This past weekend Jimbo, RichM, and I went out on a fantastic trek down to Mt. St. Helens. It was to be a 3 day trek. The following is an account of our trip.
We were up at the crack of dawn on Saturday (Sep13) and headed out of Langley by 6am. We knew we had quite a drive ahead of us so we needed to make an early start. We crossed through the border (after getting sent in to talk to the INS dude). After our rubber glove treatment we were on our way down the I5. We were on our way!
We stopped in Everett for the gool ol Denny's breakfast - a must for any road trip. After breakfast, we were off again...
Good ol Seattle
mmmm REI... we'll catch up with you later!
The plan was to meet up with Rich (RichM from Oregon [we hiked the Chilkoot with him]) between 12-1pm. While on the I5 we thought we saw Hiker Boy in his Subi, but then realized it was just marmot.
Jim had printed out some instructions using Microsoft MapPoint. Bah! Damn instructions were crap and let us to a gated road. We wasted a good 1/2 hr trying to figure out the area and finally gave up and hit the I5 again. Go figure, the next cutoff was perfect and led us right to St. Helens.
We made our way into the town of Cougar, which is basically on the skirts of the park.
We entered the park boundary and saw our first views of St. Helens. We accidentally missed the turnoff for the trailhead and ended up doing more of a highway circuit of the area than we had planned. But we figured out where we went wrong and made our way back.
Rich was nice and patient and waited for us at the trailhead. We were a touch later than we had planned, getting to the TH at about 2pm. We got geared up.
At about 2:45pm we set out on the June Lake trail that would eventually lead us to the Loowit trail.
View of St. Helens from the June Lake trail
Jim & Rich
We checked out the lake and then made our way up up the .2 mile trail to the loop junction.
There was deadfall to cross at times
We continued through the woods for a little while before finally punching out and climbing into the alpine like area. We had our first views of the devastation that the eruption back in 1980 caused.
From this vantage point we could start seeing impressive views of the mountain
This was the first of many obstacles we'd need to cross on our trip
mmmm this creek sure looks quenching! ick. a true filter clogger!
This was an incredible area to go through - especially in September! The bushes had turned color and provided cool photo opportunities. It was amazing seeing the burned out trees standing like tombstones throughout the valley.
Another obstacle to cross. This one was a little trickier because there had been a slide and the trail was taken out. This was where we had our first casualty. One of my Leki's just didn't survive when I had a spill.
We continued along eventually getting to the trail 234 junction. There wasn't really a camp site to be found. And even more scarce was the water.
We had a discussion about whether we should turn around and leave the trail. There was no water where there should have been. Jim and Rich looked at the map and I suggested that I would hike up to the ridge and see if I could pinpoint any.
I could see wet areas under the glacier on the mountain, so figured there had to be water somewhere. I scoped out the area on the ridge.
On the ridge I looked at my map and could see the creek forked - I continued along and managed to find the spot where it was coming out. It was a pretty weak water source, but a water source nonetheless. I went back and met up with Jimbo who had dropped his pack and climbed up the ridge. We had a chat about the source and decided to continue our trek. We went back and then hiked back to the source.
We poked around and managed to find some spots to set up our tents. There really aren't camping spots. You pretty much have to take what you can find.
The sun was setting quickly and we fixed up our dinner and enjoyed the colors the sunset casted back at the mountains opposite.
It was an amazing night. It was so clear. The stars were impressive! Here's a shot I took of Jim's tent with St. Helens in behind.
The next morning we were treated to a beautiful sunrise
Rich's tent and my tent
Time for a little breakfast
Replenishing our water supply before we head out for the day
A shot of my tent before I pack er up
Moon begins to disappear behind St Helens
Here's the creek we got our water from while at camp. It was slow, but at least it wasn't full of ash.
The Plains of Abraham
St Helens from the plains
We presume this is a geologist / volcanist device?
We made it to the Loowit / Truman junction. Jimbo sure looks happy we've made it so far!
After having a chat with a hiker we passed at the junction, we made our way to Windy Pass. This was another spot where the trail got a little sketchy.
See if you can spot the trail ahead. Let's play "invent your own".
Jimbo and Rich climbing up to the pass
Shot Jimbo took of me on the top of the pass as he was coming up
Jimbo and Rich use the map and GPS to plot our next stretch
We make our way down narrow switchbacks to the restricted area
Our first views of St Helens from the North. This is side where you get the best vantage point of the blast.
Our first views of Spirit Lake. Look at all the logs floating on the lake!
Views at the next junction
Views of the blast carnage
Johnson Ridge Observatory across the valley from us. Wave and smile at the tourists!
Some shots of the terrain/trail
At the next little junction - let's check out Loowit Falls
We arrived at a fast moving creek. We scouted around and found a place we could climb on to a boulder and jump across.
We crossed the rest of the blast zone, but the trail got hard to follow. There actually wasn't really a trail. Eventually we made our way along and decided to climb up on a ridge for a closer look. I looked around from above and could see the trail off in the distance. I yelled down to Jimbo and Rich and pointed to the direction we needed to head. Before coming off the ridge, I scored a pano of the area including St Helens from the North Side (blast) and Spirit Lake.
Here's a shot of the pano
A couple more waterfalls along the way. The names of them weren't marked on our topo's.
We had a bunch of trenches like this to cross
Look at these shots - they give you an idea of the scale of the many trenches we climbed in and out of
We then made our way to yet another ridge that we needed to climb. From the ridge, you could get a true appreciation for the terrain we just crossed. Here's a shot from part way up.
