Loowit Trail, WA


We walk all the way around Mt. St. Helens on another challenging "trail."

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

This was Day Four of the 2008 Celebration of Life.

Our goal for today was to walk all the way around Mt. St. Helens on the Loowit Trail. In a day.

It's 32 miles, with a lot of up-and-down involved to deal with the many ridges and canyons radiating out from the mountain. Brian has done this hike many times, including one of his last great adventures with Big Jeff where the two of them climbed the mountain, went around the mountain, and went under the mountain (Ape Cave) all in 24 hours.

But Brian hadn't been on the Loowit since the 2006 floods, and thanks to that flood this trip was a little different from his previous experiences.

To really understand this trip, you need to spend time looking at a map. I didn't look at one at all, so it was an ongoing wonderment, especially later. But to start, we rode our bikes in the dark to the trailhead. We were then walking at a few minutes after 6am. Art and Brian on the trail
The first few miles gain elevation steadily through steep, forested hillsides with one notable switchback that went a very long way counter-clockwise around the mountain. Unfortunately, our route goes clockwise... but it was all to gain elevation. As the sun rose, we were getting above timberline and finally heading the right way. Art and Brian on the trail

Click for a larger version as needed. That's Brian in the sunlight, climbing the 5.3 dirt chimney. Art is in the dark smear on the other side of the chasm, scree-skiing down a 50° hillside. Note the large boulders right next to him, and those already collected at the bottom.



Art and Brian on the trail
Here's a close-up of Art. It's not really that difficult, but the junk above him is totally scary. And where Brian was, it was even worse....and that is where Art is headed. Art and Brian on the trail
So you may be asking why we chose such a crappy place to cross the washout... and this picture should be your answer. You see anything better? Art and Brian on the trail

After struggling through a couple of those blowouts, we finally emerged on the northwest shoulder of the mountain., I have to say that a lot of this trail was simply beautiful. You traverse wooded ridges with old-growth trees that are huge. There is flowered tundra, snowfields, heather, and acre upon acre of beautiful wildflowers. In many areas, the scent of lupine was almost overwhelming. I think here Art might have been overwhelmed.

Art and Brian on the trail
Things stayed easy as we approached the breach, but the trail continued to roll up and down with a lot of elevation change. The breach itself is devoid of trails, but after what we had been through, this part was a piece of cake. Besides, we were making great progress and the day was perfect- even a light breeze to mitigate the heat radiating off the sun-warmed lava. Art and Brian on the trail

Here we are in the heart of the breach. And again, those are either clouds or dust. We did see some steam coming out of the crater, but not much. On the other hand, there are four huge waterfalls in this picture. You may need to click for a bigger version in order to find them.


Art and Brian on the trail
After we crossed the breach, we started a long climb that would eventually take us to Windy Pass on the northeast shoulder. About half way there, we stopped at this large spring for very cold water. We drank some, then stuck our already-aching feet in it until they turned blue, about 15 seconds. Art and Brian on the trail

At Windy Pass, I somehow got the notion that it was all downhill from here. Well, my stamina was certainly going downhill.

But first, my mistaken impression gave me some motivation to make tracks. Our bike ride up Ape Canyon had terminated somewhere near the left edge of the picture, so I sort of knew where I was... so I flew across the plains. Art said that to keep up, he occasionally jogged.

Art and Brian on the trail

The shadows were starting to get longer, but we were still in the sun as we rolled around the eastern ramparts. Finally, there was Mt. Hood, indicating we were heading for the south side of the Loowit.

Brian quieted our optimism by describing a mile-long section of lava to negotiate ahead. We were still moving pretty well, but starting to get footsore after about 29 miles. And the lava was not going to help.

Not long after I took this picture, it was getting late enough that we were engulfed in shade, so not too many more photo opportunities.

Art and Brian on the trail

It was with great relief that we finally reached the big log blocking the trail access... we were just 100 yards from our stashed bicycles, and a mostly downhill ride to the car. But first we all took a quick sponge bath in the freezing waters of June Lake, trying to remove the sweat, soot, and ash that had accumulated from walking 32 miles in the last 14 hours. Art had been running his altimeter, and it said we had climbed over 7200'. I had drank somewhere near 330 ounces of fluids. This, folks, was whachyacall a long hike.

When we got back to the car, we were almost too tired to eat. But Brian found a miracle cure- a little Black Butte Porter really makes the sammies go down smooth!

Tomorrow: an easy day on Beacon Rock.

Art and Brian on the trail

Mr. Natural Home | 2008 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski