and injuries do occur. Most serious accidents happen when climbers slide or glissade down snowfields and are unable to stop or avoid hazards. Always control your speed and be able to stop yourself.

Cornices (overhanging snow) on Mount St Helens crater rimThe crater rim is precipitous with drops of more than 1,000 feet to the crater floor. A snow cornice develops in winter and often lasts well into summer. Take great care, as portions of the rim may be unstable year-round. Stay off the snow cornice!

There are no active glaciers on the south slopes of Mount St. Helens. There are however, large permanent snow fields which may be very icy and may have large cracks caused by settling.Check the forecast and watch the weather as conditions can change rapidly. Be prepared for weather extremes.

Volcanic Hazards

  • Mount St. Helens is an active volcano! Since September 2004, Mount St. Helens has shown renewed volcanic activity. It is very important for all potential climbers to fully understand they may be exposing themselves to volcanic hazards which cannot be forecast, cannot be controlled and may occur at any time without warning. Forest visitors near the volcano need to be prepared for a potential ash fall. Stay tuned to local media for up to date reports on the status of the volcano. Daily updates are also available from the Cascades Volcano Observatory web site.

What to Bring

  • Mountain climbing is physically demanding. Prepare yourself for a long arduous day. Make sure you are adequately prepared to help experience safer and more enjoyable. Remember to bring the Ten Essentials!

Do Not Rely on Your Cell Phone in a Climbing Emergency!

  • Mount St. Helens is located in a remote area of southwestern Washington State. There are no cell phone towers within the Monument or the Gifford Pinchot National Forest surrounding the Monument. Even at altitude, reception may or may not work, depending upon the time of day, your physical location on the volcano, variable weather conditions, even the cell phone network you use. Do not rely on your cell phone in an emergency while climbing Mount St. Helens. Climbers are cautioned to not substitute a cell phone for adequate preparedness, such as carrying the Ten Essentials, and signing in and out of the Climber's Registration before and after your climb.

Prevent Hypothermia

  • Stay Dry. Wet clothes lose about 90 percent of their insulating value. Make sure your rain gear works.
  • Beware of the Wind. Wind carries heat away by driving cold air through clothing. Wear a wind breaker. Protect your skin.
  • Prevent Exhaustion. Exercise drains your energy reserves. Stop and rest frequently while you still have energy. If hypothermia develops, stop traveling. Help the victim reserve energy and heat. Send for help.
  • Eat and Drink. Drink and eat throughout the day. Dehydration and insufficient energy lead to fatigue and depression, poor circulation and lousy decisions.
  • Limit Exposure. Seek shelter if conditions are bad. If you can't stay warm and dry, turn back. Give up your objective, not your life!
  • Watch for Symptoms. Watch for these symptoms among your companions: uncontrollable shivering; vague, slurred speech; memory lapses; incoherence, or irrational behavior; fumbling hands; frequent stumbling; drowsiness or exhaustion; hallucinations; blueness of skin; dilation of pupils; weak or irregular pulse; unconsciousness.

If hypothermia develops ...

  • Prevent further heat loss. Get the victim out of the wind and precipitation. Change out of wet clothes and into dry, warm clothes. Never give the victim alcoholic beverages.
  • Increase heat production. If the victim is conscious, give warm, sweet drinks. Keep the semi-conscious victim awake. Put the victim in a warm sleeping bag. Attempt to warm the victim by providing heat to the chest area. Do not attempt to warm extremities first.
  • Seek medical help. Heart and lung failure are significant threats to hypothermia victims.

Prevent Altitude Sickness

People who climb Mount St. Helens can be affected by the change in altitude, and all climbers need to be aware that altitude sickness can pose a very real threat. There are four recognizable stages of altitude sickness, ranging from acute mountain sickness (rare below 6500-8000 feet) to pulmonary and cerebral edema which may cause serious damage or even death.

  • Symptoms. Symptoms may include: headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite, weakness, shortness of breath, loss of color or bluish color around the lips, chills, difficulty falling asleep, increased pulse and respiratory rates, blurred vision, confusion and disorientation. More serious symptoms associated with pulmonary and cerebral edema include a tight feeling in the chest, dry cough which becomes moist and crackling with a noisy "bubbling" sound, rapid pulse (120-160/minute), frothy or blood-tinged sputum, severe headache, confusion, disorientation, and convulsions.
  • Treatment. Descend to lower elevation immediately--a descent of even 2000 feet may make a considerable difference. Slow down to reduce the body's demand for oxygen. Make a conscious effort to breathe deeper and faster. In more severe cases, give oxygen, if available.
  • Prevention. Awareness is the only way to catch early symptoms. Go up slowly, taking time to acclimate to the higher elevation. Planning a two-day ascent, with the first night spent at a mid-point on the mountain, will help the acclimation process. Increase fluid intake and carbohydrate consumption; decrease fats in your diet. Avoid alcohol consumption (even alcohol consumed several days prior to climbing may affect the body's use of oxygen at high elevations). Smokers and anyone using depressant drugs are more apt to suffer from altitude difficulties.