Total Ascent: 5600ft
Highest Point: 8365ft
Total Distance: 10.6 miles
Location: N 46° 7.8397, W 122° 10.2888
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass; Climbing Permit
Just a few weeks after we climbed off the summit of Mt. Rainier, we had planned to take on another large peak and penciled it for sometime this summer. For the last several months, as we’ve sat down to plan out our hikes, the details slowly fell into place – we reconnected with some of the folks we climbed Rainier with, picked out our mountain, and did all the necessary paperwork to find ourselves in the Marble Mountain Sno-Park near the base of Mt. St. Helens at five am on a cloudy Monday morning. Lingering snows kept the more popular Climbers Bivouac route officially closed; we instead chose to follow the Worm Flows route to the summit, so named for the rivers of rocky lava that the path traverses.
Known in native languages as Louwala-Clough or “smoking mountain”, Mt. St. Helens was named in 1792 by explorer George Vancouver to honor Alleyne Fitzherbert the Baron St. Helens. Over the last 400 years, many small eruptions have been recorded, some fitfully coughing up ash and smoke and often leaking the chunky silica-heavy lava that built up the Worm Flows. These hiccups pale in comparison to the well-known eruption of May 18th, 1980. Twenty seconds after 8:32am, an earthquake destabilized the bulging north face of the mountain, triggering the largest debris avalanche in recorded history. As 1.7 cubic miles of rock and mud shifted downward, it explosively released titanic geologic pressures at near-supersonic speeds sending ash and debris 80,000ft into the atmosphere. When the dust settled, 24 megatons of thermal energy had been expended, millions of tons of rock and ash had been displaced, and Mt. St. Helens was 1,313ft shorter.
Beginning at the Marble Mountain Sno-Park at 2700ft, the Worm Flows route follows cross-country ski routes through still-recovering forests of Douglas fir rising out of the ash amongst bleached stumps and fallen logs. The fairly level path is lined with underbrush of huckleberry and mountain blueberry that quickly gives way to bear grass and wildflowers as the forest cedes ground to rockier terrain. At two miles the trail breaks away from the forest at Chocolate Falls, a small 40ft fall along Swift Creek. At this point the trail becomes more serious, making the falls an ideal place to change out gear and take a break before fording the creek and continuing up the mountain in earnest.
From here, the route enters an increasingly barren landscape of mudflows and rock. Large posts and occasional cairns built precariously atop boulders of sharp andicite mark the way. Navigate through the jumbled lava flows past observation stations the 4600’ marker barring those without climbing permits. Depending on the weather, as you push beyond the cloud level, Mt. Adams begins to grow on the horizon while Mt. Hood rises to the south. Ahead a false summit beckons with promises of a shorter hike. Ash and loose gravel become more prevalent as you climb, making it not only more difficult for boots to find firm purchase, but in the right conditions wind can kick up clouds of choking dust. The option for switching to the snow helps alleviate these problems, and, depending on the conditions, crampons might also be helpful as you rest-step your way toward the top.
The trail deposits you on the rim of a crescent-shaped crater framing a dramatic view of Spirit Lake and Mt. Rainier. Below, in the bottom of the caldera, the lava dome burps clouds of steam and sulfur into the air. For the adventurous, continue west along the rim to the true summit, which requires something of a descent before trudging back up to find a rough mound of rocks piled up at the 8365’ point. Take in the expansive views, absorb firsthand how much of the mountain is truly gone, then gear up for the descent. With snow present year-round, some controlled glissades down the steep slopes will save both time and your knees, not to mention all the fun you’ll have on the way.
While this route is a bit challenging, it is a non-technical climb. Experienced and prepared hikers should not have too much difficulty attaining St. Helens’ heights. The alien and engaging landscape created by this active stratovolcano vies for attention against an abundance of great views of the surrounding environs, making the trip well worth the effort. Worm Flows is also a nice introduction to hiking larger summits, and the exposure to climbing steep snow fields and negotiation of glaciers make this a great training hike for an ascent of Mt. Rainier.
To get there take I-5 to Exit 22, Dike Access Road. Head right under the freeway keeping right to merge onto Old Pacific Highway, then staying right to merge onto E Scott Ave before connecting with WA-503 also known as Lewis River Road. Continue on WA-503 into the shadow of St. Helens, taking a left onto Forest Road 81 toward the Ape Caves. Veer right on Forest Road 83 toward Marble Mountain Sno-Park and find the trailhead in the parking lot. - Nathan
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Total Ascent: 800ft (450ft in; 350ft out)
Highest Point: 3500ft
Total Distance: 4 miles
Location: N 47° 24.5400, W 121° 25.8600
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
Now that the snow had begun to loosen its grip on the trails in and around Snoqualmie Pass, we were on the lookout for an opportunity to do a short hike to a destination that for years played a leading role in the recreational history of the Pass. So, despite the gloominess of the day we packed up and headed out for a pilgrimage to historic Lodge Lake.
