Running Around Mt. Saint Helens

After running around Mt. St Helens in September of 2000, I put my photos up on this website. A whole bunch of people came to look at them. Not surprisingly, there is fair amount of interest in doing this run. Rather than focusing on the one run we did, I thought I'd give some general information for others who would like to do this run.

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When To Do This Run

Mt. St. Helens is a popular location for cross country skiing so you are not going to do this in the winter. There are also a few creek crossing so you need to wait long enough for creeks to get down to a reasonable size. Generally this is runnable from late June through September. Depending on the year you may be able to run it earlier or later.

Realize that for the majority of this run you are totally exposed. Only a small section of the trail is in the trees. So, if the weather is severe you are going to be fully exposed to it. If there is any chance of rain then I'd recommend bringing along at least a garbage bag. It may get quite hot too. My running friend Stacey recommends bringing a white shirt to soak in stream crossing in for hot days.

General Route Information

The map below shows the route for the run. The start is at the June Lake Trailhead, you go up a couple of miles and then get onto Trail 216, the Loowit Trail. It's 1.7 miles up to the Loowit and 27.7 miles for the loop. Overall you end up doing 1.7+27.7+1.7=31.1 miles. The cummulative gain is ~6000 feet (measured with an Altimeter) We ran around the mountain in a counter clockwise direction. This seemed to work out OK. Going this way we got to the lava fields at the end of the run when we felt like going slower anyway. But there is no problem running the route in either direction.

Route finding is reasonable. There are a number of sections where the trail is just going from cairn to cairn. Provided you are reasonably attentive this is pretty straightforward. You cross a few canyons where you are walking along a narrow dirt/scree trail. Some of these sections can be a little unnerving (there is the potential to fall and hurt yourself). Because of this I would not recommend doing this run solo. Just after sheep canyon there is also a section where the canyon crossign is out. The last time I went there it was marked with flags. Follow the flags down to a safe place to cross the canyon. This will add about 15-30 minutes on to your run.

You do need to bring a map though and I recommend studying it before heading out. There are a few sections where you have trail junctions and it helps a lot if you are already familiar with the map. We studied the map and about the only place we could have gotten lost was near the Winter Climbing Route. The Loowit trail and the climbing route share the same path for a while. You follow poles down the mountain and had to turn off onto the Loowit trail. Even this wasn't too big of a deal, worst case you hit the road at a different spot.

As far as water, you can depend on finding water at June Lake, a spring at mile 10 , Loowit falls (North side) and Toutle River (East side). In addition, on the day we went we found a few smaller streams on the West side. The only water spots you can count on are those listed in the table below. The longest section without water is from Toutle River on it. You may go all the way to June Lake before getting water. If it is hot out, I'd recommend 3 qts (96 oz) of water for thi section

Maps and Reference Information

Equipment
This is going to be a long day. Make sure you bring your 10 Essentials along.

Maps
As mentioned above you do need to bring a map for this run. At the very least you should get the Green Trails 364S map. This is a close up map of St Helens.

Geo-Graphics has a Mount St. Helens recreation map which might also be useful. This map is probably too big to bring with you though.

For details on the trail, I'd recommend getting Klindt Veilbig's book A complete Guide Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. This book is a good overall reference. It has maps, driving information,description of each section of trail, campground info, etc. This Amazon.com link may take you straight to info on this book.

Weather
You probably want to check the weather before heading out. Cougar Washington seems to be the closest town with any weather information. This weather.com link may take you straight to weather info.

Ranger
It's a good idea to check with the ranger before heading up to find out if there are any trail closures or other info. The number for the visitors center on Johnston Ridge is (360)274-2100.

Mileage Splits and Time Estimate

The table below gives split distances and times for our run. We had a group of reasonably experience ultra runners. I've seen all sorts of times for this run. Some folks do it under 9 hours. Many take 10-12 and fast hikers can easily be out for 16 hours.

Pt Elev Split Mileage Overall Split Time Overall Notes
June Lake Trailhead
2710
0.0
0.0
0:00
0:00
 
Tr 216 - Loowit Trail
3400
1.7
1.7
25:00
25:00
 
Muddy River Crossing
 
 
5?
 
 
Silty Water
Jct Tr 234 Ape Canyon
4200
4.7
6.4
1:31:52
1:56:52
 
Jct Tr 216D - Abraham
4400
1.8
8.2
0:28:08
2:25:00
 
Windy Pass
4885
 
 
 
 
High pt
Windy Trail 216E (to Truman)
4300
2.0
10.2
 
 
 
Natural Spring
 
 
11?
 
 
Spring straight out of rock, good water
Loowit Falls 216F
4400
1.3
11.5
 
 
Silty water
Jct Tr 216G - Castle Ridge
4000
6.5
18.0
2:43:05
5:08::06
 
Toutle River (low pt of loop)   
3220
 
 
 
 
Drinking water-last chance for 10 miles
Jct Tr 240 - Sheep Canyon
4600
4.0
22.0
1:22:13
6:30:20
Climb to 4800 feet out of Toutle
Jct Tr 238A - Butte Camp
4780
2.1
24.1
0:39:50
7:10:10
 
Jct Tr 216A - Ptarmigan
4700
2.2
26.3
0:51:50
8:02:01
 
Jct Tr 216B - June Lake
3400
3.1
29.4
1:00:22
9:02:33
Drinking Water
June Lake Trailhead
2710
1.7
31.1
0:18:40
9:21:03
 

The section from Butte Camp on in takes longer than the mileage would indicate. The lava flows are slow to cross.

Driving Directions

It's about 70 miles from downtown Portland to June Lake Trailhead. It takes about 1 hour 45 minutes to drive this.


Take exit 21 from I-5 north, Turn onto SR 503
Follow 503 East for 21-23 miles
At Jack's Restuarant (climber registration) take 503 Spur to the town of Cougar
Drive through Cougar and the road becomes FR90.
At this point you want to follow the signs to Ape Caves and Lava Canyon. June Lake trailhead is a few miles before Lava Canyon.
Follow FR90 for 6.9 to FR83.
Take left on FR83.
There are milepost markers onf FR83. The June Lake Trailhead is 7.1 miles down this road. The trailhead is clearly marked.
To park at June Lake you must have a Northwest Forest Pass.

Pictures

I took many pictures of the trail when we ran it. Overall there are 91 pictures. You can get a good sense for the trail by clicking on the shots. So that your web browser does not get overloaded, I've split these shots into five sections.

For each picture, you can click on the picture to bring up a large full resolution shot (but this may take a while to load).


NOTE: This page contains running information for experienced ultra runners. Experience ultra runners are people who have already completed 50K, 50Mile or longer ultramarathons. The advice on this page is not directed towards hikers or typical 10k recreational runners. No guarantee is made about the accuracy of maps or information on this page. This page is only intended as a starting point for your own research on places to run. Always check route information yourself and be prepared.


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