As I sat drinking a beer I looked up and saw a extremely bright star just above the tree line. I pointed it out to Mike, my hiking partner for the weekend. I said, “Look at the light in the sky it’s moving, and it’s really bright. Wait now it’s fading.” Mike quickly said it wasn’t moving, the trees were. I said, “Maybe its aliens!” Mike instantly responded with, “Dude, shut up. That shit freaks me out. I don’t want to here it!”
I continued half listening to Mike and half watching the star grow bright, then fade completely away. As the evening wore on it moved a cross the night sky like any star might but continued to pulse and as far as I was concerned it moved about go in small circles. I teased Mike about aliens and he proceeded to drink his whole 6 pack, guaranteeing he’d sleep without trouble. For tomorrow we were going to be circumnavigating Mt. St. Helens on the Loowit Trail.
This was my answer to not hiking from Stevens to Snoqualmie Pass, a 72 mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail with 14K of climbing. Mike had been wanting to do this hike for years so we agreed to hike the 31 miles with 7K of climbing around Mt. St. Helens in on go instead.
The alarm went off at 4:40 am. Mike had just woke up from a dream where he heard a large boom and I was laying there thinking, “Wow, I have to piss. It must be like 2:30 or so”. We broke camp, packing everything in my car under the security screen and were ready to go by 5:30. I made a point to see if the mysterious star was still there but in it’s place was Orion. Breakfast consisted of apple turnovers and Poptarts. The stop watch started at 5:35 am and it was only minutes before Mike asked if I had put my Forest Pass in the window. I stopped my watch and ran back to the car, ran back to where I stopped and we were off again.
We hiked in the dark most of the way to the junction of the Loowit Trail. So after starting the actually loop the light became bright enough to hike without our headlamps. As we hit the first lava field I saw my first and only pika. The lava worked our feet over fast. Mike’s feet only made it 10 miles before they began to hurt to the point he had constant pain. Luckily the lava didn’t last that long.
If Mike hadn’t been freaked out enough by the crazy star and alien talk, the two Roughed Grouse he flushed did the trick. As we climbed through one of the limited wooded areas two grouse erupted from the brush on the side of the trail as Mike passed. Mike jumped, which in turn made me jump. With our blood pumping we picked up the pace and moved on.
We dropped into gorges ripped out of the mountain side by run off, only to have to claw our way back out. This went on for miles as we hiked the SW side of the mountain. The South Fork Toulte River would be our last and largest gorge. We had to jump the four foot river then climb up a fifty foot banking that was almost vertical. What followed was on of the coolest and longest climbs of the day. It was like a moon scape craved out of the mountain side.
Cresting that last climb was the turning point for me. I knew the hardest test of the hike was behind us and I could tell the terrain was getting easier. Mike and I made good time around the north side of the volcano crossing in front of The Breach. It was awe inspiring to see the damage the 1980 blast caused. The whole north side we hiked used to be the mountain side where The Breach now was. It was moving. You could still see the fallen trees that were thrown into Spirit Lake floating at one end of the lake. The wind pushed them into a group and they have been there for 30 years now, preserved by the water.
Our one break of the day was just past the trail for Loowit Falls. We found a spot out of the constant wind and had our sandwiches. We couldn’t stop long since we both got cold fast. We climbed a few short switch backs and soon were on top of Windy Pass. Behind us was the blast zone, in front of us the Plains of Abraham, both barren and both beautiful in their own way. Mike spotted a marmot clumsily making it’s was down the gully next to the switch backs that brought us down to the plains. When he saw us he tried his best to make himself blend in but we were on to him. We blew our whistles hoping he’d call back but he was playing possum.
As we ran the Plains of Abraham we saw mountain bikers headed for Ape Canyon. We rounded a bend and found we had caught the bikers, then we passed them. One of the ladies in the group had just fallen. She was saying there’s no crying. I took Tom Hanks line from “A League of Their Own” and changed it to, “There’s no crying in mountain biking!” and they all laughed.
The plains were over quickly and it was back to more gorges as we crossed into the area containing the Muddy River. When we got to the river it was more of a stream and not as muddy as I expected it would be. By now my knees were hurting and Mike was starting to slow down from the constant pain in his feet. He had been dealing with pain for the last 15 miles! I pushed on keeping our pace steady knowing Mike needed a rabbit to chase. I remember my 2005 hike of Stevens to Snoqualmie where I had both the knee pain I had now and Mike’s foot pain at the same time.
The last moon scape of the Muddy River gave way to the opposite side of the first lava field we hiked through, it was called the Worm Flows. Luckily the trail through the Flows wasn’t as bad as the west side we first hiked. At this point every down hill step felt like someone was sticking an ice pick in my right knee. Both Mike and I smiled when we descended off the lava field and into the woods. The tread was butter soft and smooth. Before we knew it we were back to the junction of the June Lake Trail. I ran to the sign when I saw it, screaming as I went.
As we descended the same switch backs we had climbed in the dark we got views of June Lake and the water fall that falls into it. We passed family after family heading up to the lake. Not really in the mood to take in any more sights we ran the last half mile or so back to the car. The hike had taken us 10 hours and 26 minutes.
The first thing I did was to get out the camp chairs and we sat down to rest our weary feet and knees. Beer was second and clean clothes third, followed by the rest of our $32 family size pizza from the night before. Mike got to check off another long term goal and I felt satisfied at getting in an Epic hike for the season.
Photos of the trip are on Flickr.
Get out there!