Training to Climb

Want to climb with us? The Mount St. Helens Institute offers a limited number of guided climbs to the summit of Mount St. Helens each year. 

Climbing Mount St. Helens requires both physical and mental strength and stamina to make it to the summit (along with appropriate gear and favorable weather conditions). Once you've obtained a climbing permit, training in the months and weeks leading up to your climb can help you feel more confident, and prepare you for the terrain you may encounter on the climb. 

Training can start out inside, but eventually plan to train outdoors. In addition to hiking on hills, you can train using a StairMaster, Treadmill, stadium stairs, bleachers, or household stairs. Your goal for training should be to comfortably hike 10-12 miles with 4,500-6,500 feet of elevation gain in a variety of weather conditions.


 If you live outside the Pacific Northwest, we suggest doing hikes in your local area or climbing stairs. 


Mt. Walker (Olympics)
4.0 miles, 2000’

Burroughs Mtn. (Mt. Rainier)
9.0 miles, 2500’

Mt. Si (Snoqualmie)
8.0 miles, 3200’

Mt. Ellinor - lower trailhead (Olympics)
6.2 miles, 3300’

Mt. Townsend - lower trailhead (Olympics)
11.4 miles, 3400’

Mt. Rose (Olympics)
6.4 miles, 3500’

Granite Mtn. (Snoqualmie)
8.6 miles, 3800’

Mailbox Pk. - new trail (Snoqualmie)
9.4 miles, 4000’

Camp Muir (Mt. Rainier)
9.0 miles, 4600’


Saddle Mtn.
6 miles, 1630'
Saddle Mountain State Natural Area

Hamilton Mtn. (Hamilton Mtn. - Rodney Falls Loop)
7.5 miles, 2300'
Beacon Rock State Park

Dog Mtn.
6.9 miles, 2800'
Dog Mountain Trailhead

Larch Mtn.
14.4 miles, 4000'
Multnomah Falls Trailhead

Elk Mtn. - Kings Mtn. Loop (or Kings Mtn.)
10.8 miles, 3900' (or 4.8 miles, 2500')
Elk Creek Trailhead (or Kings Mountain Trailhead)

Mt. Defiance (Mt. Defiance - Starvation Ridge Loop)
12.8 miles, 5000'
Starvation Creek Trailhead


  • Begin activities that increase your rates, such as walking, running, swimming, bicycling or hiking. Increase your training till you are doing approximately 10 miles and 4000 feet in elevation gain.
  • Make a plan to slowly increase your distance, training time, and pack weight each week. If you have any previous physical or health conditions or develop any during your training, stop and consult a doctor.
  • Plan for overnight accommodations. Camping is allowed at both Marble Mountain Sno-Park (for the Winter Route, "Worm Flows") and the Climber's Bivouac (for the Summer Route, "Monitor Ridge") on a first-come, first-served basis. If you don't sleep well outside, consider staying at a vacation rental, inn, or motel in one of the nearby towns of Eagle Cliff, Cougar, or Woodland, WA.


  • Gather your gear. Refer to MSHI's recommended equipment list for Summit Climbs
  • Wear the footwear and backpack you plan to use for your climb during your training, especially if you purchased new gear
  • Continue training, up to several times a week
  • Planning on an early or mid-night start? Train your brain by going on some late night or sunrise hikes.


  • Research current conditions and recent trip reports to see what adjustments you may need to make to your equipment or timing for the day
  • Do one last big training hike a week before your climb
  • Avoid strenuous activity in the day or two before your climb. Give yourself ample rest!
  • Check the weather forecast at different elevations
  • Be well hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • Eat a hearty meal the night before the climb, and an easy-to-digest breakfast the morning of
  • Encourage normal bowel and bladder movements. Pack a blue bag, toilet paper, and trash bag to pack out ALL waste
  • Double check your packing list
  • Load your vehicle with extra clothes, water, and snacks for after the climb
  • Get a good night's sleep.