Sunday, August 29, 2021

Hike: Loowit Trail via June Lake, Mt St Helens, WA

AllTrails maps

Getting There

Take the Lewis River Road from Woodland passed Merwin & Yale Lakes, through Cougar and take Lava Canyon Road. About 1.0mi passed the Marble Mountain Sno-Park is the June Lake Trailhead. The actual trailhead only has room for 3-4 cars but there's plenty of parking along the June Lake Trailhead Road (NF-250).

The Hike

Distance: 9.71 mi
Elevation Gain: 2,044 ft
Moving Time: 4:20:31
Total Time: 4:40:15
Avg Pace: 26:51
: 2,295

This is epic, my new favorite trail around MSH. 

It's about 1.5mi to June Lake on a nice gradual climb forest trail (~500' gain). The lake looked pretty swampy. This time of year the waterfall is barely a trickle.

June Lake, WA

To get to the Loowit Trail, follow the clearing in the bushes to the left of the lake access path. I kind of got lost around here and had to get out AllTrails. I was somewhere between the Pike Trail and switchbacks to head north.

Center: June Lake

It's another 0.2mi to the junction Loowit (west to Ptarmigan Trail, north to Pumice Butte/Ape Canyon).

For another 1.1mi you skirt the edge of the old forest. It's mind boggling to realize that 41 years ago, the boulder field just a few feet away way moving blob of rocks, mud, slushy snow, water (lahar) just obliterating everything in its path.

You emerge from the trees and onto the edge of this immense debris field for a bit and I got a look ahead, hoping this trail offered more than just dense trees. It was mildly claustrophobic. 

Skirting the debris field until climbing out onto it

(Middle of the photo above): When you do get out of the trees, it's a steady climb up the rocks.

For a long time it seemed like I was close to Pumice Butte but then the trail would wrap way around and down and back up and I was only a little bit closer. Haha. No matter, it's so amazing to hike with MSH over my shoulder, quietly towering above. 

On the edge of the debris field

Holy cow! It's not particularly difficult, elevation-wise, but the trail surface is brutal and slow going. There are long stretch of dirt/gravel but there are sections of grapefruit sized rocks where you really have to be careful which ones are stationary and others move. I was pretty careful to NOT "Aron Ralston" myself. 

I passed 3 or 4 groups (trios and pairs) heading south.

While I got a pretty good start on the day (around 12noon on the trail), I wanted to make sure I made it back to the car by 5ish since it's on the east side of the mountain and would be getting darker in the trees.

I came to a huge ravine crossing. It wasn't particularly hard but I was still 2-30min from Pumice Butte. I could see the seismic equipment at the top of the Ape Canyon Trail but the lack of landmarks makes it difficult to judge the distance.

There was a perfect sitting rock. Next time I'll going the whole way.

The big ravine and the sitting rock

I stopped for a few minutes to admire the view and watch an avalanche way up at the rim.

On my way back I passed a trio going north. It was slow, steady progress. I'd passed some critters in the bushes on the way out so I got out my little speaker with Alan Watts lectures. Instead of talking to myself I let him speak for me. (Human voices are probably better than bells to announce yourself to fauna.) One of the critters was pretty large and squeaked in alarm when I went by, obviously right off the trail. I'm not sure if marmots live in the blast zone and it wasn't a bird. 

Down in the forest part of the hike, it looked like there were animal trails everywhere and spots that looked like bedding for larger mammals. Another reason I didn't want to pass through in the late afternoon.

Traversing the rock/debris field

Mt Adams from the Loowit Trail


MSH just before a snow crossing

The big ravine where I turned around

Mt Rainier, Pumice Butte from the Loowit Trail

The trail across the ravine

Loowit Trail

MSH + Loowit Trail


Another view of Mt Adams

Loowit Trail heading to June Lake

Loowit Trail

The Debris field and ridge near Ptarmigan Trail


Post Hike Drive

Instead of taking Lava Canyon Road (NF-83), back to the Lewis River Road (SR-503), I detoured at NF-81 (which is the turn for Climber's Bivouac) and took it passed the Red Rock Pass Trailhead and Merrill Lake and puts you back on the main road west of Cougar @ Yale Lake.

Definitely adding the Red Rock Pass/Butte Camp Dome hike to my hiking 'short list'. Lots of open camp spots after NF-830 (Road to Climber's Bivouac).

Merrill Lake loop