Mount St. Helens Climbing Safety

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. Do not glissade without a proper ice axe.

Alert: Use a GPS unit or app to track your ascent, and refer to it often as you descend. Many climbers get lost on the way back down, descending down the wrong drainages.

Some Cornices (overhanging snow) on the Crater Rim of Mount St. HelensThe 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, but there are large permanent snow fields which may be very icy and may have large cracks caused by settling. Check the forecast and watch the weather- conditions can change rapidly. Be prepared for weather extremes.

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.
    • Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope 
    • Map, Compass, Route Markers 
    • Climbing Boots 
    • First Aid Kit 
    • Waterproof matches and fire starter 
    • Pocket Knife 
    • Extra Food and Water 
    • Extra Clothing 
    • Emergency signal device 
    • Sunglasses, Sunscreen, Hat 
    • Emergency Shelter 
    • Flashlight, extra batteries, and bulb 
    • Human waste pack-out bags (to remove solid wastes) 

Do Not Rely on Your Phone!

  • Mount St. Helens is located in a remote area. Even at altitude, you may not get reception. Do not rely on your cell phone in an emergency. Climbers should be adequately prepared and sign 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 bad decisions.
  • Limit Exposure.  Seek shelter if conditions are bad. If you can't stay warm and dry, turn back. Give up your summit, not your life!
  • Watch your Climbing Group for Hypothermia Symptoms.  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. Warm the victim by providing heat to the chest area. Do not warm the 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 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 can affect the body's use of oxygen at high elevations).
    • Smokers and anyone using depressant drugs are more apt to suffer from altitude difficulties.

Volcanic Hazards

  • Did you know Mount St. Helens is an active volcano?  Since September 2004, Mount St. Helens has shown renewed volcanic activity.  It is important for all potential climbers to understand they may be exposing themselves to volcanic hazards which cannot be forecast, cannot be controlled, and may occur at any time without warning.  Learn more at the Cascades Volcano Observatory