I bet that you didn’t know what Circumambulation was a real word- I definitely didn’t but after hiking the Loowit Trail… I can certainly see why people refer to it for this hike! “(from Latin circum around + ambulātus to walk) is the act of moving around a sacred object or idol.”
This trail wraps around Mount Saint Helens and allows you to see a more complete view of the mountain than just hiking to the top.
We started hiking from Climbers Bivouac as the next best trailhead was still closed from Winter. After researching a bit about the trail, three themes were very apparent; The first being that the East side is much easier than the West, that people generally recommended hiking counterclockwise, and that this was not a trail for beginners due to river crossings, massive washouts, and intense heat with few water sources. That last part is why I caution people on doing this trail.
Disclaimer: This trail is hard to follow, has quite a few massive washouts, ropes were used, a couple river crossings are involved, and a lot of rock hopping on massive lava beds will most probably make your day hurt a lot more at least.
So off we went…
The forecast called for rain on Saturday and partial breaks in the clouds on Sunday so we hid on the East side of the mountain for Saturday. The fog was quite intense and it rained on us for a good part of the day. It was cold and wet but for the 1/4 of the day it was sunny and the scenery was amazing!
We were spoiled on the Eastern side of the mountain as the terrain is incredibly easy and remained fairly level. There was one large washout out here that was quite challenging to find a good method of getting down and back up. But this wasn’t going to be the last obstacle as we had just begun.
There were chipmunks, marmots, and we could hear pikas off in the distance as well which made me happy. I personally despise Marmots but I have a soft spot for pikas and chipmunks.
The following area was known as the Plains of Abraham and it is an incredible sight- I really kicked myself for forgetting my camera here as my stupid cellphone takes rather lousy pictures. The entire area is barren of trees and is incredibly flat and has a small water source that we almost took from but decided that we should be good until the next one.
My phone camera was having some issues at this point…
Over Windy Pass (which lived up to its name) and we were in the blast zone where the May 18th eruption happened and changed the look and history of the mountain forever. It was eerie as we knew the history of the eruption, the people who were killed in it, and the amazing amount of damaged caused by the lateral explosion.
This is where the trail got interesting and a lot more difficult as there are a lot of washouts and lava rock crossings that take tolls on your feet. Trail gets to be really hard to find here but you should be safe if you follow the cairns- and don’t fall into the river. There is a trick to crossing here- go upstream a little bit and you should find a better location to cross.
We continued through the no camping zone to the Toutle River and found a campsite there at about 10pm. We were tired, wet, and ready for sleep after the 20-22 mile day.
The rain got heavier as the night went on so our tents got soaked. It stopped by morning and we were greeted to a cloudy and partially sunny day.
We packed and left fairly quickly and started our crossing of the river (and our ascent back up 1,500ish ft)
We eventually made it back to the beginning after a few more washouts and large lava fields that were rather annoying and painful to cross.
Overall we had a good time- but this was not the trip for novice hikers- 32 miles is not much to complete fairly quickly but the washouts and other obstacles made for quite a challenging hike that we enjoyed doing and being done with!