It always seems impossible until its’ done

That’s a quote from Nelson Mandella. I feel it fitting for this 31.65 mile trip around Mount St Helens in one day on the Loowit Trail. A trip which, gives my blog title and subtitle some legitimacy. You know, every “foot forward is a step in the right direction, stumbling is okay”. Well, there were a lot of steps – in fact 70,276 steps according to my garmin fenix watch. And definitely a few stumbles too. Who put that rock/root there anyway 🙂 Stumbling was quite possibly influenced not only by the 16 hour day, but also due to the lack of sleep the night before, which, once again, my garmin watch recorded as ‘poor’, giving it a rating of 45 out of 100. I think it was the full moon while cowboy camping. That didn’t help. No bugs however.

I was quite comfortable

We started from the June Lake Trailhead. Plenty of parking on a Thursday evening/night. Just a couple other cars. June Lake is the closest access to the Loowit – just 1-½ miles hike. June lake itself is not much and while there are places to tent camp, I didn’t find it all that inspiring. No toilet at the trailhead, but places to cowboy camp or sleep in your car. Also a nearby stream. Some folks choose to start at the Marble Mount Snow park or the climbers bivouac. Back in 2020, Jean and I backpacked in 3 days 2 nights, but started at Windy Ridge. Just a slightly longer approach. I’d been thinking of doing it one day since that trip. But could I do it? Could I go for 32 miles? Runners do it. But I’m not a runner like that. This year, my buddy and I have done a couple long hikes, so it sort of seemed possible. Sometimes, you just need to jump in with both feet!

5AM by headlamp so we can finish in daylight – sort of!
Mount Adams at Sunrise

On this hike, my buddy and I chose to hike counterclockwise so as to navigate the boulder field early, instead of on tired legs near the end. The boulders start around mile 2 and end around mile 7. Three or four significant sections of varied length of a ¼ mile to mile, and with sections broken up by forested or subalpine areas.

One of many boulder fields. The “way” is marked by white posts, and since a series of ultra races were run and still to be run, we had the benefit of some nice pink ribbons and the occasionally sign!

The fastest trail runners do it in about 5 hours. In fact the Fastest Known Time (FKT), is a 4 hours 59 minutes 54 seconds, starting from the Climbers Bivouac. At 16 hours, I think we set an SKT, slowest known time 🙂

It’s about 12 miles to the Toutle River and the first big water crossing. And reports had suggested it was the first water, however we found water at Chocolate Falls and again, in a small stream (look closely) above Butte Camp. The entire trail results in a 7,200′ gain and loss. It’s definitely not flat. And is home to many steep ravines, some of which have fixed ropes for aiding both down and up climbing. We got lucky and never had to remove our shoes for water crossings. Even on the Toutle. We found spots that were bareely doable with rock hopping.

Ready to go!
The Loowit is home to some of the most beautiful scenery
Looking at the headwaters of the South Fork, Toutle River

Before the Toutle River, we were passed by two fast hikers, slow runners who started about 45 minutes after us. Shortly after the Toutle, another solo guy from Colorado (James Lauriello) passed us. Turns out he’s an ultra runner. Those three were all we saw until the blast zone where one runner passed going the opposite direction, and then another couple near Loowit Falls. Once we got to the Plains of Abraham, we then started seeing some backpackers, but after that, again, we saw no one else.

We jogged a bit after the Toutle and through the blast zone, and again on the pumice plains. We just upped our pace form a walk really. Not trying to set any records. My legs just didn’t have any spring in their step for running. One has to be careful running trails because you risk tripping if you shuffle step and don’t lift your feet.

Water in the blast zone is very silty. But this “oasis” between Loowit Falls and Windy Ridge is clear, cold and plentiful.
We are losing the sun, but still lots of daylight. These ravines are massive. And they are tiring. And while one or two have water, it’s very silty.
Grazing our way through! We actually came across huckleberries more than once.

A last glimpse back before we started the last little climb and bigger descent.

We barely made it out with daylight. It turned out to be 16 hours car to car. No headlamp needed at the end, but by the time we cleaned up, it was dark. It was 9:00PM. 31.65 miles traveled. We both wore Altra Lone Peak 6 shoes. Mine were new. My feet were very tired. I kinda wish I’d worn my Hoka Speed Goats, but with all the uneven terrain, I felt that the lower center of gravity was better, even if I did sacrifice some comfort. When we got back to the parking lot it was jammed full. It turns out that the trail races were still happening. The week prior was the Volcano 50K and 25K ultra run. On Saturday, it was the Bigfoot 200 miler! Let’s just say, it was a zoo of cars at June Lake Trailhead and Marble Mount.

This was our third long hike of the year. We did 28 miles out of Staircase to First Divide and a scouting trip for Mount Hopper (no summit), and then 33 miles out of the North Fork Quinault to Low Divide. Both of the previous hikes took 15 hours. It’s clear that if I or we want to go longer, running is required. Being in running shape that is.

A few more photos

Summary

The Loowit is definitely a favorite trail. I can see more time spent here in the future. I’ve also completed an out and back from Johnston Ridge to the Pumice Plains for an overnight. The main water sources are Chocolate Falls (not sure if it dries up in the Fall or dry seasons), the Toutle, the Blast Zone (very silty), the Oasis (north of Windy Ridge), Pumice Butte, and the Muddy Creek and one other on the east flank, but also very silty. It was a 2.5 hour drive from Olympia. And all pavement, which makes it nice. By hour 13, I was kind of done. I really just wanted to sit down for an hour and rest my feet, but that would have meant an hour by headlamp. So, we pushed on. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of pushing on, as long as that push isn’t causing serous injury.

Have you ever been on a hike when you wanted to call it quits? Have you overcome the seemingly impossible?

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