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mount saint helens in a dress

I climbed Mount Saint Helens on Sunday in the dress my mom wore to my wedding. A few days before, I’d told her about my somewhat last-minute plans to join 499 other people in dresses on the mountain for Mother’s Day. Everyone—men, women & children—wears dresses for the Mother’s Day climb. I told my mom I needed to find a dress I didn’t mind destroying, and without missing a beat, she said, “I have the perfect one.” She’s been working hard to lose weight for the past few years, so the dress doesn’t fit anymore, and I’m divorced. So, hey. Good symbolism, right? I took the dress and promised it’d come back shredded and dirty.

Mother’s Day is the single biggest climbing day of the year on Saint Helens; last year almost a thousand permits were sold! This year they limited it to 500 on Saturday and 500 on Sunday; for comparison’s sake, during the summer climbing season, which begins on May 15th, only 100 permits are sold for each day. I had a rough week last week (human condition stuff), and my plans for the weekend fell through; looking for a distraction, I asked my Flaming Pika teammate Karen, who was planning to climb with a big group of Mazamas and friends, if it was too late to get a permit. One of her buddies had a few extras, so on Saturday afternoon I carpooled up to the mountain with Daren, Sam, and Tracey, all also Pikas.

After a cozy night camped out in the woods next to the sno-park, we pulled on our dresses and headed up the mountain, just ahead of (and occasionally in the midst of) the big amorphous Mazamas group we called The Blob. I’d used the climb as an excuse to buy myself my very own ice axe, but we all skipped heavy boots and crampons, betting that soft snow + the footprints of climbers ahead of us would keep us from slipping. It’s been such a low-snow year that we didn’t encounter much snow until just a thousand feet below the summit or so, anyway. (Who am I kidding—that number is a wild guess, and it’s not like I’d ever summitted Saint Helens before; I have no idea what normal snowpack is, but Sam did tell me that the last time he did the climb, the snow started at the parking lot!)


The climb was beautiful, with views of Mount Adams off to the right and Mount Hood behind us. It was fun, and then it was a slog, and then we saw the crater rim up ahead, and dozens and dozens of tiny people, and we rushed across the snow up towards them. Mount Rainier emerged before us, and the sky stretched out above us the way it does, and everyone was happy and celebratory. A man in a purple dress and scarf got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend, then produced a bottle of champagne from his pack while everyone cheered. I passed around my flask of bourbon. Sam blew up the inflatable shark he’d packed up. We hung out for forty-five minutes or so, until we got too chilled, and then we glissaded a truly unbelievable distance back down the mountain.

(That’s Mount Rainier.)

(That’s Mount Adams.)


The glissade was 100% awesome. I knew glissading was fun, but when we had our BCEP snow session, we just glissaded down short little slopes, 100 feet or less. On Sunday we flew down a mountain we’d just trudged up. Incomparable! Sam rode his inflatable shark. Just sliding down the chute was thrill enough for me, no accessories needed.

And the dress? Until the descent, it was in surprisingly good shape. Then I fell three times on the rocks and sand. The third time, I cut open my hand on a rock and smeared the blood on the dress. So it’s dirty and bloodstained—but you can’t really tell at a glance. I’m pretty sure there’s some symbolism in there, too, but everything I can come up with feels a little forced. After all, a dress is just a dress. A mountain is just a mountain. And time keeps on slippin’ into the future.


Sam made this sweet video—

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