Tagged ‘mt st helens‘

Mt St Helens Loowit Trail In-A-Day

Taylor needed a goal to get her out and hiking as she rehabilitated from shoulder surgery. Hiking isn’t very intrinsically challenging, so she wanted to make it hard and walk a long way. This year, that meant looping Mt St Helens in a day on the Loowit Trail.

St Helens in the dawn light and building forest fire smoke.

We were joined by my med school classmate, Dave Toffey, who’s been working towards running his first ultra distance this year. The weather was quite favorable with the huge exception of dense wildfire smoke that shrouded the mountain after prevailing winds reversed overnight.

The crew at the junction with the Loowit trail

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Mt St Helens Worm Flows Speed Attempt


Peter, getting warmed up in his patented shirtless-w/ultra-vest getup.

With Mountain Lessons contributor Peter Innes making his rounds in the Pacific Northwest before retiring to Gothic, CO for the winter, some shennanigans were in order.

Peter met Taylor and I out in Bend, where I was maximizing my limited recreation time by staying at a ranch home Airbnb and shredding some desert dust. We had a good warmup day riding bouncy bikes from Mt Bachelor to Bend along the Mrazek trail, and then set our sights for something dumber.


Only the beginning of the uneven ground.

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The Plains of Abraham

It has been hard to break the silence on Mountain lessons ever since Taylor and I returned from our epic two-month road trip through the American West and British Columbia. After weeks upon weeks of world-class adventures on America’s best mountain bike trails, returning home to Portland couldn’t feel anything but mundane. One day you’re redlining it on Whistler’s rocky, rooty Comfortably Numb epic, and the next you’re sorting through two months of mail and figuring out how to turn your utilities back on.

Mundane, everyday tasks just can't compete.

Mundane, everyday tasks just can’t compete. The author on Windy Ridge (Photo: @tschef).

The best cure for the end-of-adventure blues is just to have more adventures. These days, that means either trail running or mountain biking, and with hundreds of miles on the mountain bike legs this summer, taking advantage of that fitness is pretty fun.

Taylor on Windy Ridge

Taylor on Windy Ridge, with Mt Adams in the background.

Yesterday, to settle the adventure jonesing, Taylor and I went to ride the IMBA Epic ‘Plains of Abraham’ ride on Mt St Helens outside of Cougar. Washington. The ride climbs for five miles through large timber until breaking out into a world of pumice and eroded canyons. The Plains of Abraham themselves are a relatively flat zone at the base of the mountain which was devastated by the explosion of Mt St Helens. It’s a moonscape nearly devoid of plant life, and while it’s far from a good surface for mountain biking, it’s a really cool romp through a wacky landscape.

The ride itself can be either an out-and-back (21 mi) from the Ape Canyon trailhead, or it can be made into a loop with the truly backcountry Smith Creek trail for a true epic (26 mi). Taylor and I parked at the Smith Creek trailhead planning to do the big loop, and facing either a 5 mi gravel road climb or a 2 mi trail ride (at least, that’s what the map showed) to get to the Ape Canyon trailhead, we opted to ride on trail.

About a mile into the Lava Canyon trail towards Ape Canyon, there’s a sign that says “Mountain bikers use Road 8322, no mountain bikes on Lava Canyon trail”. Never one to let the forest service restrict my access to non-wilderness public lands, we ignored the sign and plowed on.

Ladder on Lava Cayon trail

Nearing the top of the ladder on the Lava Canyon trail

Some signs are there for a reason. The Lava Canyon trail climbs 1800′  in 2.5 miles, switchbacking up steep rock staircases, narrowly hugging the side of precipitous canyon walls, and ultimately leading to a 40′ steel ladder. But what is adventure without a good measure of considered stupidity? Up we went.

Climbing the Lava Canyon ladder with a bike.

Climbing the Lava Canyon ladder with a bike.  For the second time. (Photo: @tschef)

Finally onto real trail, we climbed through the woods and out onto the Plains of Abraham. There I decided that whomever had deemed the ride an Epic was an idiot. The surface on the plains is similar to dry Fruit Loops, and offers just as much traction. Riding into a headwind there and across Windy Ridge to our turn-around point I was pretty grumpy. Scenic though it might be, it’s no epic mountain bike ride.

Taylor on the Plains of Abraham

Taylor on the Plains of Abraham, with Mt Rainier on the horizon.

With limited water an energy, we opted to avoid the Smith Creek descent, which is, I’m told, some pretty atrocious mountain biking. Instead we opted for an out-and-back, and found the way back to be much more fun– with deflated tubeless tires, a headwind, and a slight downhill edge, the Fruit Loops made for a fun, drifty enduro downhill, and the buff trail through the timber rode fast and clean. Two-and-a-half hours up, one-and-a-half down.

Taylor, returning from Windy Ridge

Taylor, returning from Windy Ridge.

With now 760 miles of mountain biking under the belt this year, I hope to crack 1000 before skiing steals away my attention. And with school quickly approaching, no doubt there will be more posts here, as writing becomes not a duty but a joy and a distraction. Stay tuned!

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Mt St Helens Speed Ski

Mt Rainier from Mt St Helens

St Helens crater rim, with Mt Rainier in the distance.

Mt St Helens – Worm Flow winter route – 5500′, 11.3 mi, 3:37:01 car to car.

I’m past whining now. Everywhere in the West (barring BC) is pretty shy of snow. I could keep whining about how this was forecast to be an average season, but that get’s old. Fast.

Most snow conditions, except full-depth facets with a punchy crust, are good for something. Look on the bright side right? What does our snowpack look like right now? A spring snowpack. What’s that good for? Big days in the mountains and corn skiing.

Rather than sit on my petard, I decided to explore Mt St Helens. I’d never been, despite looking at it on the horizon for years, and I was told that it was the place to go for spring skiing.

St Helens is not a technical climb by any stretch of the imagination, so I decided to see what kind of speed I could lay down from the car to the summit and back.  Conditions weren’t ideal but I was happy with how it panned out. Read on →

No Excuses Interview Series: Ethan Linck

The No Excuses Interview Series explores the approaches and personalities of athletes who are inspiring in both the quality and consistency of their achievements. They’re real people doing great things. What they do, you can too, if you want it.

Ethan Linck chasing powder on Mt Hood.For part two of the no excuses interview series, we’re joined by Ethan Linck, a West-coast Vermont transplant, mountain runner, and inspiring friend.


Ethan Linck is best known in the Pacific Northwest endurance community for setting the Fastest Known Time (FKT) for an unsupported run around Mt Rainier’s Wonderland Trail (93 miles, over 22,000′ of climbing) last year in 27 hours and 19 minutes.

He has also run around Mt St helens, Mt Hood, the Three Sisters, and placed in several PNW trail races and ultras. Most impressively, he accomplished all of this while a biology student at Reed College. His resume is impressive, and he catalogs his adventures and observations on his blog Beyond the Ranges

A self-described would-be naturalist, he also “nurtures particular interests in the ecology of New Guinea and Melanesia, mountain running, and backcountry skiing. He’s currently spending the winter in Gothic, Colorado”. He joins us by email to talk about what goes into his big endurance efforts,where his naturalism and athletics meet.
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