LONGVIEW, Wash. (AP) — Mount St. Helens has become one of the most popular destinations for hikers in Washington state.
Every $22 permit to climb Mount St. Helens is sold out through mid-September. Reservations for peak summer hiking days began hitting the 100-people daily limit in early spring, The Longview Daily News reported Saturday.
"The day they posted that permits were available, we signed up and got 'em," Brian James, 43, of Thomasville, N.C., said Tuesday from the slopes of the 8,300-foot volcano. "This is such beautiful country here."
James and his 15-year-old son, Thomas, are among the growing number of people climbing the mountain each year. The Mount St. Helens Institute reports that so far 13,934 permits to ascend the volcano have been sold, more than the 13,851 permits issued for all of 2011.
Travis Southworth-Neumeyer, the institute's executive director, has a few theories to explain the surge in climbers to the volcano, which was shortened by about 1,400 feet when it erupted on May 18, 1980, and blew away the old summit.
"It has been kind of a forgotten gem," Southworth-Neumeyer said. "And it's not as commercial as Mount Hood. (Mount St. Helens) is more wild."
The mountain initially was re-opened to climbing in 1987, attracting upward of 16,000 hikers a year. However, it was closed from 2004 to 2008 when the volcano's lava dome became active and started growing.
Southworth-Neumeyer said the number of climbers has been steadily rebounding but that there are no plans to increase the number of permits from 100 a day. A permit system is used to track the number of climbers and prevent overuse and resource damage.
"There is some discussion of establishing a second route on the northeast side near Windy Ridge that could increase capacity a little," Southworth-Neumeyer said.
He said about 25 percent of the climbers are from outside the United States and about 40 percent are from the greater Longview-Vancouver-Portland area. The rest is from the U.S.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.