Hikers soon will get a chance to check out a proposed new climbing route at Mount St. Helens — but only by paying $300 for a guided trip.
As the Forest Service works on plans for what it’s calling the Crater View climb, the agency is allowing the Mount St. Helens Institute to use the route for six guided trips this summer.
Since the mid-1980s, climbers have been allowed to trek up the south side of Mount St. Helens to the 8,300-foot rim, from which they can gaze down into the crater.
Several hiking trails cross the pumice plain north of the crater, but the highest people can reach is Loowit Falls at 4,600 feet elevation.
Starting this summer, hardy hikers will be allowed to climb about 2,000 feet higher for a close-up look at the smoking crater.
“Hikers will find themselves in front of and above the crater, peering down onto the glacier” that’s inside the crater, Lisa Romano, community engagement specialist for the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, said in an email.
The Forest Service has mapped out a route from Loowit Trail No. 216 up to a saddle west of the Sugar Bowl.
Earlier, a trail was considered to the Sugar Bowl, but Forest Service workers couldn’t find a safe location for it.
The agency is working on an environmental permit for the route, after which it will decide whether to proceed with the project, Romano said.
“Because there’s so much public interest in expanding access to the mountain, we anticipate it being a project we’ll move forward on,” she wrote.
By letting the Mount St. Helens Institute take guided groups, the Forest Service can get a better gauge of how challenging it is and pick a pathway, Romano said.
The route is an 8 mile round-trip hike with 1,800 feet of elevation gain, and Romano said it’s more difficult than the south climb of the volcano, even though that ascent is longer.
For the institute’s $300 guided trips, hikers will meet on Road 99 the night before and camp out before rising early for the trip.
Romano said the Forest Service wants to know how search-and-rescue would be accomplished on the route before opening it up to the general public. Public climbing would likely be by permit only, similar to south side climb, she said.
The Mount St. Helens Institute, a non-profit group that works closely with the Forest Service, already offers a variety of guided trips at the peak, from $25 for a half-day snowshoeing trip to $600 for a two-day climb into the crater.
Last year, those crater trips were “super popular,” said Ray Yurkewycz, the institute’s science and education manager.
“They’re really exciting hikes. They sell out quickly.”
He’s heard comments about the cost, but Yurkewycz said the more expensive trips help support other institute programs, some of which have no fees.
“As a non-profit, you have to fund raise somehow,” he said.