Plans for this 3-day bikepacking trip near St. Helens came together a few days before the weekend, when I realized that I could catch a ride with pickup at a different location. There are so many trail options to consider. The Siouxon trail has certainly been on my list, but another area that I wanted to explore was north-east from St. Helens. And having ridden the Mount Margaret backcountry last year, I knew that I also wanted to go back there. With so many options, my route finally changed from possibilities to reality while my tires were rolling on the ground. Here’s the final version:
The higher up I went, the colder and windier it got. Brr. Just past 11 pm, I arrived at my reserved campsite at Margaret Camp. I remembered vaguely the layout of the site, and with just my light illuminating the area, I set up my tent in gusty conditions. It took me quite a while to get the tent secured in the wind, and by the end, I had lost feeling in my fingers. In another couple of minutes I had got my gear inside the tent and was happy. The wind and dust was outside, and I was inside starting to warm up. I ate a bit of bread, finished my corn chips, and put my earplugs in. I laid there waiting to see if I’d be warm enough under my summer down-blanket, and the answer was: no. I put my windbreaker on and was just warm enough not to shiver. But, sleep didn’t really come to me until early morning when the wind died down and it started to warm up.
When I could really start to feel the sun warm the inside of the tent, I got up and looked around. Here I am, in my favorite place.
Just east of the camp area is a tiny creek. It would have been enough to get water, but I still had over a liter and there are a couple of tiny little creeks coming up east of here. There was less water up here this year, then a month later last year. Just something to be aware off if going on this trip later in the summer.
Oh, I love this area. What views, what views. There was more pushing than I remembered, but how could one mind slowing down when there are sights like this:
Note the many layers of mountains towards Mt. Adams. My plan was to make significant progress towards this volcano, and I think I made it up to the last dark, jagged ridge line: which would be the Boundary trail.
The Whitter Ridge trail is apparently a bit damaged, and the sign seems to say that it’s not a good idea. I stayed on the Boundary trail and headed east.
Heading down to the Norway Pass trailhead, I met a few hikers. Most were heading to the Shovel Lake area for an overnighter or daytrip. No one asked me what I was up to – maybe bikepacking has become a very commonplace occurrence, or maybe they just didn’t care. Time to hit the pavement and ride up to Windy Ridge. Past Windy Ridge, the road continues as a pumice-gravel road. Pumice are super light rocks, just like you’d buy in the store. Basically, airy volcanic rocks.
A look back north from where I came
And Mt. Adams in the east, St. Helens up close to my right:
I met a few hikers, and many mountain bikers. All the bikers were super happy, the hikers were kinda snobs / unhappy. It was weird. Once I had pushed up Truman trail, my work was done and it was a smooth-ish coasting along the flowing Plains of Abraham. After a lunch break on the Ape Canyon trail, I headed south to the Swift reservoir and the Eagle Cliff general store. This time, I used a much shorter forest service road that almost directly connects Ape Canyon to the store. While the beginning of the FS road was chunks of granite and really rough, the later portion was smooth and fast. Wheew!
At the Eagle Cliff store, I bought chips, bananas, and a couple loafs of bread to get me through the next 2 days. I also had a couple Mountain House dinners left and other snacks. Next up: Lewis River trail. I met a huge group of hikers in the first 1-3 minutes, then I had the trail almost to myself. I did meet a farther and his 2 young boys on bikes a bit later. One 6, the other 7 years old. The youngest kid had little tears running down his face – he was in way over his head. They had started at the campground, and I’d guess it had probably taken them 3 hours to get to this place. They probably had another hour or 2 to get out. It was the biggest ride for both of them. The trail then winds through beautiful forest, and becomes progressively steeper.
I passed by the Lower Falls, then a few more falls came and went:
The next trail had been on my list since 2 years ago. Back then, the only report that I could find was that it had not been maintained and was difficult hiking. Now, 2 years later, I came across this post describing the clean-up of the Quartz Creek trail the forest service did in 2014. It sounded great, even with the WTA trail description of “that while this is a river trail, it is not a smooth river-valley trail and goes in and out of the valley”. Oh, how those words would repeat in my head while I pushed and pushed my bike the many unnecessary ups & downs along this section.
Almost immediately, the trail shows its real character:
There were rideable sections, and the downhills were actually fun, but the ups, oh my, the ups were tough hike-a-bike. I made it to Straight Creek and looked for a good way to cross for a while. The crossing was easy once I found a good spot.
As I was pushing up the other side, I was wondering if I should have gotten water at the creek. So, I started to go back and in the process, looked at the campsite. Boy, did it look good. Pine needles cushioning the tent sites, and a large fire ring with several logs to sit on. And a big table made from the trunk of a tree. It was just around sunset, and I convinced myself to take it easy and settle down here by the river. I found a nice campsite a bit away from the noisy river, and was asleep within an hour. Not too cold, not too hot. And so I slept until 6 am.
After a good breakfast, it was time to continue pushing my bike. Again, the ups were often hard hike-a-bike, then a rideable flat portion, followed by an awesome downhill. Repeat. Some portions were almost flat, but difficult to pass.
Right afterwards, I crossed a very interesting creek. It was flowing over a wide, smooth slab of granite for quite a ways down before collecting in a pool below. I was imagining that the water heats up quite a bit and down in the pool would be warm water. I didn’t try it out; in retrospect, I think I would have liked to try it out. At the time, I wanted to keep going and make it up to the boundary trail before 4 pm.
Overall the Quartz Creek trail was super tough, but except for this one big blow down just before French Creek trail, the trail had been logged out. Thank you, forest service and WTA volunteers!
Past French Creek, the Quartz Creek was even less traveled, and the only signs of use were deer prints. Long, white flowers were reaching into the trail from both sides, and it was very steep the last part up.
After 10 miles, 7 hours travel time, and 4400 ft. total ascent (while only gaining 2200 ft. elevation), I reached the Boundary trail. It was a super highway. I heard the brrrr, brrraaap, of motorcycles quite a while before being on the Boundary trail, but then didn’t see a single one – though I kept hearing them. Oh well, fine with me. While there are some super easy parts on the Boundary trail, and some hard pushes, there’s nothing on this section like I had experienced along the Quartz Creek trail. It was nice to be somewhat out in the open – out of the canyon covered in trees.
I thought I could ride that trail and make it to Cispus in 4 hours. After pushing up the first 1000 ft. the trail was leveling off, but it was still sandy, loose, and with a sufficient number of ups, that I decided to turn around. The trail is open to motorcycles, so the ground has been churned well. I ate some bread and checked in with my ride, while sitting in a small meadow:
The short & easy way back, was to go down what I had just pushed up, and then take the Dark Meadow trail down to the forest service road. The trail was initially not too bad, but the middle portion was ridiculous. Yep, I pushed my bike down for a while.
Once that section was over, the trail was rideable again, and quite fun. The last creek crossing can be done over a huge tree. To get to Cispus, I took a gravel road. So smooth, so awesome, and I could even see the mountains to my right.