Thursday, August 7, 2008

A chat with Bonnie

It is not often that we get the opportunity to sit down and speak with people that have accomplished amazing feats. And when someone accomplishes a few of them in a relatively short time span, I feel it's worth hearing about. Especially when that someone is the one and only Bonnie Killion. I know my last post was pretty random, I will be honest, I was looking for something to put out there. I miss writing to everyone. This is not that; this is a pretty cool story.

So I told Bonnie I wanted to interview her, she laughed, then she realized I was being serious, and agreed. Bonnie just completed a daunting task, she hiked Mt. St Helens, which is quite an accomplishment. It is a volcano located in Skamania County, WA. Bonnie had no idea what lay in store for her and a few others last Friday when they took on Mt. St. Helens, but there was just no way they could have really.

The Interview:

So you hiked Mt St Helens, how did you get involved in hiking it?

I went to a barbeque with Kurt at his friend Kristy’s house. She and her boyfriend Cliff were getting a group together to hike Mt St Helens and they asked me to go.

Did you know much about the volcano that is Mt St Helens or the hike itself?

I knew nothing of the hike, just that it was a volcano that exploded.

How much in advance was the barbeque from the hike?

A little over a month

On a scale of 1 to 10 how much of a hiker would u consider yourself?


Tell me how your day starts the day of the hike?

I woke up at 4:20 am, but I didn’t eat anything.

What? Why?

I don’t know I think bc I had a ton of bars and snacks in my back pack.

How many of you were going?

There were 12 of us going.

So you get to Mt St Helens?

Yeah, and it takes about 45 minutes to get the permits, and then another 20 minutes to the parking lot to begin the hike.

So how was check in?

We got there at 7 30 am and bc there was a glitch in the computer system, they sold 450 permits and they normally sell 100 per day. So by the time we arrived, 300 people already checked in

How was the weather?

Crappy, rainy, no sun, overcast. About 60 degrees maybe

What is the elevation of St Helens?

8400 ft, and as Cliff explains it, the temp drops 3 degrees every 1000 ft in elevation.

So take me to the beginning of your hike?

We drive to the lot at 3700 ft and that’s where you start your hike. We were all pumped and ready to go. We were hoping it would be sunny by the time we reached the summit. We begin the hike and the first 2 miles are through a forest area. There’s some incline but it’s super easy.

Ok then what?

Well as we’re hiking through the forest, people are coming back down towards the lot.
And everyone that passes you, you ask them how it was, and they are all saying that the conditions are miserable. They are all bailing. Once you step out of the tree line, you have no shelter from the weather. So most of the people are turning back at the end of the tree line because the weather is that bad.

How far in is that?

2 miles in.

Out of how many miles?

5 miles up, 5 down

So people are just giving up it’s so bad?

It’s so bad that no one wanted to go. The thing with St Helens is the view, so why the agony with no views.

So what did the 12 of you do?

We’re kinda spread out throughout the forest, and its Tara and I in the lead. So right out of the forest, Tara and I wait for everyone. A couple other people are with us, and then Cliff comes. He says most of the others (out of the 12) have turned back; they do not want to continue. Now we have 5 out of 12 left. And some of the people are out here from Wisconsin.

So they just bailed even though they came all the way from the Midwest for this?

Actually, the wife bailed, the guy was one of the 5 still left. The weather was just brutal.

So now there are 5 out of the 12 left, then what?

It’s me, Tara, Cliff, Chris and Joe. So we leave the trees and we come to this huge incline field of boulders, like huge boulders, bigger than 3 people put together. There are different ways you can hike up; there’s a field of boulders in the middle of 2 exit glaciers, or you can go up the 2 narrow exit glaciers. Some are hiking up the glaciers with their poles.

So it’s either go up through boulders or through the glaciers?

Yes. We went boulders. So Chris heads for the glaciers bc he has poles. Tara and I are following Cliff. And he is going fast as hell, his fastest pace doing St Helens. He is the only one of the 5 who has done it before, it’s his 5th time.

So you guys hike the boulders, how long does that take, and how hard is it?

It’s about 2 miles, and the steep incline starts. The boulders are a steep 2 miles. Not that hard but it took about 2 hours to hike 2 miles. It was very strategic, hoisting myself up and not falling in between boulders. And the weather is getting worse and worse. My weather proof boots are soaked. While in the boulders, people are coming back down saying you can’t make it past the boulders, it’s too miserable and too windy. One couple even said its 20 degrees colder at the top of the boulders bc of the wind, and it is cold in the boulders. Meanwhile Cliff is hiking in shorts right now.