Once we crossed the ridge we pressed on through the outskirts of the restricted area. There were several other trenches to cross through. There were "trails" in and out of the trenches. Some were broken away which made the climb in and out interesting to say the least.
The weather started to move in on us. What happened to the 0% chance of precip!?!?!
We made our way along the trail eventually coming to the edge of a drop down to the Toutle River. Oh man. We have yet to climb down there. Our plan is to camp near the river and then climb out the other side tomorrow.
I was relieved at first that the trail pulled away from the ledge as I figured there was a nice n easy way to get down there. Oops. Guess not. It eventually led to a trail that winded its way down switchbacks of a sketchy slope.
Finally, the end of the sketchy crap. Now for a real trail (still switchbacking though)
Still have a ways to go to get down to the river though
We got down to the river and Jimbo had his first spill. Playing it up for the camera Jimbo? eheheh
Unfortunately there was squat for campsites near the river. We tried to find a way onto a nearby ledge, but it wasn't obvious. We were part way up the trail, and the hike back down to the river would have meant another 30-45 minutes at least and darkness was closing in on us. So we opted to press on up the other side of the mountain without refilling our water supply. The map showed several crossings on the ridge up top that are supposedly fed by glaciers.
Here's a view of the river below where we just came from as we worked our way up
We had some rain, but it did eventually stop. I got a little wet as I needed to use my softshell for myself, and my rain jacket for my pack cover.
Dusk was coming awefully quick. But oddly, this wind came out of nowhere. It blew all the clouds away. What the heck? So we were once again able to see the mountain, for a few minutes anyway.
From the top of the ridge we were treated to a beautiful sunset. It was a little tough to enjoy though since we still hadn't found water or a spot to camp!
We continued along on our quest for water and a camp. At about 7:30 we needed to pull out the headlamps. We hiked for about an hour in the dark until finally finding a spot that would have to do for camp. We set up camp, cooked up some dinner with our diminishing water supply, and then packed it in for the night. We had sweet dreams of finding water the next day.
I awoke early in the morning shortly before 6 and got up to check our food. There were no suitable trees for hanging so we just chanced it and put our food up in some branches well away from camp. I was happy to see that it was there in the morning. Jimbo and Rich got up and we loomed around a bit and then packed up camp.
There wasn't alot of play time in the morning since we had no water to cook breakfast with anyway. This was going to be an interesting day. We hoped that we would find a creek with water. The thought of going the full 8.6 miles to the lake with no water wasn't thrilling us. We set out at 7:45. It was still nice and cool. The sun was on the other side of the mountain. The ground was actually still frozen. That night at about 4:30 I checked the temp and it was -1 deg C.
We found out in the morning that we had almost made it to the next junction. We were a little concerned about the water supply, yet we were happy we got assburn hill over with the night before.
Here's a shot of the view from the other side
Oh great! More sketchy trenches to climb in and out of. These ones were 5x the size of the ones we did yesterday.
We came across this sign along the trail. Does this look like a camping area? No trace indeed.
The incredible part of this trail was the varying terrain
Another example of the trail being broken away. Careful as you go, or you'll end up way way down at the bottom
The Butte Camp Dome
St. Helens from the next Junction point at Butte
Looking down to Butte
We arrived at one hell of a rock/boulder field.
We then approached yet another steep ridge
Sweet! More boulder fields to cross!
I was pretty certain that the hiker we ran into yesterday said the boulders were closer to the junction to June Lake, but after crossing this massive field, figured I must have been mistaken when I was listening to him. I was thankful that the boulders were behind us and that it would be clear sailing going forward.
Yay! The junction sign. Only 3 more miles to the June Lake junction. Did I mention we haven't come across any water yet!?!?!?!?
This was probably some of the best terrain of the trip. Only crappy part was that it was a constant downhill.
We were pretty lucky up until this point as the sun was hiding behind some high level cloud. Our luck was starting to run out as the skies cleared more.
We covered another mile and then dropped down to the creek fed by Swift glacier. I hoped like hell there would be water in this one. None. Jimbo and I poked around a bit and managed to find a pool of water though. Woo hoo! That was good for a couple liters. We filtered it even though the stuff was silty as hell. I figured I can clean my filter at the lake. That water was so refreshing!
We packed up and pressed on. Let's put this puppy to bed. We climbed another ridge and were suprised with what we were presented. Damn! I hadn't heard that hiker wrong. This was the boulder field. The field was a good mile long. This was one of the longest boulder fields I have ever seen.
After the boulder field, we made our way down some additional switchbacks through a forested area, eventually coming to the junction where we had been a few days before. I hugged the June Lake sign and jokingly gave the loop trail sign a boot.
We made our way to the lake. I cleaned my filter. Crap! Was it ever dirty. That is from filtering 2 liters of water in that pool.
All three of us had our filters out and were pumping like madmen. I had a 1 liter shot of gatorade. Damn!!! That kicked ass.
We spent about 30 minutes at the lake and then headed out for the last 1.5 miles to get to the trailhead.
Cruising in the home stretch
The trailhead photo
We got changed and cruised from the June Lake trailhead
We made our way back to the I5 with the mission of burgers on our minds. We hit BurgerWorld for a quick bite and then began our long drive back to BC. Rich headed out as well, making his way back to southern Oregon.
It was a fantastic trip overall. We faced several challenges including a trail that would often disappear, precarious crossings and trenches, and a dwindling water supply. The company was fantastic - Jimbo and Rich are always a pleasure to hike with.