Monday, August 2, 2010

Mt St Helens Circumnav

Not sure how many times I've run the Loowit Trail around Mt St Helens. And I'm not sure why I like that trail so much. I think it is just the beauty of the area...but also the diversity for which the trail offers....all single track, steep climbs (not too long), boulder fields, stream crossings, a little route finding, etc. The trail is approximently 32+/-miles in length. My fastest time to date was 6hrs 10mins. This was a few years ago when I couldn't even fathom running much longer....but also it was before the rains from 2006 hit the Northwest and caused some massive slides in the area and a number of "detours" were developed to cross over some major washouts.
Nick was eager to take another stab at the trail. His first major ultra run was last summer with Joe Grant. It sounded like an epic run that lasted 10hrs with a significant amount of suffering. Luckily the run didn't dissuade him from running long again.

I picked Nick up at his house at 0330 and made quick time to the June Lake Trailhead. I'm grateful for Nick's flexibility in the early wakeup call. With 2 kids and a wife back at home, these days which have longer runs start rather early. Thanks buddy!

We started right at 0530. We ran into some campers that were already awake at June Lake. We made the ascent up to the trail that is the main route up to the summit in short order - about an hour.

It was rather pleasant out. There was a ever-so slight mist starting out but as we climbed the clouds started to part and got some glimpses of blue sky. As we made our way around the west side of the mountain, the clouds cleared. We came across a lone hiker who had started the day previous and was also doing the entire loop. We chatted for a few minutes. Soon after, we stopped 9 elk that were scrampering along. It was really neat to see.

The descent down to the Toutle River was nice. We stopped to take a few photos.

At the river, we stopped to fill up our water bottles and dropped a Nuun tablet. Just as we crossed the river, we came across a father and son. They were contemplating how they were going to get down to the river. The "trail" down to the river is rather steep and involves just a little down climbing. I told them that this was the worst of the stream crossings. Again, we chatted for about 2 minutes and we were on our way. I think we made it to the river in 2hrs 45mins.

The steep ascent up to the NW side of the mountain was a grinder. It reminded us of the ascent up to Bull Wheel at Tahoe 50/100....steep, sandy. Even tho our legs were a bit fresher than at Tahoe, it still was seemed steep.

We cruised the trail on the NW/N sides of the mountain. For some reason, this part of the trail always takes longer than what I would expect. Just lots of undulations in the trail as well as steep, rocky, short descents and a little meandering to follow the trail through the blast zone. We filled our bottles at a creek and proceeded to make it to Windy Pass, the high point of the route at 4885ft right at 5hrs. I was struggling a little bit at this point and had to take in a Clif Bar. For just having finished Tahoe 100 just two weeks ago, my legs were feeling pretty good. (Sorry for the 2 video making skills are, let's just say lacking.)

The run on the Plains of Abraham was great. We pushed the pace during this segment as the trail widens and feels more like a compacted, sandy road. We came across 2 mountain bikers and 4 hikers. I'd never seen more than 6 people at any given time on this trail before.

The last 6 miles to June Lake went by fast. However my left knee was throbbing making the downhills a little painful. We blazed past a few more hikers/climbers on their way up to June Lake. We touch the trailhead sign, making our circumnav of Mt St Helens in 6hrs 50mins. Not bad!

Nick, thanks for a great run!