• 'Largest demand ever' crashes Mt. St. Helens' system for climbing permits

    By: Ashli Blow, KIRO 7 Digital Producer


    Thousands of hikers and climbers dreaming of summiting Mount St. Helens this summer were met with disappointment when trying to obtain their permits on Thursday morning.

    The Mount St. Helens Institute (MSHI), the overseer of the volcano, requires that anyone trekking over 4,800 elevation have a permit. MHSI only allots 100 permits a day from mid-May to the end of October.

    It's no secret that those permits — sold first-come, first-serve online for $22 a piece — go fast, but this year the site crashed immediately when the sale opened at 9 a.m.

    And, for the most part, it stayed down for hours. When the pages finally started loading early in the afternoon, the calendar wouldn't load and checkout-related buttons disappeared.

    On social media, hundreds took their frustration out in tweets and Facebook groups -- some comparing the grueling process to getting tickets for the Broadway hit, Hamilton. Finally, MSHI took action.

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    "We are currently working with our transaction processing partner, Discover Your Northwest, to identify and resolve a number of unexpected issues related to the overwhelming demand in 2018 compared to past years," a note on the website reads. "In order to thoughtfully and thoroughly resolve these issues, the permit process is temporarily suspended."

    "The Mount St. Helens Institute recognizes how frustrating and time-consuming this process is for those wishing to purchase permits. Resolving these issues is our highest priority."

    Pano of the top of Mount St. Helens. Image: Kristi Hayden

    That overwhelming demand? The thriving tech industry — a draw for people to the scenic Northwest — has led to the inevitable uptick in the number of people going outdoors. And in one morning, 11,000 people tried to get permits.

    According to MSHI Finance and Human Resource Director Kate Richardson, last year, around 3,500 people tried to get permits.

    The institute and Discover Your Northwest groups did not anticipate that increase and, simply, their site could not handle it.

    Though some glitches, such as permits multiplying in people's carts, were system errors.

    The issues also came as MSHI implemented a new purchasing system, but Richardson told KIRO 7 that roll-out was unrelated.

    In the aftermath of the difficulties, they do not know how many people were actually successful in obtaining permits for the sought-after climb, or how many are left. Some people did get a screen that appears to have shown a completed transaction, but confirmation emails have not been delivered. According to Richardson, those emails should appear over the next two days.

    Pano of the top of Mount St. Helens. Image: Kristi Hayden

    It will take Discover Your Northwest the entire weekend to reconcile these numbers, and they will give an update to the public on Feb. 5.

    “It’s the largest demand we’ve ever had since the Mount St. Helens Institute started provided customer service. The most traffic ever by far," Richardson said. "People are starting to explore what’s in their backyard. Word has gotten out what a treasure Mount St. Helens is. It’s strenuous but not technical and a fair number of people can summit."

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