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.

I was three days deep on the bike, and Peter had run up Mt McLoughlin the day before our bike ride, so we weren’t exactly spring chickens. Nevertheless, we opted to go run up another pile of gravel, our local post-apocalyptic Mt St Helens.

We drove around with our heads cut off getting lost on forest roads for a good half an hour extra (things look different in summer, especially when they cover the signs with tarps) before finding the Worm Flows trailhead empty but for some hunters.

With little fanfare, we hit the trail at a brisk trot and quickly dispensed with the two or so miles to treeline. At treeline, we settled into a bouncy trot across alternating boulders and wet pumice sand, changing our speed to suit the terrain, but finding ourselves able to run until we reached the “worm flow” proper. Said ridge is pretty much just a volcanic moraine, but it is flanked by amusing lava slickrock coursing with disgusting-looking meltwater.

Peter nearing the end of the runable terrain, as the trail would climb the ridge to the left of the fog valley.
The fog was, at times, a bit thick.

Hitting the ridge, we transitioned to a power hike and moved up into a cloud. The cloud made us drip with sweat, but we were thankful to find the route-finding simple. On a cone, all uphill roads lead to the summit.

Slowly emerging from the cloud hiatus.

With a thousand feet to go, we popped out of the cloud and into the sun. To our surprise, we saw a crowd of people above us. There is, it turns out, a summer route.

Churning sand and heading for the crater rim. The summit, it turns out, isn’t visible from here. Photo: Peter.
If you have sharp eyes, you can make out a gaggle of hikers on the ridge. The views otherwise weren’t bad.

The final thousand feet began with scrambling a 3rd-class-minus lava fin before transitioning to some truly demoralizing loose sand. We sweat our way past hikers saying little, further enjoying the false summit that I’d forgotten.

The last hundred feet to the top were the worst, and I battled a cramping calf to the crater rim, striking a wounded hobble along the rim past wide-eyed REI-types to the slightly-higher hill that I’d determined was the true ending of the route.

Letting the heart rate subside. Photo: Peter.
Peter enjoying the refreshed feeling that follows from climbing 5500′ in an hour-forty.
Got the wind back for the obligatory team summit selfie.

We enjoyed ten minutes on the summit in cool, still, sunny air before changing our mode of punishment to descent. A route-finding error proved lucky as we circumvented descending the lava rib in favor of more-exposed but faster moraine skiing. We alternated between ballsy plunge-step running and careful down-scramble-jogging until we escaped the seemingly endless worm flow ridge.

Traversing slippery rubble on the way back to our route.
The car is somewhere down there in the trees. One hour and two knees to go. Photo: Peter.
Trail is often buff, smooth, and a runnable grade. But we weren’t on a trail.

When we hit real trail again, I let the legs turn as they would, riding the gravity ramp down a bumpy trail. Peter came along and we slowly cranked the pace to the parking lot, pulling 6ish-minute miles for the last two sliding under the 2:50:00 mark by a hair.

Crazy brains satisfied for one more day.

Stats: Mt St Helens Worm Flows (winter) route. Parking lot to summit 1:35:47. Car to Car 2:49:58. 10.4 mi, 5600′. (Strava)

Gear: Comfortable and happy in Icebreaker Strike t-shirt, 5″ strike short. Salomon S-Lab Sense 4 Ultras, Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest.

Fuel: 16 oz water, 1 snickers bar, 1 reese’s pieces (didn’t finish).

Category: Running


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