Worm Flows, Mount Saint Helens, Washington


Skiing Worm Flows On Mount Saint Helens In The Cascade Range of Washington

Location: Worm Flows, Swift Glacier, Mount Saint Helens, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington
Starting Point: Marble Mountain Sno Park (2700′)
Aspect: South
Distance: 10 miles
Time: 6.75 hours
Summit Elevation: 8366′ | 2550 m
Vertical: 5975′
USGS Maps: Mount St. Helens

Skiing road trips are always a blast. After a 12+ hour drive, Jeremy Wood and I pulled into the empty Marble Mountain Sno Park at 2700′ on the south side of Mount Saint Helens in Washington. We figured we’d warm up for this year’s PNW adventure by skiing the Worm Flows on Mount Saint Helens on our first ski day.

worm flows, mount saint helens
Mount Saint Helens wearing a cloud cap

Mount Saint Helens sits in southern Washington in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The closest town is Cougar, WA and there isn’t a whole lot going on there. In fact, there isn’t even cell service anywhere around this isolated area, so it’s a good thing we did a bit of research before we arrived.

saint helens climbing permit
Climbing Permit and Map

Mount Saint Helens is a stratovolcano that originally sat at 9677′. On May 18, 1980 it erupted and blew its lid. The new summit sits on the southern crater rim at 8,366′ or 2550 meters. The north side of the mountain is mainly closed to the public to protect the damaged area, but the south side is undamaged. In 1987, the south side reopened to skiers and ever since then it’s been a classic Cascade ski. It’s featured in Martin Volken’s Backcountry Ski & Snowboard Routes: Washington.

Before you can ski the Worm Flows on Mount Saint Helens, there are lots of pre-climb logistics you need to deal with first:

  • Mount Saint Helens Climbing Permit – If you go above 4800′ on the mountain you need a climbing permit. The permits are self registered and free from November 1 to March 31. From April 1 to October 31 you must purchase climbing permits online from the Mount St. Helens Institute. They cost $22/climber. You need to be able to print this permit before you arrive at the trailhead. The number of permits per day are limited so book in advance.
  • Sno Park Pass – These parking permits are required from November 1 to April 30 and cost $25/year. They can be purchased online.
  • Northwest Forest Pass – The Northwest Forest Pass allows you access to all Forest Service operated recreation sites in WA and OR. They cost $30 annually. Alternatively, you can use an Interagency Annual Pass that costs $80 annually and works across the US.
  • Climber Self-Registration – Once you have all of the necessary permits, every climber still needs to self register at the Marble Mountain Sno Park. Then you need to wear your permit on the outside of your pack for the day. Registration is for your safety. The climber’s register is checked daily.
worm flows, mount saint helens
Climber Self Registration Station

After you take care of all of the paperwork involved, it’s time to actually start the ski day.

Jeremy and I joined our friend Chris Ebeling and started up Swift Ski Trail #244 in our dirt walking shoes. It wasn’t long before we hit snow and transitioned to skinning. We continued up the main trail until the terrain opened up around 4500′. There were a few places where we had to pop off the skis and walk. At this point we worked our way up the southern flanks of Mount Saint Helens between the Worm Flows to the east and Monitor Ridge to the west.

worm flows, mount saint helens
Hiking Up Swift Ski Trail
worm flows, mount saint helens

We traveled uphill winding our way through the flowing and relatively mellow terrain. The entire route is non-technical and we were able to skin all the way to the summit with the help of ski crampons. The upper slopes max out at about 35 degrees. After five hours we stood at the summit of Mount Saint Helens.

worm flows, mount saint helens
Route Finding
worm flows, mount saint helens
Almost There

At the top, we were engulfed in clouds which made it hard to see the views. Huge cornices hung over the crater rim making it potentially dangerous. We slowly transitioned to downhill mode in hopes that the clouds would go on their merry way. The skies never cleared at the summit and we finally opted to ski in whitish conditions. After about 1000 vertical, we were able to see and enjoyed the flowing terrain.

worm flows, mount saint helens
Challenging skiing for abit
worm flows, mount saint helens
Jeremy jumping with joy that he can see

Our route down was via the Swift Glacier – a relatively crevasse-free glacier. Then we ventured into the Worm Flows – an area of rocky lava flows that meander down the mountain. It’s super playful terrain. There are certainly some terrain trap features in this area and the aspect is due south, so use caution.

worm flows, mount saint helens
Fun terrain
worm flows, mount saint helens
Looking back up at Mount Saint Helens

We leap frogged our way down Mount Saint Helens and made good time back to the Marble Mountain Sno Park. There were plenty of people still going up as we got back to the car. We got back early so we had time to plan our next adventure – and of course eat pizza.

worm flows, mount saint helens
Connecting snow patches

Skiing the Worm Flows on Mount Saint Helens was an easy and fun day trip. Our route took us 6.75 hours, 10 miles, and 5975′. Tomorrow we’ll ski the Newton Clark Headwall on Mount Hood.

See Our Route From Skiing The Worm Flows On Mount Saint Helens:

Here are some additional photos from skiing the Worm Flows on Mount Saint Helens:

This trip report for skiing the Worm Flows on Mount Saint Helens is from April 25, 2016.