Loowit Trail - UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge 

September 29, 2018

Mark Goodro, Jacob Keltner, and Lauren Altemari

Total time to complete the Loowit Trail - 10:16:13

Start time - 9:37 AM   End time - 7:53 PM

Strava track of the loop

GPX file (Dropbox link)

Car to car from the Climber’s Bivy Trailhead - 14:08:30

Start time - 8:57 AM   End time - 11:05 PM

Strava track of the full day

Relive aerial view

Jacob and I have been climbing mountains and doing trail runs together since we met in the  Mountaineers in 2012. Since he moved to Portland a few years ago we haven't been getting out together as often. A few months ago he suggested we meet up somewhere for some peak bagging or a long trail run.

After throwing around ideas for a while he proposed the Loowit Trail and Mt St Helens for a weekend trip. We've both done Mt St Helens before via the Worm Flows winter route but never via Monitor Ridge. I've been looking for an opportunity to do an UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge since I heard about it while running the Lumberjack 100K in April. It wasn't hard to talk Jacob and his friend Lauren into signing up to do the Loowit Trail as a UPWC  route.

Jacob, Lauren, and I met at the Lone Fir Resort in Cougar, WA Friday night planning for an early start Saturday morning.

We were all up by 6 AM but we started later than planned. A last minute decision to start at the Climber's Bivy trailhead (for bathroom access) instead of June Lake would dramatically change the course of our day in ways we could not have predicted.

The day got off to an eventful start - I was stung by a bee at least 3 times at mile 1 (right as my watch gave the first mile notification). Each time I tried to knock the bee away with my pole without stopping it just moved and stung me again - I finally stopped and succeeded in brushing it away.

These stings caused a recurring burning sensation that recurred throughout the day, as well as muscle cramps in my ankle, calf, and ultimately foot. It wasn’t terrible, but it felt like early warning signs of muscle cramps, strains, and even achilles tendinitis.

I was surprised at how quickly we left the forest and started crossing lava fields and gullies. For the most part we had no trouble staying on the trail, though there was a point where we missed a turn and went too far up a ridge and had to drop back down to regain the trail.

The first view of the Toutle River valley was amazing. I ran a little ways ahead in the last mile to the Toutle River crossing to get a head start refilling my water. I drank less than a liter in the first 10 miles (I was carrying about 1.5). The downhill section was a blast. We refilled all our water resolving to drink more in the next 10 miles. We also soaked our feet and ate.

All of the ropes for descending and ascending the gullies were easy to find and in great shape. We saw fresh cougar scat on the switchbacks on the open hillside climbing up from the Toutle River. This is a side of Mt St Helens I had never seen.

The change in terrain at the drop into Pumice Valley, the heart of the blast zone, was dramatic. This is where you really feel like you're crossing the path of a volcano. The views of the Sasquatch Steps and the first views of Lower Loowit falls were inspiring. This is a mountain that has fascinated me since childhood - I was 7 when it erupted and remember studying it in school and developed an interest in volcanoes. It was amazing to be right in the path of the devistation.

We took a detour to the base of Lower Loowit Falls and had lunch. This required us to cross the river several more times.

Because of the time we spent visiting the  falls we skipped the trail to the upper falls. Once again I ran ahead to get a head start on our water. I finished the last of my 1.5 l as I approached the amazing springs around mile 20. It also started raining around this time.

The vivid reds of the falls colors on the climb to Windy Pass were stunning. Descending the pass was fun, leading to my favorite part of the run - the Plains of Abraham. This stretch of trail is very runnable and it was fun to be able to get some speed after the slow climb up and down from windy pass. It also wasn't raining on this side of the pass.

At the end of The Plains the view into Ape Canyon was breathtaking - especially after so much time in the blasted volcanic plains around ¾ of the volcano.

It was here we ran into an extremely nice guy who was very excited to see us - he recognized us from the TH and was excited that we had run so far around the mountain. He was on a bike ride with his daughter and we talked to him for a while. From here we had 5 miles to the June Lake junction or 8 to Ptarmigan Trail - followed by 2 more to the car.

When we  got to the Ptarmigan Trail/Monitor Ridge junction I heard a group of people giving their location on a 911 call. They called out in hopes that rescue had arrived earlier than expected. A woman in their party had slipped while descending the Monitor Ridge boulder field and heard a snap and believed she had a broken ankle. There were 4 people here, the husband and daughter of the injured hiker, and a couple who had a working cell phone that was used for the 911 call. The injured hiker was further up the trail with her son at the bottom of the boulder field.

