Backpacking the Loowit Trail

Don’t do it. Just don’t. Just kidding but for reals, there’s truth in every joke. The Loowit trail is a 35-mile hike circumnavigating the base of Mount St. Helens. We hiked it over Memorial Day at the end of May 2016 and it was NOT my ideal way to spend a holiday weekend. Here is the scoop on the trail.

The Good:

  • Mt. Saint Helens is exceptionally beautiful and interesting. And it is amazing to see the mountain from every angle.
  • Walking through the lava fields is somber and majestic. One person working in the observatory died during the eruption in 1980 and very few people forget where they were at the moment they heard the news. Seeing the aftermath is an experience of itself (although also possible to do in the visitors center).

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The Bad:

  • It’s not a trail. IT’S NOT A TRAIL! Well, parts of it aren’t. We read that parts of the trail were “washed out” however as I was traversing down a canyon on a steep cliff crying and yelling “THIS IS NOT A ‘TRAIL’” I would not have referred to it as “washed out”. I would have referred to it as “nonexistent”. If you don’t have go-go-gadget trail finding skills or lady-balls-of-steel, certain parts of the trail will be horrifying. To be fair, the part of the trail I am referring to had an optional 2-mile round-about that I chose not to take for stupid pride reasons. Although that’s not the only part of the trail that involved tears, more to come.
  • At the time we hiked the trail there was snow. More snow than we were prepared for. There were parts of the trail that were cut into a steep mountainside with portions covered in snow/ice. One wrong step would result in a long, probably entertaining slide down to a very painful landing. At other times there were massive snowbanks that hid the trail. We would follow various sets of footprints until we found the ones that led to the correct place. THANK GOD FOR THE FOOTPRINTS (even though they often led us astray), I don’t know how we would have found our way without them.
  • We had plenty of water sources, but apparently during dryer times of the year that is a problem. When we were nearing the end of our hike we decided not to stop for water at the only river for miles and regretted it. A very friendly day hiker offered me hers (I didn’t REALLY need it but I get really nervy that I’ll be soooo thirsty if I don’t have it). Carry plenty of it, just in case.

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The Ugly:

  • We missed a turn. A disastrous turn. That resulted in us hiking along a very precarious ridgeline that apparently some adventure-seekers mountain bike (ARE YOU INSANE???). This resulted in beautiful pictures and some damp panties for a very petrified Val (just kidding, that’s gross).
  • There are SO MANY BEAUTIFUL HIKES IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST! If you’re looking for length, hike the Timberline Trail, if you are looking to scare yourself shitless, hike Munra Point, if you are looking for lovely flora and fauna hike Dog Mountain. I honestly don’t know why you would torture yourself with this particular hike. I’ll try anything once, but I’ll never do this hike again.

Lessons learned:

  • Bring cramp-ons or shoes with really good traction. You can purchase crampons that fit over your shoe and are fairly light to carry. Even if you don’t need them, peace of mind is priceless.
  • Bring a map, or compass, or something to help you avoid washed out trails or find your way through the snow.
  • Bring enough water and/or stop at every river and fill up. There are very long stretches with no water options and when you don’t have any water, all you can think about is water.
  • Just don’t do this hike. Take it from me, an expert. 

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