What do you do when your six-month long plan of hiking the 72 miles from Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass in one shot of 36 hours falls apart the week before your hike?
Well, if you’re crazy enough to consider a hike of that scale you already know any old hike will not be enough. You’re a dreamer, adventurer, someone who is always pushing your limits physically and mentally. People shake their heads at you when you tell them of your hikes. Now that you can’t do your “Big Hike,” you need to come up with something else that will silence the voices in your head telling you to get out there, go further, and go harder. They won’t be silenced by a leisurely day hike or even a long overnight hike. They scream for something that most wouldn’t do. Others don’t do these kinds of hikes because there hard, long and possibly not achievable.
In my case I decided to hike around a volcano instead, Mt. St. Helens to be more precise. A friend had wanted to circumnavigate the National Volcanic Monument for years and it had the right amount of difficulty to quiet my inner voices. Once the idea was seated in my head I went to work on getting maps, trail updates, and any other useful information I could.
The resulting plan was to fast pack the Loowit Trail #216 around the mountain. The map said it was roughly 27 miles plus another 3.4 on the June Lake Trail to get to the Loowit. With 30 plus miles in one day, lava fields, giant gorges with rivers in the bottom, and almost no tree cover; this hike was shaping up nicely.
We camped out the night before at the trail head. With a 4:45 am wake up call we were under way in the dark. The physical test started right way with lava rock for miles upon miles. Next we battled to find our way through the numerous gorges along the SW side of the mountain. As we climbed out of the South Fork Toutle River the tread started to relent, though with the low cloud cover and light sprinkling the day continued to challenge us.
The true form of the mountain would elude us all day. At times we saw large portions of the sleeping giant but never the whole thing. Caribou called from a far off ridge as we entered the blast zone and crossed in front of The Breach. Even with the low clouds we got views of the massive hole made by the 1980 explosion. If the trail didn’t take your breath away, this did.
A quick ascent of Windy Ridge presented incredible views of the Plains of Abraham. We spotted a group of mountain bikers crossing the plain as we descended to the valley floor. Once down the switch backs we ran after the bikes, and to our surprise we caught them! Passing the bikes put a renewed spring in our steps and we ran almost all the way to the Muddy River.
At this point we were back to gorges and rocky tread. As the paced slowed the weariness of my knees and of Mike’s feet became apparent. Our paced slowed but not our resolve to finish. Being a loop we had no choice but to push forward. As I always say “Relentless forward motion”. The Worm Flows were our last test. They’re the east edge of the first lava field we went through at the start of the day. Knees creaking and dogs barking we rejoiced when we descended off the lava to a butter soft tread in the forest; the first wooded section since before the Toutle River 15 miles back.
Just after passing June Lake on the way back to the car we decided to run once more. It hurt to run but with each step I became numb to the pain. I told myself it was only temporary. We reached the car at 3:01 pm, covering 31.07 miles with 7000’ of climbing in 10:26. I sat down, took off my shoes, opened a beer and it was then I heard the silence. The voices were gone, fulfilled and satisfied until they rise up again.
Check out more of Craig's adventures on the trail, on skis and on the cross course at his blog, Adventures of Scatman.