Mt. St. Helens

I wore a bright red warm ski parka and wool pants that covered my long athletic legs, but definitely the feeling of the cool clouds, fog, and mountain air blowing was intense.  Seems like it was breezing right through me. Shivering, I  breathed in big gasps trying to acclimatize to the high altitude of 9,600 feet as I climbed slowly up a steep mountain side. The leather boots steadily stepped in the ice and snow. They were sturdy and heavy, they fitted over woolen socks, and I felt the pointed and steely crampons attached on the soles. The warm hat and mittens I wore over my youthful 18-year-old head and hands, still the chilling cold on my face which was very icy and damp made my nose constantly drip. The sharp-pointed ice ax that I had learned how to use at a mountaineers training camp last fall time, felt assuring in my hand.  The axe was placed in front of me to help me climb up ice steps, or used to help steady myself on the many footsteps needed to climb to get to the top of the tall cascade mountain looming in front of me.  Still the mountain snow, ice and weather had me grasping as I carefully place the ice ax and precisely and followed my older sister up the angled snow field to the top of Mount St. Helens in Washington. Her strong  boyfriend and other climbing buddies were 1000 feet in front and I could not see them through the early morning light and mountain weather, we were struggling to keep up. Cindy my sister kept saying “slow and steady wins the race.”

Suddenly, while stepping up and not gingerly picking up my heavy boots laden with spiky crampons, I caught and could not loosen the ends of my boots with overlapping metal crampons locked. Falling hard, I felt myself slipping dangerously on an icy snow-feild while my body cascaded head first down the mountain. Feeling so alone, scarred and directed towards an out cropping of jagged rocks and scree, my sister yelled “self-arrest.”  This is the action you use to put your whole body weight into the ice ax as you try to lay on top of it with the sharp end in the snow. Miraculously I got turned around by using the ice ax while going dangerously fast down the mountain slop. I felt the ice and heard it crunch and sing as I slid face down putting all my weight on the ax. Positioning my crampons and feet down the slope to help stop the rapid sliding, the smell the icy snow and feel the rough edges of ice next to my eyes and face; I tasted fear and ice. Using all my strength and body weight with my feet and ax, I knew I was going to die. Being a strong youth, and intently focused on self-preservation, so that three feet from the rocky out crop that would have torn through my favorite red parka and heavy wool pants and left me lifeless, I stopped, shakily stood up and gasped deeply the mountain chilled air, relieved.

My sister waved to me many feet up the Mountain, she climbed down to meet me. As I looked around and noted the huge sharp granite boulders and scattered scree, I thanked God for saving my life. We descended and went home, but two years later I climbed to the top of Mt. St. Helens 12 years before it blew its top in an earth quake and spectacular lava flow. Coming close to death I learned deep respect for mountains, really an awesome reverence for them, and how to use  total awareness and strength when climbing. Ice ax training and self-arrest practice comes in handy too.

 

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