Some adventures in road and trail running.
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Sunday, June 10, 2007

A little too Extreme: Loowit Trail

I like doing things that are hard and challenging. Saturday's adventure was a little more than I had bargained for :-)

We had planned to run around Mt St Helens. I figured I had gone up it this year so I should make sure to go around it as well! I had done the loop once before in 2003 and the trail is one of my favorites with all the different types of ecosystems that you get to run through. And it is just plain cool to run around an active volcano!
Dave S, Steve P, Mike B and I all started at 7 am the Climber's Bivouac. I got us a little lost with a faulty memory of where the Loowit branched off the summit trail. As well having the sign broken and lying in a pile at the side of the trail did not help at all.

We did a lava field and got the sleepiness out of the systen Then some snow but was well marked with flagging ribbon. This actually turned out to be the best marked section of the trail. Once we hit the junction with the June Lake trail (which we did not use as apparently the road is washed out..not surprising from what we saw later in the day) it was slow going through the snow but we knew things would pick up....and the bear grass was blooming!

We enjoyed the Plains of Abraham, up and over Windy Pass, which was not the windiest...that would be at the ridge before Toutle. Watching herds of elk, views of Spirit Lake, bear grass and the purple carpets of the tiny lupines made everything enjoyable as we got a chance to stretch out the legs.
Then we lost the trail...a couple of times. Most of the trail posts and cairns are broken/down through the Pumice Plain. The elk clearly thought we were slightly loopy but we did not do too many extra miles before finding the trail :-) . Pretty soon the running joke was any two rocks piled together must be a cairn. Most of the washouts through the blast zone were just a fun challenge. But I believe all of us where wondering what it would be like at Toutle. We did not get a glimpse of the crater with the clouds but the waterfalls coming out of the crater were quite beautiful.

The wind and the rain started to pick up and we kept running to stay warm. We made the ridge of the Toutle valley and started the switchbacks down to the river. I like this part the first time and it was still fun this time but the wind was pretty intense. I was glad it was blowing us into the hill and not off!
We got to the bottom and we all just stopped. The trail was just plain gone. It appears that the river channel is about 20 ft lower than what Steve remembers from last year.



Bushwhacker finally found a way to get down off the cliffs without too much risk. I am not sure I would do it again. Scrambling up the other side was made easier with the alder trees that have fallen into the canyon. Look close...see Bushwhacker in the top right of the picture on the right. I am unsure how long these will be there. From what we saw, I really do not think it would be possible to pass the canyon going in the other direction.

Once we regrouped on the other side (and put on more layers of clothes) we started then climb up out of the Toutle valley and into the amazing old growth that exists on this side of the canyon. There are many blow-downs in this section with some rather large trees but all were pretty easy to pass. We knew how to scramble after the creek crossings!

We had a talk at the Sheep Canyon trail intersection and took a vote to keep going but knew that if things did not progress well we would return to the Sheep Canyon trail and head down to the roads...always good to have a backup plan.
We continued on and hit the section of the Loowit that has been diverted for numerous years due to a washout. We headed downhill following the flagging of the washout and came out to where the switchbacks used to be. Again they have been completely erased. Nothing. Sheer cliffs of sediment down to the creek. 20-30 foot drops. We ran downstream for about 10 minutes seeing nothing that looked passable.
Decision time: we had not made great time with the snow and the canyons and the wind and rain. None of us wanted to still be on the mountain when it got dark. We all agreed it was time to head back to the Sheep Canyon trail and get on the roads. You can follow the roads in the dark. We would easily lose the trail even in twilight. It was uneventful heading back and down the Sheep Canyon trail. It is really a nice 2 mile trail down through the forest. It even still has bridges going over the stream. Seeing the parking lot lifted all of our spirits as we knew we still had lots of miles to go but no chance of getting lost in the dark.

Now it was just lots of miles of running / fast hiking on roads in the rain. The roads are closed due to some very impressive washouts / blast-outs from creeks. There is one section that had a sign to beware of flooding...the whole road is GONE for about 1/2 a mile. I was a little too cold and grumpy to fish out my camera at this sign...I regret it now :-) I have to figure out how to have the camera totally accessible yet protected.

I also had the privilege to see a black bear on this section. Running up the road I start noticing conifer trees that look healthy and happy except for almost all the bark is stripped of the trunk. Hit by lightning? Then I see one of the trees is shaking and there is a little black bear stripping off the bark to eat the sweet cambium underneath. I slowed a little to look but then continued on to not interrupt his/her feast. Possibly I was hallucinating as no one else saw the bear?? Time for more sugar!
We finished up running down the 8123 road and hit the 8100 road. I was not mentally prepared for the sign saying it was 6 more miles to the Climber's Bivouac. Argh...just want to be done. But I trudged on, snarfed down 2 chocolate chip cookies and a bag of black cherry Clif shot bloks (man I like those things!) and started to get a great second wind (I also heartily recommend the new blueberry crisp Clif bar flavor...thanks Dave!) I ran some more in the rain and caught up with Dave and we ran to the 830 road. Then the happiest moment in recent history: a car :-)
We flagged them down just as Bushwhacker pulled up with the truck. Wahoooo...we are out of the rain and skipping the last 2 miles of uphill.

So the trail is still amazing and Mt St Helens is breathtaking with its testament to the beauty of God's creation. I think it will take some time before the two valleys will erode into something that I will want to tackle. But who knows...it is wild out there and things are changing very quickly. I hope it changes fast.

1 comment:

Rooster said...

Wow! We were thinking about you guys all day on Saturday. Wondering if you were rained on and cold because the weather was so bad. I would have never imagined the train would be in such poor condition. What an adventure! Glad you are home and safe.