After talking to the group Jacob and I hiked up to see if with enough help we could carry her out. We brought the injured hiker a space blanket sent by the lady with the phone. The husband of the injured hiker came with us.

After determining that she was not in a condition to be carried out we resolved to wait to be on hand to help carry in case rescue turned out to be 2 paramedics with a stretcher. They expected a 45 minute wait, Jacob predicted 3 hours. Jacob was right. We hung out and did our best to help make everyone comfortable and shared food. They had some excellent dried figs, I shared the last of my stroopwafels and some candy.

While we were waiting we watched headlamps descending slowly from very high on the ridge. After several hours a man approached our group asking for help - his girlfriend was stuck on the ridge with leg cramps, vertigo, and their flashlights were failing. Jacob and I went up the ridge with him to help. Jacob and I helped support and guide her down to last of the steep and slippery section of the boulder field (Jacob did most of the work and showed his excellent people skills). They were very nice and appreciative and shared their water cache with us (we had all run out by this point having expected to be to our car hours ago).

A short while later at least 6 bright headlamps arrived - a Volcano Rescue Team with a wheeled stretcher. This all-volunteer team performed a well organized and very professional rescue. We all stayed until they had the lady loaded and strapped in and were ready to descend. Jacob stayed to help with the stretcher and I returned to the car with Lauren (who I think was colder than she was letting on). Even though we ran the last 2 miles the rescue team was only about 20 minutes behind us - very impressive given the terrain.

Knowing that we would get back well after any restaurants closed, Jacob had the foresight to call our campground, the Lone Fir Resort, to order a pizza. So we had pizza waiting for us at our campsite when we got there well after midnight.

We later found out that the lady had broken her fibula, a more serious injury than a broken ankle. Waiting for rescue was the right choice.

Mt St. Helens

Total time - 4:21:25

Start time - 11:01 AM   End time - 3:22 PM

Strava track of the climb

Because of our late night we decided to sleep in and have a good breakfast before attempting the summit. Breakfast at the Lone Fir Resort was awesome and really helped to fuel the day in addition to providing a psychological boost. We met up with a couple more friends from Portland, Steve and Travis.

A short way up the boulder field we ran into a pair of very nice volunteers as we were entering white out conditions. They were making sure anyone going past that point was prepared for winter conditions - cold, strong wind, and rain, at least 3 more hours to the summit - and to expect to descend in the dark. Jacob and I were confident we could go fast and be down well before dark, and also move quickly enough to stay warm. The rest of our group were less confident, so they decided to head back down.

We reached the crater rim before 2PM. The last 1000 feet of climbing was in strong wind and driving rain with temps in the mid-30s. We stopped twice to add layers, by the top we were wearing everything we brought including down jackets and rain shells. We stayed on the ridge just long enough to decide not to continue to the true summit, took a few pictures, and then headed back down the ridge at a run. We returned to the trailhead at 3:22

There were a surprising number of runnable sections even on the upper part of the ridge. We stopped twice to get rocks out of our shoes and twice to shed layers. It was fun to really run the last 2 miles of good trail back to the car.

Mark's Parting Thoughts 

I have new respect for the size of Mt St Helens and also of the extent of the devastation caused by the eruption. I always had it split in my mind as blast zone on the North side and nice forest on the South side. The area with all trees blown down is more like 70-80% of the mountainside with narrow strips of forest surviving on the South side. There are also a lot more old lava flows on the South side than I ever realized, and the scale of the gullies (or canyons!) on all side is larger than I imagined.

I brought just over 3000 calories - more than I needed, but I was glad for the extra when our trip was unexpectedly extended. 

We met some very nice people on this route. I loved the enthusiasm people had for what we were doing. The Volcano Rescue Team are a great group of very competent volunteers with great attitudes. Lone Fir Resort was awesome for leaving pizza for us after hours. We also got cake - when we stopped for burgers at Fat Moose Bar and Grill we were offered cake by a nice local who had extra from a party that was just wrapping up.

If I were to do this again (and I already want to!) I would start at June Lake TH and go clockwise to get more of the climbing done early, as well as the boulder field crossings. I would still keep the same water stops - Toutle River and the spring after Loowit Falls.

Jacob's Parting Thoughts

Shout out Lone Fir Cafe for the late night pizza and much needed breakfast as well, I wouldn't have gone to the summit without it :)

Lauren's Parting Thoughts

- We did achieve the #1 goal of seeing all the goats 🐐

- My navigation skills still leave something to be desired where the nice biker people were. Third times the charm to find the trail?

- Cougars and bears are now a legitimate fear

- ...as well as falling off a cliff

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