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A Tradition Unlike Any Other: On Mom's Day at St. Helens, Dudes Look Like the Ladies

Glitter. Lace ruffles. Fishnet stockings. Spaghetti string shoulder straps. Pearls. Boas. Sequins.

And then there's what the women were wearing.

It is a Mother's Day tradition at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, believed to date back the late 1980s, to make the nontechnical climb to the peak's south rim while wearing something that pays tribute to the moms of the world, and everyone—guys in particular—is more or less expected to take part.

The climb's latest edition occurred Sunday, a warm, beautiful, cloudless day in southwestern Washington that had St. Helens swarming with hundreds of climbers (523 climbing permits were sold for the day, monument officials reported), many looking quite fetching, making the stiff uphill ascent to the 8,365-foot rim of the volcanic crater.

Marc and Jean-MichelCall it a mountain Mardi Gras, where nearly everyone on the hill seriously gets into what is probably America's only backcountry costume ball—more Ma Walton than Lady Gaga, but, well, whatever works for you.

So imagine the surprise of a couple of Seattle-area mountaineering buddies, Marc and Jean-Michel, who showed up at the trailhead unaware of the tradition. At dawn on Sunday they found a large parking lot abuzz with what seemed to be hundreds of cross-dressing mountaineers.

A few hours later both at about the 6,000-foot level on St. Helens southern slope when I bumped into them, Marc wearing a full-length blue house dress while Jean-Michel was rocking some three-quarter-length blue-green-and-gold abstract ensemble. Smashing.

Mark Seker just after dawn"We just came here to climb the mountain," Marc said. "We had no clue this was going on. Then we ran into all these people in dresses in the parking lot. We got talked into this through peer pressure."

So, is that your dress? "Well, it is now," he said. "It was a giveaway from someone in the parking lot. We were told you had to do this on Mother's Day. Who are we to argue?"

An old high-school buddy, Mark Seker, clued me in about the tradition. Mark and I were classmates at Vermilion (Ohio) High School many moons ago, and a few years ago we learned that we were both Pacific Northwest transplants, him in Portland, me near Seattle. Someday, we figured, we'd have to get together

Tony Detmer and Calvin RiderWhat could be a better reunion than meeting on a mountain wearing clothing that we found in from the women's department?

For Mark, a former small-college football defensive back, this was his fourth Mother's Day climb. Check out the accompanying photo of Mark's beyond-Minnie Pearl headgear. I think it's fair to say during that time no one has topped Mark in the bonnet department

Also in our crew: Frank Mungeam, who actually holds an off-air position of some responsibility at a Portland-area television station ("News at 11; Mungeam looks pretty in periwinkle"), and Patrick Fear, who showed none of that by wearing an airy little apricot number that went well with his knee-high gaiters.

FoursomeI, an obvious rookie, tried to stir the pot by going with fuchsia hot pants, a pink boa and a flowery sun hat. I was overmatched. I'm surprised the trio let me climb with them.

The occasion is custom-made for wisecracks. A few heard on the hill:

• Jon Strandberg of Portland, part of a foursome of buddies from the city, was making his first Mother's Day ascent of St. Helens. "But I had the dress already, though," he joked. At least we think he was joking.

Mountain goddesses• Tony Detmer, a staffer at the REI Downtown Seattle store (snowsports, camping) and his pal, Calvin Rider of Whidbey Island, Wash., had skied St. Helens just one week earlier. Wearing dresses? Tony: "Of course."

• A trio of tiara-wearing, self-declared Mountain Goddesses from the Seattle area—Tina Smith, Angie Littleton and Shar Clarke, all REI members—were making their 10th Mom's Day climb since 1997. This year they carried pina colada-makings, about 2 quarts' worth, to the rim. "This is our first pina colada party," Angie said. "But we forgot the nice glasses, though. These are going to be water-bottle pina coladas."

Carsten Stinn and Cameron Hall• Rich Hill of Seattle was showing off a yellow-and-brown outfit that had me thinking bumble bee. So Rich, what's the reason you're here? To climb St. Helens or wear women's clothing in public? Rich: "Can't you do both?"

• Carsten Stinn, originally from Germany, and now a Seattleite, was making his third Mother's Day excursion, skiing down this time after snowboarding his first 2 climbs. So, did he like the sheer, knee-length print he was wearing? "Carsten: "I think the skirt works very well. I think REI should look into that for the guys."

The countdown to next Mother's Day at St. Helens has begun. Start planning your wardrobe now.

Photos, top to bottom: Marc and Jean-Michel, who knew nothing about the Mother's Day tradition when they arrived at St. Helens on Sunday; Mark "King of Hats" Seker; 2 fashionistas make final adjustments before the climb; how fearsome is this foursome?; Shar Clarke, Angie Littleton and Tina Smith rock their tiaras, and Angie is packing pina coladas; Carsten Stinn and Cameron "Goldilocks" Hall.

Slideshow viewing tips: Select full screen (the box in the lower-right corner with 4 arrows; choose "Show info" to see captions.

Posted on at 4:54 PM

Tagged: Climbing, Mother's Day and Mount St. Helens

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thrillseker

That's the best account and photojournal i've ever seen of this legendary backcountry event

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