The route follows a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650 mile trail from Canada to Mexico that was only fully completed in the early 1990s after decades of effort to connect the Washington Cascade Crest Trail to other extensive trail networks in Oregon and California. The section was first blazed by the Mountaineers in 1919 for alternative access to the club lodge that gave the lake its name. Mountaineers would take the train from Seattle to the Rockdale station and then make the mile and a half trek to the volunteer-built lodge for weekends of snowy outdoor excursions, snowshoeing the nearby peaks, and late night dances to the windup Victrola.
The original 1914 Lodge was lost in a fire in 1944. Volunteers rebuilt the structure in 1948, and it stood until another fire burned it to the ground in 2006. Today there is no longer a lodge at Lodge Lake, though the Mountaineers still own some 77 acres of land around the lake and continue to discuss the possibility of re-establishing this lost icon.
From the trailhead, the gentle trail quickly jaunts through a stretch of young firs before depositing you in The Summit ski area. Wander through the now-green ski slopes, under the silent ski lifts and over the small rivulets bringing the last of the spring runoff down the mountainside. Beyond the lifts the trail alternates between being a path and a streambed as it enters an increasingly pristine forest of cedar and fir. At just shy of a mile the trail arrives at Beaver Lake and hugs its shores before starting a gradual descent down to Lodge Lake. Through the trees you will catch brief glimpses of the water as the trail winds down toward the far end of the Lodge Lake where a signed spur trail will take you to the lakeshore.
This is fantastic hike for all ages, especially in the spring and summer when The Summit can be experienced without the familiar snowy backdrop. The short trek through meadows and forests covers a wide variety of terrain in a very short distance, and for the more adventurous there are plenty of destinations beyond Lodge Lake to satisfy the need for a longer hike.
To get there, take Exit 53 off I-90 into The Summit ski area. Turn right into the gravel parking areas and head toward the back of the lot. You’ll find the signed trailhead where the gravel ends. - Nathan
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Total Ascent: 1350ft
Highest Point: 2560ft
Total Distance: 2.5 miles
Location: N 47° 25.7940, W 121° 39.9640
Required Permit: Discover Pass
The Change Creek Trail is an unofficial hike off the Iron Horse Trail. Volunteer built, the trail is an alternative approach to Mt. Washington up the Change Creek Valley, that offers excellent views and minimizes hiking time on logging roads on Mt. Washington Trail.
The Change Creek Trail branches off the Iron Horse Trail just above Olallie State Park near the Deception Crags climbing walls. Since being publicized in 1994, Deception Crags has become extremely popular, bringing hundreds of rock climbers to the walls every year. Like many of the other scramble routes in the area, the Change Creek Trail seems to have hacked out of the underbrush with an eye for expedience and utility without much in the way of deference to officialdom. The trail has been a work in progress since at least 2006, if not earlier. Trail building efforts have been led by local hikers through various hiking forums. We assume they are also behind small signs posted along the trail, marking such destinations as “Whitebark’s Bivouac” and “Raven’s Roost.”
The roughly hewn trail begins between the trestle bridges that span Change Creek and Hall Creek. It can be a bit tricky to spot, start looking for it as soon as you cross the bridge. A few feet up the trail a sign reading “Change Creek Trail” will confirm you’re on the right path. The first mile or so is on the steep side, and loose rock and soil is the norm as you switchback up the initial sections of narrow trail. As the forest and underbrush begin to thin, glimpses of Hall Creek Falls and I-90 give a taste of views to come. Eventually you’ll attain the ridgeline, and get a peek down at Change Creek before continuing up to Hall Point for some big views of the valleys below. To the west lies Mt. Teneriffe and Green Mountain, to the north Mailbox Peak anchors a ridgeline that flows east over Dirty Harry’s Peak and Putrid Pete’s Peak toward Snoqualmie Pass.
This route is a more challenging and engaging approach to Mt. Washington, and one that you can expect some solitude on. The trail also runs past a few opportunities to scramble out to rocky outcroppings and excellent views. Hall Point was a perfect place to settle down for a snack after slogging up the rough switchbacks of the early sections of the trail. Although still going through growing pains that should subside with more boot traffic, the trail is able to very quickly deliver big views, making it rewarding for even the most causal of hiker.
To get there, take Exit 38 off I-90 and take a right. Follow the remnants of old US 10 for about a mile to a widening in the road opposite Change Creek. More than likely other cars will also be parked here. Park and cross the road to find a short path leading up to the Iron Horse Trail. Head left over the bridge for a few hundred yards to find the fledgling trail beginning behind a section of fence. - Nathan
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