Mt. St. Helens
After running around Mt. St Helens in September of 2000, I put my photos up on this website. A whole bunch of people came to look at them. Not surprisingly, there is fair amount of interest in doing this run. Rather than focusing on the one run we did, I thought I'd give some general information for others who would like to do this run.
Mountain Forecast weather 6500' level
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When To Do This Run
Mt. St. Helens is a popular location for cross country skiing so you are not going to do this in the winter. There are also a few creek crossing so you need to wait long enough for creeks to get down to a reasonable size. Generally this is runnable from late June through September. Depending on the year you may be able to run it earlier or later.
Realize that for the majority of this run you are totally exposed. Only a small section of the trail is in the trees. So, if the weather is severe you are going to be fully exposed to it. If there is any chance of rain then I'd recommend bringing along at least a garbage bag. It may get quite hot too. My running friend Stacey recommends bringing a white shirt to soak in stream crossing in for hot days.
General Route Information
The map below shows the route for the run. The start is at the June Lake Trailhead, you go up a couple of miles and then get onto Trail 216, the Loowit Trail. It's 1.7 miles up to the Loowit and 27.7 miles for the loop. Overall you end up doing 1.7+27.7+1.7=31.1 miles. The cumulative gain is ~6000 feet (measured with an Altimeter) We ran around the mountain in a counter clockwise direction. This seemed to work out OK. Going this way we got to the lava fields at the end of the run when we felt like going slower anyway. But there is no problem running the route in either direction.
The route. Start at June Lake trailhead, run up to the Loowit trail. Run around the mountain and back down June Lake. This map is from Kindt Vielbigs book, A complete guide Mount St. Helens.
Route finding is reasonable. There are a number of sections where the trail is just going from cairn to cairn. Provided you are reasonably attentive this is pretty straightforward. You cross a few canyons where you are walking along a narrow dirt/scree trail. Some of these sections can be a little unnerving (there is the potential to fall and hurt yourself). Because of this I would not recommend doing this run solo. Just after sheep canyon there is also a section where the canyon crossing is out. The last time I went there it was marked with flags. Follow the flags down to a safe place to cross the canyon. This will add about 15-30 minutes on to your run.
You do need to bring a map though and I recommend studying it before heading out. There are a few sections where you have trail junctions and it helps a lot if you are already familiar with the map. We studied the map and about the only place we could have gotten lost was near the Winter Climbing Route. The Loowit trail and the climbing route share the same path for a while. You follow poles down the mountain and had to turn off onto the Loowit trail. Even this wasn't too big of a deal, worst case you hit the road at a different spot.
As far as water, you can depend on finding water at June Lake, a spring at mile 10 , Loowit falls (North side) and Toutle River (East side). In addition, on the day we went we found a few smaller streams on the West side. The only water spots you can count on are those listed in the table below. The longest section without water is from Toutle River on it. You may go all the way to June Lake before getting water. If it is hot out, I'd recommend 3 qts (96 oz) of water for this section
Maps and Reference Information
This is going to be a long day. Make sure you bring your 10 Essentials along.
As mentioned above you do need to bring a map for this run. At the very least you should get the Green Trails 364S map. This is a close up map of St Helens.
Geo-Graphics has a Mount St. Helens recreation map which might also be useful. This map is probably too big to bring with you though.
For details on the trail, I'd recommend getting Klindt Veilbig's book A complete Guide Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. This book is a good overall reference. It has maps, driving information,description of each section of trail, campground info, etc. This Amazon.com link may take you straight to info on this book.
You probably want to check the weather before heading out. Cougar Washington seems to be the closest town with any weather information. This weather.com link may take you straight to weather info.
It's a good idea to check with the ranger before heading up to find out if there are any trail closures or other info. The number for the visitors center on Johnston Ridge is (360)274-2100.
Mileage Splits and Time Estimate
The table below gives split distances and times for our run. We had a group of reasonably experience ultra runners. I've seen all sorts of times for this run. Some folks do it under 9 hours. Many take 10-12 and fast hikers can easily be out for 16 hours.
The section from Butte Camp on in takes longer than the mileage would indicate. The lava flows are slow to cross.
It's about 70 miles from downtown Portland to June Lake Trailhead. It takes about 1 hour 45 minutes to drive this.
Take exit 21 from I-5 north, Turn onto SR 503
Follow 503 East for 21-23 miles
At Jack's Restuarant (climber registration) take 503 Spur to the town of Cougar
Drive through Cougar and the road becomes FR90.
At this point you want to follow the signs to Ape Caves and Lava Canyon. June Lake trailhead is a few miles before Lava Canyon.
Follow FR90 for 6.9 to FR83.
Take left on FR83.
There are milepost markers onf FR83. The June Lake Trailhead is 7.1 miles down this road. The trailhead is clearly marked.
To park at June Lake you must have a Northwest Forest Pass.
I took many pictures of the trail when we ran it. Overall there are 91 pictures. You can get a good sense for the trail by clicking on the shots. So that your web browser does not get overloaded, I've split these shots into five sections.
For each picture, you can click on the picture to bring up a large full resolution shot (but this may take a while to load).
Oregon Hikers Guide
Comprehensive trip report with photos: http://www.oregonhikers.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=12475&sid=aa02f5f7ba4f86fa863e43779be4e1df
5 Aug 2012
The route was passable all the way around. We picked to run counter clockwise direction starting and finising at June Lake parking lot. This was my first time so I don't have previous trips as a reference. There are places where the trail is unclear or misleading. On the north side especially be careful going through gullies that you pick up where the trail is going before committing to one direction or another. On the south side, there is a misleading cairn crossing the winter climbing route that we took to be marked for Loowit, but is really not so we had to reclimb some elevation. Thankfully as we were going down it there was a ski trail sign that caused us to give pause about the route. In some of the places where the trail is not worn into the ground there are some pink flagging ribbons to show the way.
Going down to the Toutle River was fairly interesting plunging through the scree but it is clear where to go. Comparing my gps track to the trail maps, it looks like this now goes down the Toutle Trail, ford the river, then some pink-flagged bushwacking to reconnect to the Loowit on a good climb up through the forest; we were accompanied by biting flies.
There were some small snow patch crossings but none that were too daunting. Some of the creek crossing were a bit exciting with knee deep water. Compared to the Portland Hiker report with pictures, the water seemed to be higher now, not lower and perhaps more frequent. There were plenty of chances to pump/filter water, we each went through about 2 gallons of water total on the 2nd hottest day of the year. GPS indicated a total distance starting/finishing from June Lake parking lot of 31.6 miles, and we had to do about 3/4 mile extra due to going off route a couple times.