Hikers across the state were erupting with frustration on Thursday morning when coveted Mount St. Helens climbing permits went on sale.
Error message after error message flashed on their screens as they attempted to buy the $22 permits. A few who had success, said they persisted for more than 40 minutes, continually refreshing their screen while using multiple browsers and devices.
Briefly, the website for the processing company Discover Your Northwest showed every permit available for May 24-Oct. 2 was sold out. Then the system was shutdown and message was posted that stated that the transaction process was suspended while the Mount St. Helens Institute and Discover Your Northwest attempted to “identify and resolve a number of unexpected issues related to the overwhelming demand.”
The organization said they’d post an update on Facebook at 5 p.m. on Monday.
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So what went wrong?
On Thursday evening, Mount St. Helens Institute director Ray Yurkewycz wasn’t entirely sure. They anticipated a flood of requests. Discover Your Northwest had significantly beefed up the size of its servers for the occasion, Yurkewycz said. It seems, it wasn’t enough.
He was not sure how many requests were submitted Thursday morning, but KIRO-TV reported 11,000 people tried to get permits, more than three times as many as 3,500 that tried on the opening day of sales last year.
“It (the website) is always a little slow on the first day,” Yurkewycz said. “But we’ve never seen anything like this.”
In 2012, when the institute started processing permits sales, 12,000 climbing permits were issued, Yurkewycz said. Last year, they issued 20,000. He said, typically, summer weekends and Mother’s Day permits sell out in a matter of minutes, but several summer week day permits are often available for several days.
The question many were asking Thursday was how many permits are going to be available when sales reopen? Did the entire summer really sell out?
Yurkewycz doesn’t know. “We’re still sorting it out,” he said. Although, he said, he suspected their were likely still be some permits available.
What about those who saw screens that said their purchases were successful but did not receive a confirmation email?
Those emails should still be on the way. “All completed transactions are still available,” Yurkewycz said.
Some permits shoppers raised concerns that scalpers might be buying the tickets.
This is unlikely, Yurkewycz. He says he’s only ever seen a couple of cases of people trying to resell permits at a marked up price. Tickets are usually resold at purmit.com, where they must be sold at face value.
Those who miss out on permits during the initial rush, will have a second chance thanks to new permitting rules.
This year, 10 percent of permits aren’t available until the final day of the month preceding the permit date. “For example, 10% of all June permits would only be released at 12:01 a.m. on May 31,” states the Mount St. Helens Institute website.