Wednesday was the last day to climb to the summit of Mount St. Helens without a permit, and Centralia resident Neal Kirby was among the dozens of climbers to take advantage of that fact.
Kirby, 68, estimated he’s climbed the volcano more than a half-dozen times. The longtime local principal and former Centralia School Board member is also chairman of the Olympia Branch of the Mountaineers.
“I’ve been blessed with a healthy body for just three weeks short of 69,” Kirby told The Chronicle. “(I’m) hoping to do Rainier again this summer. Time will tell! If I get Rainier done, that will be number six since qualifying for Social Security!”
Kirby spoke with other climbers upon reaching the summit.
“When on top of St. Helens, someone in a group of guys asked how old I was, and when I told him, he asked if I smoked and when I said never have, the group jumped all over one of the guys who apparently did smoke,” he recalled. “All by the grace of God really. I’ve been blessed.”
Not all climbers had such a pleasant climb.
The Volcano Rescue Team reported assisting five climbers down the winter route of Mount St. Helens the same day.
The first call came in shortly before noon for an ankle injury. A Volcano Rescue Team member who was already on the route was able to get to the climber and provide first aid, while a second member brought a snowmobile for transport of the subject and climbing partner, according to a post on social media by the group.
The second call came in the evening around 6 p.m. A party of three was descending the mountain without lights and one person was having difficulty ambulating.
Two Volcano Rescue Team members responded on snow machines and were able to shuttle the entire party back down to the parking lot.
The incidents were managed by Skamania County Sheriff’s Office.
Permits are required for climbing Mount St. Helens from April 1 through May 14, with 300 climbers allowed per day at a cost of $15 per person and a $6 transaction fee. From May 15 to Oct. 31, 11 climbers are allowed per day with the same fees.
From Nov. 1 through March 31, there are no fees and no restrictions on the number of climbers. Self-registration is available at the trailhead.
For more information, www.mshinstitute.org.