- Elevation: 4,665 feet
- Distance: 9.6 miles
- Parking is free with climbing permit
The first time we hiked Mt St Helens (MSH) was for Aaron's birthday last year (July 8th). We hiked it with Aaron's brother, Seth, and his lovely wife, Jennie. This year, we hiked with friends Maria, Jake and Nate. We arrived at the climbers bivouac (I love that word) around 7pm on Friday night after battling traffic. We got our fire going to so that we could cook dinner. It was a clear night and the stars proved to be shinning bright. Maria, Jake and I hit the hay relatively early. Aaron and Nate stayed up drinking beers, and I fell asleep listening to their alcohol influenced conversation about galaxies far away and "weird dark matter that is surrounding the universe and making it expand infinitely." We all got up around 5am on Saturday and quickly got to work cleaning up camp. Maria made us an amazing hot breakfast of potatoes and eggs with the works. We hit the trail at 7:11 and started our trek through the woods. From the trailhead, it's 2.25 miles to the start of the Monitor Ridge trail. Permits are required to hike above 4,800 feet. This is important: if you plan to hike MSH, you need to get your permit ($22) the day they go on sale. If you want to hike on a weekend in the summer, you need to get your permit within the first 10 minutes. They are limited to 100 hikers/day and they sell out fast.
Last year, we were on the trailhead at 6am. I would recommend leaving at this time. It makes for better views at sunrise. And, if you're a slower hiker like me, you will have plenty of time to reach the summit and get back down in time to grab pizza at the Lone-Fir in Cougar. The first portion of the hike is a 2 mile (900 feet) stroll through woods. Upon leaving the forest, you'll immediately happen upon piles of boulders, and remember that you're hiking the most active volcano in the Cascade mountain range. You'll traverse a few switchbacks and then hit the Monitor Ridge Trail. After this, any vegetation will be sparse. Pumice and sharp boulders, however, will be plentiful.
After hiking up an ash ridden ridge, you'll come across the boulder fields. At this point, ditch your poles, put on gloves with a grip and start climbing. Personally, I prefer this over walking up ash that slides under your feet. Views improve of both Mt Adams and Mt Hood during the entire ascent. You're quickly above the clouds so even if the mountains are unseen from Portland, you'll be lucky enough to keep the views.
During the hike, you'll go through several wardrobe changes. Both times, I wore every layer and article of clothing that I brought with. Weather changes quick on mountains. When we hiked it in 2013, it was much sunnier, however, colder. This year, we felt the wrath of the wind gods. I think it took us longer to hike because the wind would come on so strong, we had to hunker down and brace ourselves until it passed. We were also slightly delayed as Nate was enamored with the inside of a glacier. After completing the boulder field, you lie your eyes on the only thing between you and the summit: a steeply graded 1,000 foot gain of sand-like ash. It's a good idea to find a boulder in the distance as a goal to take your next break. Before you know it, you'll be at the top!
Take in the views at top and fuel up for the descent. A fun option is to glissade down the glacier. It is awesome. The best way is to bring up a large trash-bag to don as a diaper (just kick threw two holes out the bottom). You may have some bruises on your bottom (an actual bone bruise if you're Seth), but when are you going to get another chance to sled down a volcano?
After your hike, head to the Lone-Fir in Cougar to sign out that you made it off the mountain. Since Portland is a bit of a drive back, it's wise to eat pizza here as you will be famished. It's not the best but it doesn't have to be when you're that hungry.
We left after work on Thursday for the holiday weekend. We headed straight to our campsite at the Kalaloch Campground on the Washington coast. It was a 4 hour drive, and we arrived to our campsite around 11:00pm. The closest town is Aberdeen; Kurt Cobain's hometown.
We were able to find enough wood around the site to build a small fire that would last a few hours. The campground was full, but we were lucky that our site was pretty secluded and had a path with direct access to the ocean. I was really excited to get some night shots with my newly purchased tripod. When we got to the ocean, the above picture was the view. The half-moon was bright orange and hovering just above the horizon. I got the camera set up in time to take 2 pictures before the moon disappeared behind clouds. The stars there were the best I had seen in years, and we had the whole beach to ourselves. I will definitely return to this spot. We took a short walk in the morning, packed up our things, and continued on.
