mount st helens climb pnw

Guide to a Week in the Cascades: Volcano Season and Hot Springs Recovery

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I spent a week in the PNW Cascades driving from Mount Adams to Mount Hood to Mount Saint Helens back to Adams and finally to Mount Shasta with the goal to ski a couple of mountains while the conditions are prime in May. Well, I did a lot of ski touring but only skied off of one summit which is more than I expected as a new skier. 

Here’s everything you need to know before embarking on your volcano adventures.

Trip Planning for Your Volcano Climb

  • First decision: Are you going to climb a mountain or ski it?
  • Next decision: Are you attempting the objective as a one-day mission or an overnight mission?
  • Last decision: Which volcano are you going to attempt first?

…now for the nitty-gritty details of route and conditions research.

I spend a lot of time on the road between my outdoor adventures and to help keep my trips budget-friendly, I sleep in the back of the car or camp when the weather is nice as opposed to booking a room. 

I make sure to always have portable battery chargers to stay powered up. Bringing a power bank helps me prepare for my climbing trip to charge my headlamp, batteries, and laptop. I prefer doing research for routes, weather, and trip planning from my laptop as well as editing photos so this power bank really is the key to the start and end of every outdoor adventure.

Should I Hike or Ski a Volcano?

The first thing you have to ask yourself is: do I know how to ski? Am I a good skier? 

I am a new skier for reference and think it was a bit ambitious for me but definitely possible for anyone determined to learn to ski well – just be prepared to boot-pack if you’re uncomfortable with the grade of the slope.

If you know how to ski, however, skiing provides a unique way of traveling in the mountains. It’s more efficient on the climbing ascent as your skins allow you to slide a little further with every step, and it’s a lot faster on the descent for obvious reasons. Timing is everything on the mountains and I’ve learned that a skier’s schedule on the mountain may look different than a climber’s so they can hit the downhill at prime time.

I’m more comfortable hiking than skiing but have come to appreciate and value my skis for the uphill.

Stay Charged with Portable Batteries: Best Battery Packs for Outdoor Adventures

I use my phone a lot during my outdoor adventures, typically for photos and videos, and I like to run a GPS tracker. This drains my battery fairly quickly so I always have a portable battery charger with me on every outdoor adventure, regardless of whether it is a day hike or an overnight camping trip. The difference here would be what size battery to pack:

  • mophie Snap+ Juice Pack Mini: This is my battery choice for day adventures and I’ve come to really love the wireless convenience of it. I’ve never had a wireless charger before trying this one and it’s seriously a game-changer! A traditional portable battery pack can be too cumbersome with the charging cords while I’m hiking; I always keep my phone in an easy-to-access pocket nearby for photos but the charging cord is annoying to deal with so this just keeps things cleaner. You get one full charge with this small; 5,000mAh battery and it only weighs 0.29 lb which is amazing for the convenience of a wireless charger. It also easily attaches to your phone with a magnetic snap.
best wireless portable charger
  • mophie Powerstation Pro XL: This is my battery choice for multi night outdoor adventures as it provides up to 120W of total combined power with a 25,000mAh battery and only weighs 1 lb. I need more power for my overnight trips for obvious reasons – I’m remote in the backcountry for more than a day and want to make sure I don’t run out of juice. I’ve also recently discovered downloading and watching movies on my phone while at camp and that drains a bit of battery as well. Aside from just using this power bank in the backcountry though, it has so much power that I can even charge my MacBook during my travels.
  • mophie Powerstation Pro AC: While I won’t lug this power bank into the backcountry for my charging needs, it’s a must-have for the in-between travel moments on the road. The 100W AC Output, 27,000mAh battery, makes this charger worth packing if you plan to charge more than the small electronics. I prefer doing research for routes, weather, and trip planning from my laptop as well as editing photos so this power bank allows me to prep and finish out my adventure planning. The power bank helps me prepare for my climbing trip as I can use the AC port to charge my headlamp, batteries, and laptop.

Beginner-Friendly, Nontechnical Cascade Volcanos

Climb Mount St Helens 8,363 ft: Worm Flows Route

mt st helens

Mount St. Helens is said to be one of the easier popular Cascade volcanos (Adams, Baker, Hood, Rainier, Shasta) to climb. It is a non-technical summit route which means it is a long slog suitable for hikers in good physical condition. It is also lower in elevation than the rest of the neighboring volcanos which makes it easier but it is still a big climb not to be taken lightly.

