Escape to Mt. Saint Helens

As my weekend was suddenly free to roam, and my cold/cough was not that bad, I wanted to escape the smoke from the B.C. wildfires that have been covering us the last week. After a bit of of researching the weather maps., Mt. Saint Helens stood out as being nearly smoke free between Saturday to Sunday-noon. And since NF-99 is closed to motorized traffic, it obviously needed to be included in a big loop.

The goal for this trip was to go really light, and with the low for the night of around 53 F, I left the sleeping bag at home. Instead, I _thought_ of using the Sol Emergency bivy inside the tent body, but didn’t actually pack the bivy bag or a warm hat, or long warm pants. Lesson learned: when going ultra-light, you have to pack super carefully. None of that “throw some stuff in the backpack at the last minute”. It was a pretty cold night after the dew soaked the tent body. But with my backpack acting like a pillow over my chest, I stayed warm enough to rest until sunrise.

After parking at the Ape Canyon trailhead and pumping up the rear suspension firmly, I began the long climb. Luckily, it’s tree-covered all the way up. I met a dad and his ~7-year old son coming down; they were out on their biggest ride so far and loved it.




Once out of the trees, the views just open up. A running race, the “Volcanic 50”, was being held, so there were lots of people on the Loowit / Plains of Abraham trail. Many were walking at this point, including me. All good fun – and we wished each other well.




The Plains of Abraham went by much too quickly.


Except for this guy, I think.20170805_155947_small

My goal for the night was coming into view in the picture above: Mt. Margret is somewhere along the very far ridge line. It’s always surprising how much progress one can make on a bike.20170805_160101_small

The next section of benchcut trail along some along some big landslides also went by too fast:



Wildflowers were out in full force. Usually that means the bugs are also out – but here the wind blew them away mostly. Heading downhill along the pumice ridge-line was certainly much easier than pushing it up. I had learned well.



I was surprised by the number of cars that were in the area, even though it is clearly “closed to motorized use”.


After 5 miles of most pleasant and empty paved-road riding, I made it to the Norway Pass trailhead.


Just a bit in, I met a couple gals out for an overnighter. They had hiked in from the road closure and camped at Ghost Lake. I am sure they had the entire valley to themselves that night – save for the flys and mosquitoes. Wheew!  I was ready to get up higher.




The trail was surprisingly dusty and beat up in places. At first I thought someone had brought their horses, but then I looked more carefully and the ‘hoof’ marks were someone shoes. ! Someone’s carrying a big load with steel-toed shoes?

Nevertheless, matches were burned and elevation was gained. Mt. Adam was barely visible.



Getting closer to heaven.20170805_190031_small

My goal for the night was still a few pushes away, but there’s not a boring minute while walking up here. And what better time to be out than at dawn or dusk! Here’s Mt. Adam behind a carpet of smoke with the Moon to the right.


The short, rideable sections were heroin.


But even when it was rideable, photos needed to be taken!


And I must find that gardener!


The new Trance was making easy work of the rideable descents.


Not a soul in sight.


Just after sunset, I arrived at the camp site. It looks a bit cold and wet, but apart from me being cold and wet 2 hours later due to my bad packing, it could have actually been quite pleasant.


Rising just before dawn, the plan was to warm up with the hike-a-bike up Mt. Margret and then eat a proper breakfast.

Same spot, different time of the day.


Mt. Rainier gave a brief mystery appearance:


At this point, I got chewed out by a woman who thought that bikes have no business up here. It included the memorable phrase “I don’t mean to ruin your day, but …”. I didn’t know what to reply. Oh my.

The place just didn’t seem as beautiful afterwards, though it clearly was just the same as before.


Yup, still just as pretty. After chatting with a backpacker briefly at Bear Camp, my mind settled down a bit.


Just me, my bike, and endless downhill singletrack back to NF-99.




Well, maybe a bit of hike-a-bike.20170806_081801_small

Back on the road, the rear brake complained and needed to be adjusted, to the delight of swarms of flies.


The Smith Creek trailhead is 5 miles back up, which is when the smoke started to roll in from the east as the wind had shifted.


If you are jealous when you see your kitty playing in the litter box, this is the trail to ride. You drop 2000 ft (?) on that stuff, with exactly one reasonable section of trail in between.  Here it is:


Up, just past the last bit of green on the ridge, is where I was riding yesterday:


The narrow ledge was still walkable, just fine.


There are quite a few interesting points along the lower Smith Creek trail section.



The creek crossing was a bit hard to find, but after carefully looking for the red flags, I found the easy way across. It even seemed barely familiar from riding it 3 years ago. Back then, my luggage was a bit heavier. This rock seems to have formed around a tree.


The last portion on the former road bed seemed completely different from what I remembered it 3 years ago. There was a lot of techy riding and even more pushing. Tons of trees to be ridden / jumped over.




As described on the Evergreen website, I took the old logging road back to the Ape Canyon trailhead, instead of going over the Lava Canyon bridge and then riding up the endless gravel road. This was much better.


I didn’t meet anyone else after the Mt. Margret backcountry experience. Strange, fewer people everywhere, but there!

I do want to thank the managers of the St. Helens Monument for making mountain biking such a big part of their recreation management goals, and everyone else who helped shape it that way. Cheers!




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2 Responses to Escape to Mt. Saint Helens

  1. Neato and lot’s of great pictures. Thanks Lee

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