Mt St Helens Circumnavigation

I’ve been to Mt St Helens a couple times (hiked to the top with Tom a few years ago, rode Tour De Blast 10 years ago) but up until earlier this week I’d never circumnavigated the mountain. However, I’m currently coaching two people training for the Bigfoot 100k, another who is planning an adventure run around Mt St Helens, and a fourth person who just mountain biked the Plains of Abraham and may go back for more.
Therefore I decided it was my duty as a coach to see what the Loowit trail was all about. 😉 I love a good excuse to run a beautiful trail!

I began at the June Lake trailhead and went clockwise. I started with 2 liters of water (1 liter more than I normally carry) and was glad to have it. I found these two maps to be very helpful for figuring out the location of the next water source. I treat my water with MSR Aquatabs rather than using a water filter, so I have to be a little pickier about water sources than someone who can filter out all the silt. That said, as long as I was careful to completely fill up my bottles whenever I hit a clear running stream, I was just fine with 2 liters of carrying capactiy and a sheet of aquatabs. I pulled two liters from the South Fork of the Toutle and two liters from the spring at the north end of the loop, for a total of 6 liters for the day. 

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June Lake
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Grassy fields with the ghost of Adams on the horizon

The Loowit trail itself is in pretty good condition. The route through the lava fields is marked with posts and is relatively easy to navigate when there is good visibility, but that could change at night or in cloudy weather. There’s no real trail, just lots of rock hopping interspersed with bits of bootpath.
There are multiple large wash-outs to navigate, especially in the southern half of the loop. All of the washouts are entirely passable, but at times you might need to pause and look carefully for the cairns on the other side of the gully.
The South Fork Toutle and Loowit Creek were both “splashy” crossings for me. I never submerged my feet, but I wasn’t able to stay completely dry either. Someone with longer legs would probably have no issues.

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Lava fields with steam? dust? blowing off the top of Mt St Helens

In terms of wildlife, up until Windy Pass I didn’t see much – tons of chipmunks, and one large bull elk on the plains far below me. However, as I was approaching Windy Pass I found myself sandwiched between a large herd of goats on the hillside above me, and a small herd of elk grazing below me. So cool. The elk were a little too far to get a good photo, but the goats posed for me nicely while keeping a comfortable distance.

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Hi hi
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Crater rim looming over grazing goats

Overall, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised  by this trail. It was more scenic than I realized, with more varied landscape than I expected. I knew I’d get to see lots of lava fields and desolate plains. I didn’t know I’d also get to see wildflowers, fall foliage. soft green grass, and huge herds of goats. Towards the end of the day I was getting kinda sick of climbing in and out of loose rocky drainages, but the alpenglow on Mt Adams more than made up for it.

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The route around Mt St Helens, starting from the June Lake trailhead. Approx 32.5 miles and 7600 ft of climbing.
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Vine maple framing Mt St Helens
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I felt pretty lucky to see both wildflowers and fall foliage on the same day.
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Research tent
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The Toutle
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Trail switchbacking up from the South Fork Toutle
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Yet another perspective of St Helens
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Looking into the Mt St Helens caldera. You can see steam rising from the new dome in the center of the photo.
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Loowit Creek waterfall (but not Loowit Falls)
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Spirit Lake
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My first glimpse of the goat herd
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Golden fields and grazing goats
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More goats. I couldn’t help myself.
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The red berries are from the Mountain Ash tree, also known as a Rowan tree. ❤ Mt Rainier in the background.
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When you’re a goat, the side of a rocky wall is a great place to cuddle up for the night.
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Mt Adams
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Moon rising
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Good night, Mt Hood
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Good night, Mt Adams

 

 

5 Replies to “Mt St Helens Circumnavigation”

  1. Jessica, beautiful pictures! I ran the Loowit ccw in 1992, I think, just after the trail was completed. Finding water was difficult, as it was both scarce and very silty. I got quite dehydrated ( it probably didn’t help that I had run the Timberline trail the previous day).

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