Public not invited.
"Indeed, I never thought I would live to have an experience quite like this."
So said Pelton van Husen, one of the lucky few accepted for this year's introductory run of Crater View Hikes at Mt St Helens in south-central Washington State.
Mr van Husen, who paid $300 for the privilege, sipped wine and tracked hikers' progress from a shaded table set up near the mountain's Windy Ridge parking lot, which was roped off for the event. His manservant did the actual hiking.
"Hiking – a tedious and unclean activity – resembles nothing so much as the sorts of work the lower classes are most suited for," van Husen remarked between nibbles of caviar. "I prefer to send one of my people in such situations. After all, Rodney is marvelously skilled with the camera. I'm sure his photographs will bring the experience fully to life once he is returned to me."
While the cost of physically climbing Mt St Helens via the south-side route is only $15 per person, and is limited to 100 climbers a day, the Helens Institute is offering professionally-guided two-day climbs into the actual crater itself, from the northeast side. These trips are exclusive – by invitation only. The cost is $600 per person for those deemed worthy of the privilege, or for their hired help.
Other guided climbs up the south side of the mountain to edge of the crater, and led by an Institute geologist, cost $200 per day. These trips however, are not catered, and involve movement of one's legs and unfiltered exposure to sunlight and air.
For the pedigreed and perspiration-averse, the Institute maintains a comfortable camp at the end of a private road, watched over by armed guards. Food and wine are provided, along with an evening campfire talk, hot tubs, fresh linens, and directed meditation exercises.
The Forest Service will use the fees it collects to fund ranger patrols. These will cull herds of free-roaming, unregulated hikers whenever their numbers threaten to interfere with paying guests.
"There's a safety concern because the crater hike is so remote – it's off the pavement, after all – and research areas are nearby, too," said Lisa Rorschach, Director of the Helens Institute. "We can't risk having ordinary people milling around out there, not on public land."
Once returned to their base camp before they helicopter out, most of the day's elite hikers were more than weary from hours of lifting wine glasses, but nevertheless enthusiastic.
"Fabulous," said [name withheld for national security reasons] of Woonsocket, Rhode Island. "Special."
"Absolutely," added [name also withheld] of Hadley Wood, Hertfordshire, UK. "In fact, I may just buy the place for my daughter to play in – she's at that stage, you know."