Sunday, July 9, 2017

Loowit Trail, Mt Saint Helens

On Friday evening July 7 I ran/walked around Mt Saint Helens on the Loowit trail. The trail is ~32 miles long with 9700 ft of elevation gain. It took me a little under 14 hours to complete this route.

Thursday evening I had all my gear ready for my adventure of cernavagating Mt Saint Helens on the Loowit trail. This is one of the Ultra Pedrestration Wilderness Challenges I am working my way through this list. Friday was slow at work and I thought, maybe I can leave early and start tonight. Well, Friday afternoon, my boss asked me if I wanted to leave early to take off on my trip. It was slow at work, sure I said if these few jobs can wait till Monday. So off I went heading south to June lake trailhead.

3:45pm and I am off on my adventure. June Lake trailhead is the closest point to the Loowit trail.

Once I hit the Loowit trail I turned left for a clockwise route around the mountain. I ran Bigfoot 200 last  year and that route covered some the the trails I would be traveling on. I also wanted to follow the sun for most daylight for moving. 

Trail conditions were a combination of snow in the trees and gullies I would cross many of. The PNW had a large snowfall this winter. The snow is holding on longer than usual this year. I had an ice axe and crampons on my pack that never left. There were many trees down on the trail that I easily worked around, over or under. There were a few patches of overgrown trail to work through. 

I had a wrist gps unit on that really came in handy to help keep me on the trail. With patches of snow here and there playing hide and seek with the trail. Traveling at night, being able to look down at my wrist to make sure I was where I wanted to be is is very reassuring. 

The first part of the trail is a combination of trail and rock hopping for a few miles. I meet many people headed back to their car from a day hike, coming down from the summit and others hiking around the Loowit trail. Living here in the PNW popular outdoor environment is seldom a solitary experience.  Once it got closer to night fall I would be alone till first light of morning. 

Things are going well as I travel along the trail. The drop down Crescent ridge was impressive as I lost a lot of elevation. I would cross the Toutle river (wet feet) next and head into the sand hill switchbacks as I call them. This section is a set of switchbacks that goes up a side hill of firm sand. I am guessing animal tracks set the trail each spring. I would see evidence of animal tracks the entire length of this trail. 

The sun had set now and it was getting dark as I got to the got to the top of this hill. The full moon is rising to light the way for me. A cloud is also rolling through that would settle in the valley. For now this cloud is getting my glasses wet making me clean them too often so I can see. There is a cool breeze rolling through with this cloud. It was time to add a lot more clothes as I was on a the blast zone plain. After a while the cloud would settle below me and the wind will calm down allowing me to peal off a few layers. My first headlamp had dead batteries (dumb move Jeff), second one was good. I had an extra set of batteries in my pack just in case. 

I enjoyed crossing the blast zone in the dark. The full moon lit up the area in a dull light allowing me to see everything. I still needed my headlamp to see detail for my foot placements. This was a magical experance to travel around part of this mountain in this dull light. I loved the reflection of the moonlight off the creeks and rivers I crossed. I wished I could have captured this on my smartphone camera. 

At the end of the blast zone is windy pass. Before climbing up windy pass I saw reflected something in front of me. I took a couple seconds to realize this was reflective strips off someone's tent, sorry for the lightbeam. Up and over Windy pass I go and down the other side. Coming down the other side the trail is not quite as good as the up. I saw more reflective stips off someone's tent and reacted quicker this time. 

I was on quite nice trail now and could get some running miles in till I got to the turn at Pumice Butte. I was wonder why this was so good till I caught some mountain bike tire marks in the dirt and snow. 

Five miles till the turn to Jane Lake, this section is a combination of good trail, rock hopping and many gullies to drop into and climb out of. It is a lot like the first part of the trail I was on. One amazing thing happened on this part. I heard the howl of coyotes in the distance. Then closer by I heard a reply. I am glad Coyotes are timid animals and avoid humans. The full moon and sky just starting to get light it was a magical moment. 

Bye the time I reached June lake trail head it was light. On my way back to the trailhead I came upon a group of trail runner starting what I just finished. They were equipped lighter than I was and were very interested in what trail conditions were like. Back at the trailhead around 5:40 there were three more people getting started for a trip around the Loowit. 

Thanks for reading. 

1 comment:

  1. Great report Jeff. Sounds like a great adventure, running at night gets us a different view of the natural world.