The Worm Flows climbing route is about 5.5 miles one way with 5,700 ft of elevation gain. It is also the most direct and common climbing route when snow is present.

Trip Report Summary [May 25, 2023]: We started our ascent from the Marble Mountain Sno-Park parking lot at 5 am and quickly put our skis on which made traveling the first few flat miles to Chocolate Falls a lot quicker. There is a way to avoid the rock rib along the Worm Flows route if you head right into the gully beside it to stay on the snow. When the terrain started to get a little steeper by the Seismic Station at around 6,200 ft, I cached my skis and hiked in my boots and crampons up the steeper section of the mountain. As a new skier, I have a fear of sliding down the mountains while moving uphill on my skis with skins attached. The snow was very soft and maybe crampons weren’t necessary but it gave me peace of mind to have them on. Also, I may have been one of the few people to be holding my ice axe whereas most people just had two hiking poles… but again, peace of mind.

5:50 hr later, we reached the summit. After charging up my body and phone, we started our descent. Since my climbing partner was skiing down, this was actually the first time I had to hike down a steep snowy mountain completely on my own. With how much I’ve climbed in the mountains, the nerves still never go away. It’s always been a mental game for me and having a climbing partner around helps with that. Thankfully, the snow was so soft by the time I headed down that the post-holing conditions made it more comfortable for me to get down on my own.  When I met back up with Chris where my skis were cached, he continued to ski down to Chocolate Falls and I hiked down rock rib which was very annoying with all of my ski gear until I reached the snow again – I was finally able to ski the rest of the way out as the conditions were better. 

Climb and Ski Mount Adams 12,287 ft: South Climb Route

Mount Adams is the second highest peak in Washington and is also a non-technical climb. It’s said to have a very good ski line so we had to try it… again.

The South Climb Trail is the common route for Mt. Adams. It is typically 12 miles out-and-back with 6,700 ft of elevation gain, but with the road closure this time of year, it was about 7.2 miles with 7,200 ft of elevation gain for us. 

Trip report summary [May 28, 2023]: We started our ascent at 2:15 am and put our skis on shortly after reaching the trailhead. The snow had melted very quickly from when we were here for our first attempt on May 22. There were certainly some icy sections still and our ski crampons helped a lot with the going up. We were able to skin on our skis and crampons up to the headwall of Piker’s Peak, the false summit (11,657 ft). This south face of Piker’s Peak was roughly 2,700 ft of elevation gain and a bit slow going but boot-packing was definitely the right choice as it got steep at the top.

7:40 hr later, we found ourselves on the summit of Mt. Adams. The summit view of Mt. Rainier was amazing to see as it’s a view I’m unfamiliar with. This climb is special to me as it’s the first time I got to ski off of the summit of a mountain – the upper portion just below the summit is a mellow grade but the summit headwall does get a lot steeper and I was surprised I could ski it. The most fun part was near the bottom of this summit headwall where the mountain flattens out before you reach Pikers Peak again – the snow was clean and so smooth and fun!

mt adams summit view of mt rainier

Rest, Recovery, and Research the Next Climb

Food Recovery

After climbing Mount St. Helens, we planned to stay a night at The Society in Bingen, WA by Hood River for some rest and recovery given the proximity to Mt Adams – the lodging resembles a hostel where you can pay per bunk bed and have access to their spa too which is a sweet deal post-climb. There is a market in White Salmon and I’ve been craving chicken so my we shared a full rotisserie chicken and a bag of salad. It’s budget-friendly and relatively healthy.

After Mount Adams, we fueled up with some amazing Italian-style pizza in Hood River, and then the best burgers on the drive south to California – Yaks on the 5. This is a must-stop eat after you climb Mount Shasta!

portable chargers

Hot Spring Recovery

The best thing about volcanos is there are sure to be natural hot springs nearby. Climbing a mountain can be taxing on the body (and also skiing down if you aren’t great at it and tense up as I do) and proper rest and recovery are important, especially if you plan to do another climb soon after like we stacked them – in one week, we did 2 ski tours on the lower part of volcanos and climbed/ skied two volcanos.

After refueling the body with food, hot springs help soothe the body and aid in the recovery process. Two of the main benefits of soaking in hot springs after a strenuous climb are:

  • Boosts blood circulation and helps with oxygen flow in the body
  • Provides pain relief – yup, soaking in a hot spring actually blocks pain receptors

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