For a telemark skier, I don’t know if there is a more perfect mountain than Mt St Helens, which offers an easy climb to a superb view and a 5,000 ft continuous run of fun 30° slopes as the ultimate reward. In the spring there is typically a window of a month or so in May or June when you can get good weather, low avalanche conditions, and great skiing. Permits can be hard to come by after May 15th, when they are capped at 100, so this past weekend provided the perfect opportunity to get out for some turns. Somehow I convinced three of my telemarking friends that getting up at midnight to climb the mountain so we would be at the top for sunrise was a good idea.

Click image for larger view!

Mt St Helens, Sunrise View, Washington

Volcanoland : Prints Available
A sunrise view from the crater rim of Washington’s Mt St Helens, which blew its top in May of 1980. Down below is Spirit Lake, and in the distance Mt Rainier.

The Tech: Canon 5D2, 24-105mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 6 sec

Me, on the crater rim of St Helens. Photo by my friend Tim.

Of course, I was photographically motivated, but it turned out to be a great decision independent of that. Climbing at night is a surreal and beautiful experience. All you can see is the 30 feet or so in front of you, illuminated by your headlamp, and if your lucky, some stars above your head. The summit is out of site, and thus, out of mind. Without the movement of the sun (or moon), there is also no obvious passage of time. Just one ski step in front of the other, and before long, you find yourself at the top! Psychologically, it’s a much more pleasant experience, so long as you can stay awake of course.

Waiting for the sunrise near the summit

Having reached the summit by 4am, we could have actually slept in an extra hour. To pass the time we dug a snow pit and took a brief nap. At sunrise, we were rewarded with the spectacular view of the neighboring volcanoes: Mt Rainier (1st picture), Mt Adams (our next ski adventure), Mt Hood, and far to the south, Mt Jefferson. Mt St Helens is most famous for explosively blowing its cap in May of 1980, which, unfortunately for us skiers, removed about 1300 ft from the summit, leaving a deep crater in its wake. My first picture shows the view from the summit rim, looking down into that crater, with a view of Spirit Lake and Mt Rainier in the distance.

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Mt St Helens, Colorful Rock, Washington

Crater Layers : Prints Available
Colorful layers of rock on the inside of Washington’s Mt St Helens’ crater, seen from the rim.

The Tech: Canon 5D2, 24-105mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/11, 0.3 sec

After enjoying the view, we clipped into our skies and enjoyed a fantastic ride down the mountain, past the other 650 people that had gotten a later start than us. It turns out there is a Mother’s Day tradition of climbing/skiing St Helens while wearing a skirt.. next time we’ll come more prepared, but we were very glad to have timed our trip to be well before the crowds.

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5 Comments to “Volcanoland – Sunrise on Mt St Helens”

  1. Zhou says:

    Looks like you guys had a fun time. I really enjoy the composition and the detail with the first image; Volcanoland. Nice job seeing and capturing the Crater Layers, you do have a unique view on nature…

  2. Scott says:

    Floris, that first image is just awesome. Definitely the one of the best Mt St Helens shots I have seen, and probably the most unique. Love it!

  3. Beautiful pics; that’s for sure.

  4. Mark Olson says:

    The Mt. St. Helens image is a beautiful shot, and you’ve captured the different levels of light very well…did you merge bracketed frames to achieve this, use a ND filter?, or does the image fairly represent the lighting conditions when taken? Rainier was a great addition!

  5. Thanks folks for the kind words!

    Mark – that image is a single exposure; the lighting was surprisingly even!