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After vacationing in Mexico last week, I was eager to get back in the snow. The weather was forecasted to be beautiful with temperatures in Portland hitting the upper 70's Saturday. My friend John and I planed to snowmobile around Mount Saint Helens and the Plains of Abraham. Mount Saint Helens (50 miles NE of Portland, Oregon), an active stratovolcano, is famous for its eruption on May 18, 1980. Now only 8,363 feet tall, the mountain previously stood at 9,677 feet tall. The Plains of Abraham on the East side of Mount St. Helens is a popular destination for snowmobilers. It's even possible to ride all the way to the crater rim (about 11.7 miles one-way from Marble Mountain Sno-Park).
We left Portland just before 6 AM and arrived at Marble Mountain Sno-Park just after 7:30 AM. The lower lot was nearly full with climbers and the upper lots were filling up. There were several other snowmobilers getting ready to ride. There was hardly a cloud in the sky with temperatures just above freezing. The snow had re-frozen overnight, but was beginning to soften up as the sun hit it. We unloaded the snowmobiles, rode across the bare parking lot, and then onto groomed road 83 toward the Muddy River Lahar about 4.5 miles away.
This was my first time snowmobiling around Mount St. Helens, but I had a general idea of how to get to the Plains of Abraham on the East side. The scenery was absolutely spectacular on this bluebird day.
On the way to the Plains of Abraham I made a couple wrong turns which nearly led us over a corniced edge at one point. Luckily I was paying attention and we were soon back on course.
There were several old avalanches visible on the slopes of Mt Saint Helens that flowed into the Plains of Abraham. One looked as though it had been scoured out by several more recent avalanches.
We were surprised to find ourselves alone on the Plains of Abraham. We had the huge playground all to ourselves with Mount St. Helens towering in the close background. We decided to get some exercise and explore a small unnammed peak on foot. We had great views of the whole area from the top. We glissaded back down to our snowmobiles and rode toward Mount Saint Helens where we could see tracks all the way to the crater rim.
We rode up to a somewhat flat spot at about 6,000 feet where we found a small group of snowmobilers camped. They explained how they had ridden to the summit the previous day when there was no wind (it was howling today). The last couple thousand feet to the top looked a little intimidating to us.
I decided to take a short ride a little higher up to test out the steepness of the slope. Going up wasn't a problem. Coming down was a little nerve wracking trying to control my speed. I had to use a combination of throttle and brakes to maintain control. Too much brake and the track locks up, causing the back of the snowmobile to fishtail (not a good thing when coming down a mountain).
We got a little more gutsy and rode up to about 6,500 feet before cutting out and heading back down. The views were great like on any traditional climb, but being on a snowmobile added a whole new level of excitement for me. A few more snowmobilers came up and we chatted for a while. I learned that some riders will drape chains or a spare belt over their skis to help slow them down. Apparently more than one rider has burned up brakes on the way down.
With the windy conditions and it being our first time this high on snowmobiles, we decided to play it safe and headed back down to the Plains of Abraham for some smaller hill climbing. Maybe next time we'll go all the way to the crater rim. Or if nothing else, it would be a short climb on foot to the rim. Unfortunately April 1st marks the start of the peak climbing permit season for anyone traveling above 4,800' on foot, ski, or snowmobile. Permits are $22 per person (they are free during the off-season). From May 15th to October 31st they limit permits to 100 climbers per day.
There was little wind back down on the Plains of Abraham. We rode all over and climbed up and down many hills. By this time there were several other small groups of people snowmobiling in the area as well. I rode up to a couple ridges and hiked over to the summit of another unnamed peak.
The video below is a compilation of a few of the hill climbs we did. The middle run was pretty fun, as we could bank the snowmobile horizontally against the underside of the cornice on the top of the hill. We were probably riding at about 40-50 mph up the hills. You could hardly tell you were speeding up a steep slope except for the muscle needed to hang onto the handlebars.
We played around for a while until we soon found ourselves alone again with the whole Plains of Abraham to ourselves. The temperature had warmed up to the mid to upper 50's and the snow was pretty soft. We decided to call it a day and headed back to Marble Mountain SnoPark. I can't wait to come back out riding on Mount St. Helens. It was such a blast!
'02 Polaris 500 RMK Snowmobiles
REI Lookout 40 Liter Backpack
GMAX GM76X Helmet
Smith Phenom Turbo Fan Rx Goggles
Columbia Men’s Bugaboot Max Electric Boots
Columbia Men's Echochrome Ski Pants
Columbia Titanium Hightail II Softshell Jacket
Columbia Sportswear Ultrachange Parka Shell
Triple Star Packable Down Hooded Jacket
Head Digital Sport Liner Gloves
Outdoor Research Ambit Gloves
Columbia Men's Fast Trek Fleece Hat
Petzl TIKKA XP 2 Headlamp
Olympus Tough TG-1 Camera
Lifeline Aluminum Sport Utility Snow Shovel
Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe
SMC Capra Ice Axe
First Aid Kit
Suunto A-10 Compass