Mount St. Helens: The Hike That Almost Didn’t Happen
The day after our trip to Johnston Ridge was meant to be full of R&R. The four of us had planned and prepared for the summit attempt for over six months and we were ready to rock! Now all we needed to do was rest up and enjoy a sunny Monday in Oregon. Instead, we were flung into an adventure none of us had planned for; an adventure that almost stopped our hike before it even began
Monday, August 5, 2019.
Legacy Hospital Emergency Room.
Mount St. Helens: So are you gonna climb me, or what?
Volcano Hopper: Are you nuts?
Mount St: Helens: Pretty sure we established that a loooong time ago.
Volcano Hopper: (Gives a weak laugh.) Fair enough.
Mount St. Helens: You should be preparing for the climb tomorrow, not lying in a hospital bed. It is YOU who is ‘nuts.’
VH: I’m lying here talking to a volcano from an ER gurney. Of course I’m nuts. Either that or I really hit my really, really hard.(Rubs the right side of her head.) And the second option is far more likely right now.
MSH: Or perhaps we really are talking. Not all communication is done with tongues and ears you know.
VH: If you say so. You sure they didn’t put something in my IV drip? Besides, how would you know I’m trapped in a hospital right now anyway?
MSH: I know everything.
MSH: I do. Besides, Wy’east [Mount Hood] told me. You did collapse on his slopes after all.
VH: Not exactly a soft landing.
MSH: You’re lucky you didn’t bounce that thick skull of yours off a rock.
VH: I can’t imagine that would make feel any worse than I do right now, but it would probably get me admitted to the hospital. And this is the last place I want to be while on vacation.
MSH: What happened to you, Hopper?
VH: The four of us went into town to grab some breakfast before heading up to Mount Hood to explore. We realized that we’d forgotten the headlamps that we were going to need for your summit hike at Base Camp, and so we stopped at a little mountain sports shop on our way up to Mt. Hood. Despite the coffee, bacon and eggs I’d just eaten, I just felt exhausted. And dizzy. The more I stood around, the dizzier I became. Maybe I just needed some air?
I walked away from the headlamps and toward the gaiters. I already had a pair stuffed in my pack because – you know – ash. The entire store spun. My skull pounded. I grabbed my brother’s shoulder. “Something’s wrong!” Then, like I was a puppet, my head began to jerk back and forth. I had absolutely no control of it. My head snapped left. Right. Left again. And that’s the last thing I remember.
MSH: What happened next?
VH: I don’t remember…
MSH: How can you not remember?
VH: I don’t know. The next thing I remember was sitting on the floor in the sports shop, but it’s so foggy. An EMT was sitting to my left. He had started an IV in my left wrist, but I didn’t remember him doing it. Getting stuck by an IV is not usually a forgetable experience for me. But I didn’t even know it had happened. I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t remember that we were in Oregon, or that we had come to the Pacific Northwest for one reason only. Loowit, I didn’t even remember that we were planning to climb to your summit!
MSH: How could you forget something we have been planning for so long? How could you forget me? How dare you forget me!
VH: My sister says I had a grand mal seizure.
MSH: What does that mean? “Grand mal seizure?”
VH: It’s where a human falls unconscious and has violent muscle contractions for several minutes. It’s caused by some sort of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Most of the time it’s caused by epilepsy… but I don’t have epilepsy. I’ve never had a seizure in my life.
MSH: So what caused it, little hopper?
VH: I don’t know. The doctors have done every test they can think of on me: EKGs, EEGs, blood and urine tests, CT and MRI scans. I’m starting to have a guinea pig complex.
MSH: Now you know how I feel when your scientists come poking and prodding all day long. Not that I mind. I adore the attention…most days. Well? What’d the doctors find?
VH: The doctors haven’t found anything interesting in all of those tests they’ve done. Each test has come back perfect.
MSH: So you are like me, then. You shake and quake just before you are going to do something great!
VH: And here I thought you were going to say I was perfect.
MSH: Nice try. The only one perfect around here is me. You are still going to climb me, right? Hopper?
VH: The ER doctor has told me, “No way! Absolutely not!” And my body feels like I’ve been mauled by Sasquatch. The Forest Service only allows 100 people to climb to your summit each day, and permits are completely sold out for the rest of the week. So if we don’t make the summit tomorrow, we won’t be able to at all this year.
MSH: So you’re still going to climb me.
VH: Damn right! Or at least, I’m going to go as far as I can.
MSH: You will have help. The humans you travel with. What do they say?
VH: That they’ll carry me if they have to.
MSH: You have good companions. I will make you a bargain, little hopper. If you reach the summit, I promise you I’ll make it worth your while. You’ll be in for the view of your life tomorrow. Just make it there in one piece. And no more of these seizures. Understand?
VH: Aw, Loowit, you sound like you care.
MSH: About a little human? (Huffs steam.) Yeah, well, don’t tell anyone or I’ll blast you into the stratosphere. I have a reputation to protect.
Think we gave up and threw in the towel? No way! Check out the first part of our summit hike here!
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