Mt. Rainier may be the tallest mountain in the Cascade Range, but Mt. St. Helens is the most well known due to its eruption on May 18, 1980. Running around St. Helens offers evidence of how powerful the blast was. The Loowit (the ancestral name for Mt. St. Helens) Trail is 29 miles long and circumnavigates the mountain. There are no access points to the Loowit, so it must be accessed from another trail.
- June Lake (Shortest entrance)
- Marble Mountain Sno Park (244) – Volcanic 50 start
- Climber’s Bivouac (Ptarmigan Trail) – FKT start
- Butte Camp
- Sheep Canyon
- Toutle River
- Castle Ridge
- Truman Trail (From Johnston Ridge & Windy Pass)
- Ape Canyon
Pick a trail and expect a long day. Besides the more than 7000′ feet of climbing, the trails are technical and sandy. There are two large lava fields (Worm and Swift Creek Flows) on the south side that are guided by cairns and posts. Ropes are required to repel and climb the Toutle River crossing in the northwest section.
“In terms of elevation profile and length, this one doesn’t seem terribly demanding, but it’s so rugged, rocky, and twisty that it really chews you up,” says Tyler Green, the only person to complete the loop under 5 hours. “The other challenge is the exposure to the sun for most of the route, so I like to make sure there’s a good amount of cloud cover when I run this one. When you run through the blast zone, how cool is it that you run on rocks that were once in the middle of the mountain?!”
Most of the Loowit Trail is exposed, so lots of water and sunscreen is needed. The Toutle River is very sandy, but one of only a few water access points. A spring below the blast zone requires no filter. Water can be filtered from the Muddy River on the east side just south of Ape Canyon.
Depending on the time of year, wild strawberries and huckleberries provide some yummy goodness. Wildflowers bloom around the second half of July.
Expect to see elk below in the pumice plain and mountain goats near Crescent Ridge and the Lava Dome. The Breach is the name of the top of the blast zone near the crater and can be seen from Studebaker Ridge to Windy Pass. East of Windy Pass is the Plains of Abraham a short stretch of runnable, sandy trails to Ape Canyon. Chocolate Falls flows from Swift Creek, Loowit Falls from Loowit Creek, and June Lake Falls can all be seen from Loowit Trail.
A great way to run this trail is to do it with aid stations at the Volcanic 50 race held the first Saturday in August. It’s a prerequisite to run at least one 50k prior because of the difficulty of the course.
The FKT for the Loowit trail has been broken four times since July of 2019. See JT Lehman’s FKT from last month through the lens of Steven Mortinson on the video in the title.