During late July, 2012, I took a couple of co-workers on a small backpack trip to Mt. St. Helens. I had been putting off trips there for years since I always assumed it had a homogenous landscape, was busy with tourists, and that special permits were required. I was pleasantly wrong on all accounts.
To begin with, no special fees or permits are required for lower elevation wilderness travel. All you need is a Northwest Forest Pass or Snow Park pass to parking, which you can purchase at the US Outdoor. Climbing fees and permits are only necessary for those who are attempting to summit the mountain. When the mountain is snow covered in winter and spring, the fee required is worth the price considering the pristine nature of the Mountain. The neat thing about Mt. St. Helen’s is that hikers reach timberline below 5000 feet. This makes accessing alpine environments less arduous than many of the other volcanoes in the area.
Regarding monotonous unchanging terrain, the mountain has undergone a massive transformation since it’s eruption on May 18, 1980. The trail systems include canyons, waterfalls, old growth hemlock forests, prairies, grasslands, and alpine flower environments. Traveling paints a picture of the destruction and rebirth of the many ecosystems surrounding the Mountain. Evidence of the explosion is apparent everywhere, but so is the magnificent succession of new species reoccupying the landscape. The flowers and ground covers are more diverse than any of the other Cascade volcanoes I’ve hiked. The dust and ash I expected instead seemed to nourish a rich botanical diversity with unique textures and color tones. The story that unfolds as you hike provides a new dimension to backpacking that no other wilderness can match.
Finally. Privacy. We all want to know where the secret places are that no one else goes. They don’t exist as we envision them. However, my visits to Mt. St. Helens typically include fewer visitors than I expect. My vision of tourists swarming the mountain has vanished. The only people I see are nature lovers with a mellow attitude and an appreciation for the beauty of the land. No ski lifts. No cash hungry mountain towns. Just the Mountain its self. Camp sites are available, and use is minimal. Serenity abounds at Mt. St. Helens during all four seasons. Hiking, mountain biking, skiing, and mountaineering all await those who choose to venture out.
If you have not yet hiked around Mt. St. Helens, then a wonderful opportunity awaits. A great way to see the whole mountain is the Loowit Trail. It circles the entire mountain, and offers views of all the amazing features and ecosystems surrounding the dramatic history of the place. Of course, any supplies or gear needed to maximize your experience can be found at US Outdoor.
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