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Backpacker Magazine – October 2009

Rip & Go: Loowit Trail - Mt. St. Helens National Monument, WA

Tackle a challenging, rocky route in the shadow of America's most famous volcano.

by: Adrienne Saia Isaac

Lupin-filled view of the Summit Crater (Tomas Kaspar)
Lupin-filled view of the Summit Crater (Tomas Kaspar)

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Key Gear
Scree and other debris, river crossings, and often-soggy meadows make gaiters mandatory on this route. The extra layer also prevents volcanic sand from getting into your boots; left unchecked, the grit increases your risk of blisters. In summer, go for a lightweight, breathable, ankle-high pair, like the four-ounce, softshell Flex-Tex Gaiters from Outdoor Research. For shoulder seasons, we like the Gore-Tex-fortified Crocodile, which won an Editors' Choice Gold Award in 1999 ($35 and $65, respectively, Forgot your gaiters? Cut the toes off an old pair of socks and stretch them over your boots, with the elastic end around your ankle. The improv is not waterproof–and definitely not stylish–but it will keep debris and fine cinders out of your boots.

See This
Prairie Lupine This high-altitude plant, native to Washington, brings nutrients to the pumice plains by absorbing atmospheric nitrogen and transferring it to the soil, making it possible for larger plants to thrive. Prairie lupine also provides a food source for roaming herbivores, which transport the seeds of this and other plants with their scat. This small, sturdy wildflower is a key player in post-eruption reforestation.

Locals Know
Mt. St. Helens erupts once every century or two, making it the most active of the Cascade volcanoes. One very visible result: a relative dearth of high-country trees. The treeline on Mt. St. Helens is 1,500 to 3,000 feet lower than on other Cascade volcanoes like Adams, Rainier, and Hood. "It's a quick, easy way to eyeball how historically active any volcano is, not just in the Cascades," says Peter Frenzen, monument scientist at Mt. St. Helens National Monument. Between eruptions, various trees, including conifers, gradually reestablish themselves on the slopes. The southern section of the Loowit Trail runs close to the treeline, with bare spots marking 2,000-year-old lava flows. "If weather is dicey, stick to that side and do an out-and-back, since it's less exposed, which makes it easier to find cover," says Frenzen.

Camp Chat
Ape Canyon, at mile 4.7, isn't misleadingly named–it marks the site where gold prospector Fred Beck experienced an "ape-man attack" in July 1924. Three giant, hairy ape-men laid siege to the miner's cabin, banging and howling through the night. At dawn, the attack subsided and Beck emerged with a gun, allegedly shooting one and causing it to fall off of a cliff, never to be seen again. Discuss: Do you believe that supernatural creatures like Beck's "ape-man" live in the backcountry?

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Reader Rating: -


Oct 07, 2012

Exactly what I wanted to know. St Helens is on the list for backpacking trips next summer, but the Nat Geo map bought at REI doesn't show camp spots of any kind, so I didn't know if camping was allowed...

Nov 17, 2009

re: ape canyon and its' residents.
yes, they most definitely exist. i have heard one scream and it will chill the blood in your veins. but they are mostly harmless. go to the bfro website ( and read a few of the sighting reports. very interesting stuff.


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