The drive from Kalaloch to Sol Duc Resort is somewhat anti-climactic. Although, Aaron and I were in a parade for the 2nd time this year. The first time, we drove through downtown Portland with Mary and Kara just before the Rose Festival Parade. There were hundreds of people lined up, a lot of them waving to us. This time, we found ourselves in the middle of the Forks 4th of July celebration. It was quite a different scene. Everyone was sitting in the beds of their pick-up trucks eating fried gas-station food. I tried waving but only received confused stares in return. The bottom line: I wouldn't go out of my way to Forks just because of the Twilight series. It's not cool.
We reached the ranger station nearest to our entering point. The ranger, Carl, was very helpful and assisted with changing our permits so that we could camp at Deer Lake in lieu of the fact that our planned hike to Hoh Lake was still under snow. We decided against the possibility of falling and injuring ourselves and chose to camp at Deer Lake. We parked at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort and began our hike. We started at the Mink Lake trailhead (also one end of the Lovers Lane Trail). We could have driven to the end of the road (the Sol Duc Falls trailhead) and cut the hike by 2 miles, but we were ambitious and Aaron really wanted to hike Lovers Lane with me :) After 3 miles, we reached Sol Duc Falls.
After a short stop at the falls, we continued toward Deer Lake. This is where the elevation started. We had another 3.5 miles to hike and 1,600 feet to gain. The trail is rocky and is a steady incline. This proved to be difficult for me as it was my first time hiking with a large pack. There was a fine mist falling; just enough to make the trail slightly more difficult. We took plenty of breaks. There are 2 camping spots along the way, which is an easier option. The sites looked nice, and were nestled along Canyon Creek. We reached Deer Lake at 5:30pm, a total of 5.5 hours of hiking (with all of the breaks and stopping by the waterfalls). We chose a really cute campsite that was very isolated. I suppose all of the sites are isolated up there. We had to cross a narrow board over a marshy area to get to the spot. It had some overhead coverage, which was quite helpful as it was still drizzling rain. We set up camp and then started dinner.
It was my first time eating dehydrated food, and - at the time - the pad thai was the greatest meal of my life. I was cold and quite hungry. Having a hot meal made all the difference. Also, the Biolite saved my sanity that night. It was 6:30 when we were done eating and we had about 4 hours left of sunlight. We weren't permitted to have a campfire above 3,500 feet, so we busied ourselves by feeding the Biolite and seeing how big of a fire we could make. We did this for 2 hours until hitting the tent. We both fell asleep before 9:00pm. I dreamed about bears that night. They were the only bears I saw all weekend.
In the morning, we decided to pack up and head out a day early. Any day hike we could do, was still covered in snow. Lesson learned: don't go to Olympic National Park until later in the summer. Also, bring a deck of cards or some dice or paper and a pen.... something, anything to pass the time! The hike we really wanted to do was the High Divide. It was unreachable at this time of the year. We made a loop hike on the way out, passing Mink Lake. This hike was preferred by both of us to the hike on the first day. We had some panoramic views of the countryside, and we saw a small family of deer about 7 or 8 miles into the back-country. We only saw 2 other hikers on this trail. We didn't start seeing people again until we hit Mink Lake. The total distance of the loop was about 14 miles.
We drove northeast to the Crescent Lake Lodge and had a beer. There are a dozen or so cabins on the lake which is an option for the less outdoorsy person. We had dinner and spent the night in Port Angeles. The next day, we drove up to Hurricane Ridge. As the first time I went, it is very busy with people and deer. There are a few short, paved trails as well as a 3 mile round trip trail called Hurricane Hill. Because we were tired, and it was slightly cloudy so the mountains were partially covered, we didn't hike that day. We also drove up a four-mile-long forest road to reach the Mt. Walker viewpoint. It was worth the slow-going drive even on a cloudy day, as the Seattle metro area was in view in the far distance. On a clear day you can see Mt. Rainier, the Space Needle, Puget Sound, and Mount Baker. We made a few side trips on the drive home; including a stop at our favorite sushi spot in Kelso.
The Hike: Mink Lake trailhead --> Lovers Lane -->Deer Lake --> Mink Lake --> Mink Lake trailhead
I moved to the Pacific Northwest in August of 2012. I quickly identified myself as a hiker. I want to document my experiences so that I can refer to them for myself and others to provide the best hiking experience. I also hope to learn more about hiking from others comments and recommendations.