Words by: Kat Parks
Photos by: Cayman Waughtel & Kat Parks
6am headlamp start and nothing but the comforting sound of “veewww, veewww, veewww, veewww” our skins made sliding across the packed, frozen snow. Today was everything to me. A day I’ve thought about and dreamed of since putting skis on my feet for that first time a little over 3 years ago. A ski ascent/descent of Loowit (so-called Mount Saint Helen’s) on a beautiful day with two people I cherish deeply.
Cayman and I had been watching the mountain weather forecast religiously in the week leading up to our potential summit day and as the day grew closer and we decided it would be a go, I began reaching out to friends to see who could check-in on Pippy. I woke up Tuesday morning with a killer headache so I chose to stay home from work so I could nurse my noggin and recover from the lack of sleep my headache caused the night before. Aya texted me at 6:50am:
“What are you up to tomorrow?”
“Helen’s attempt! Wanna go?”
“I think you should come”
“Hmm intriguing option!!! Are you leaving tonight?”
“Early tomorrow morning. Like 3am”
“Oh man I’m definitely interested in joining! Could I carpool with you if I can make it happen?...I’ll decide by 9!”
Fast forward to 8:40am:
“I’m in for tomorrow!!!”
We pulled into the Marble Mountain snopark at 5:20am and the overflow lot already had cars in it. After a drive through the main lot (with my brights on so sorry to everyone who slept in the lot and to those who were getting ready), we drove back to the overflow lot and decided it was a better option anyways as people were already getting parked in at the main lot. Wednesday was the nicest day between two storm cycles and the last day for TH self-registration so we knew it was going to be a party. Cayman and I are used to being alone on our midweek adventures but I found it oddly comforting seeing so many people getting ready. A little over a year since our worlds shutdown due to Covid, being around that many people with the same summit goal was pretty dang cool.
Our mountain math calculations coupled with the weather forecast meant a goal of skinning by 6, 6:30 at the very latest. Mountain math is what we use on these big days to work backwards to a start time. Mileage is thrown out the window and all we care about is elevation. In general, we like to gain about 1000ft/hour and wanted to be descending by 12:30 due to how warm the day was going to be. The ascent is about 5500’ of gain so to give ourselves some cushion, we chose the aforementioned start time. We were skinning by 6:04.
The first 2 miles are a great warm up with gradual elevation gain so by the time we reached tree line and the real ascending began, we were already in a sustainable rhythm. Shortly after tree line, we deployed ski crampons and skinned with them the rest of the way. Skier/riders without ski crampons had no choice but to A-frame their gear and hoof it. Skinning conditions were “spicy” the majority of the way as the snow didn’t end up softening as quickly as we thought it would. I felt strong and confident and I stayed on top of my nutrition/hydration. Even in the final 1000ft push while getting BAKED by the sun in all directions, my body charged forward and I was unstoppable. We made it to the crater rim at 11:30 - 5.5 hours from our start time.
It was my day.
Loowit is sacred and sovereign. She stands proud and magnificent and does not seem to miss the 1,300’ of her top and massive amounts of flesh and bone from her body that she blew away 40 years ago. Overlooking her crater rim, seeing her cradling the belly of the Earth, holding the world’s youngest glaciers and nurturing their growth, and feeling her prominence despite Tahoma and Pahto towering over her is overwhelming. Her presence is forever humbling.
We spent time on the rim eating and transitioning and feeling the stoke for the upcoming descent. Aya won 1st prize for Outfit of the Day as she rocked a floral, silk, thrift store button down shirt the duration of the day.
We dropped in at 11:48 and had what Aya later described as “the best Spring skiing conditions of her life.” Our descent route followed a high bench skiers left of the main route everyone skis down so we had fresh turns and endless views almost to tree line. The final 2 miles out has been aptly named a luge track which can be sketchy in icy conditions but was beautifully soft for our descent and I got to listen to Aya cackling and laughing behind me as she played on the rollers and hips all the way to the lot.
We relaxed at the car while eating charcuterie, Fritos, and pizza and drinking aprés ciders. Reveling in the sun, not yet ready to leave, I soaked up the final moments of sharing this day with two people I love.