So as far as you know, has anyone hiked past the boulders?

No, no one has gone to the top.

How many people did you see turn around so far roughly?

Over a hundred.

Wow. So why did you guys think you could make it?

At this point we are not thinking we can or can’t, we are just hiking. We are kinda bothered by everyone saying it can’t be done. The consensus was let’s see if we can do what everyone says cannot be done.

So you get through the boulders, then what?

Right before we are done with the boulders, we stop and Cliff puts on 2 layers of hiking pants and rain pants. Tara already has on 2 layers, and puts on her wind pants.

How bout you?

I take off my shoes and wring out my socks. And I have no extra layers, and I am still in my one layer of hiking pants soaked to the bone.

What about up top?

I have a tank top, a running shirt and a thin rain coat. All 3 are completely soaked already. I have a fleece in my backpack but everything is entirely soaked in there. Tara gave me a pair of socks soon after and as soon as I put em on, they were soaked bc my shoes are soaked.

So you have no dry shelter?


So then what?

Now we see the last couple we can actually hear with the wind, and they said they made it up about 200 ft up the volcanic ash. From the boulders to the summit, its 1000ft and it’s a 70 degree incline, and it’s all ash.

So the couple made it up 200 ft?

Yeah and they could not take the wind and cold. We still have yet to meet anyone who has made it to the top. Oh wait, we saw one other couple after them that made it within 100 ft of the summit and turned around bc they could not do it.

How could you get that far and turn around?

That’s what we were thinking. But we have already lost Chris and Joe awhile ago. So it’s just me Tara and Cliff. By the way, Tara and Cliff are complete rock stars.

Sounds like it. How is the hike through the 1000 ft of ash?

Miserable, it was the hardest part of the whole hike.

Because of the weather or the ash?

The weather.

How bad was the weather now?

50 -55 mph winds with rain and volcanic ash pelting you all over. You had to keep turning the other way so it didn’t pelt you in the face.

How long did it take for you to hike the ash?

About an hour, and we didn’t stop. We stopped once to take cover behind a big boulder for like 2 minutes. I had asked Cliff earlier when we were hiking up the boulders what the hardest hike he had ever done was, and he wasn't sure. Now as we are all 3 huddled behind this boulder he looks at me and says "this is the hardest hike I have ever done". Made me feel alot better because I was thinking in my head that I was a wuss compared to him & Tara.

Describe your approach to the summit?

You can’t even see it, Cliff and Tara were about 20 ft ahead of me and I could not really even see them with the wind and the rain. Picture trying to climb up gravely beach sand where every step you take you slide back down.

Did you even know you were reaching the summit when you did?

We finally meet the first guy that reached the top. He said you're almost there, just 700 ft to go, which made me want to cry. So we continue on, and now we meet a few others who have reached the top and they say about 300 ft to go. I am now bending over to avoid getting blown off the mountain. I could not even open the hiking poles Dave and Jenn gave me.

So are you the only lunatic out there with no poles?

No, Cliff and Tara didn’t have them either.

That’s good. Describe the summit?

I finally see them stop just ahead of me but it looks like more mountain to go so I am trying just to catch up to them so I can have a break. I get there and I see it’s the top. I asked them if this is it? I thought we had more to go so I did not want to think it was the top and be wrong. But yes, we reached the summit!

How was the summit, the views must have been awesome with that weather?

You could see about 50 ft into the crater, but nothing around you. We could not even see 10 ft down from where we came from.

How long did you stay?

About 5 minutes, about all we could bear. A quick video and some satisfaction for getting there. We were the 5th 6th and 7th people that day to reach the top.

Was the hike down much easier?

Going down the ash was easier bc you could slide and sprint down the ash. Every step you took you slid 5 ft. With the boulders you were now hidden from the wind a little. But the boulders going down was the 2nd hardest part for me bc it was never ending, and going down boulder to boulder was so time consuming bc you have to guess on what boulder to go to next.

How long did it take you to get up and down?

4 hrs up and 2 ½ hrs down.

How great did it feel to reach the summit?

I didn't know I reached the summit. I saw Tara and Clidd standing there but I did not want to get too excited and realize we were not there.

What did you say when I first saw you about what you would rather do than hike that again in those conditions?

Oh I said I would get up and run a full marathon the next day hands down before doing that again.

I am proud of you babe, you should be too.


*Here is a video taken by Tara at the summit of St Helens. The person walking in on the video that looks like a killer in a scary movie is Bonnie. Check out that weather, makes you really want to go, hiking eh?