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

The Loowit as hiked from the June Lake trailhead is somewhere in the neighborhood of 33.2 miles, with 6000′ of elevation gain/loss. It begins by climbing from the trailhead to the Loowit trail proper, and proceeding clockwise from there crosses several lava fields and ashy washouts before dropping into Touttle Canyon, which makes for the biggest descent and climb of the loop.

Emerging from Toutle Canyon, flatter ground leads into the Breach, the northern plains that were flattened by the 1980 eruption. This evil looking area gives way to Windy pass, a grassy climb onto the incredibly flat gravel wasteland of the Plains of Abraham. Once across the plains, the trail weaves through a few more huge and rubble-filled washouts before descending a final lava pile where we began.

The first of the lava rocks.
Rubble fields for days.
Dave and Taylor silhouetted in the smoky sunrise.
Late lupines.
And onward.
Swift creek crossing.
Taylor passing one of many washouts.
More precipitous trail.
Descending into a dusty crossing.
Handlining into a rocky gully.
Climbing into a dust storm.
Wind whips volcanic dust as we approach Toutle Canyon.
Dust storm brewing in Toutle canyon. The trail eventually emerges from the bowl at the far left of the photo.
Descending deep forest into Toutle Canyon.
Dave climbing out of the floor of Toutle Canyon.
Gaining altitude on, well, sand.
Running to catch up after taking photos.
Dave and Taylor nearing the exit from Toutle.
Upper reaches shrouded in dust clouds.
Upper Toutle Canyon.
Tree skeletons flattened by the St Helens explosion.
Finally out of Toutle.
The first of many tempting mushrooms. A very young Chicken of the Woods.
Fall colors approaching the Breach.
Winding and desolate trail. Dave and Taylor making progress.
A stream flowing from the Breach.
Up into the Breach, the closest thing to Mordor that I’ve seen in person.
Mountain goats as we approach Windy Pass.
Dave’s psyched on the pavement-flat plains of Abraham.
When I say flat, I mean flat.
Another lone mountain goat on the Plains of Abraham.
A surprise treat as the trail winds to an end– fields of ripe huckleberries!
Back into the final lava field.
Stretching the legs and trying to guess how many miles remain.
Back at the trail to the car having closed the Loowit loop.

Thankfully, everyone finished the day strong and with working joints. Dave styled his way through his first ultra distance on foot, admitting that he’d never been further than about 15 miles in one go before. Taylor upped her style significantly over her hike around Mt Hood last year, which ended with hobbling on angry knees and instead cruised happily into the parking lot unassisted.

We spotted this monster mushroom right at the end. Party favors!

Just before reaching the car, Hayes, our good friend and tag-along for the day, spotted a huge Chicken of the Woods mushroom, which was a welcome sight after having passed up several beautiful specimens for lack of a means to carry them. There’s nothing like finding one of your favorite wild mushrooms waiting for you at the end of a long day.

Category: Adventures, Travel, & WritingRunning


One comment

  1. Thanks Patrick for the photos of this hike, it did remind me of Mordor. Did you all do this in one day? Seem impossible. Also how were the mushrooms?

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: