Lady of Fire: Circumnavigation of Mount St Helens
Starting at June Lake allowed us a steep but non-technical climb through the forest to start our day. After about 2 miles, we reached the junction with the Loowit Trail and were soon clambering over expansive lava fields, the route through which was marked with sporadic tall posts, small orange flags, and cairns.
Tara and Alicia ascending the rocky lava field on the southwest side of the mountain
|Lots of lava to navigate. View of Merrill Lake in the distance.|
|Snack with a view. Mt. Hood in the far left of the picture. Photo: Tory Scholz|
|Running along the ridge of Sheep Canyon|
|Meadows and burned trees|
|Our lunch spot: the Toutle River|
|Initial climb out of the Toutle River Valley|
|Approaching the volcano from the northwest|
|There is a trail there, I swear.|
|Cresting the ridge on the northwest side of the mountain.|
|The edge of the blast zone|
|Looking north across the other-worldly blast zone|
|Looking south across the blast zone toward "the breach" - the section of the volcano that blew apart|
Entering the blast zone, one could easily imagine how these great volcanoes inspired legends that were part mythology and part oral history. Running across this landscape was like being on another planet. We traversed kilometre after kilometre of rolling, dune-like barren plains, with one stream crossing where we topped off our water supplies one last time. We took in the view of Spirit Lake, its shore littered with burned, felled trees, pushed ashore by the lake and whitewashed over time to form a ghostly looking beach. We saw a herd of at least 100 elk crossing the plains toward the lake. Borne most likely out of fatigue and waning energy, we did have a brief moment of paranoia that the elk were going to corner then trample us(!) - but unsurprisingly, this did not happen, and we continued happily on our separate ways.
|Crossing the blast zone, with Spirit Lake in the background. Photo: Tara Berry|
|Elk. These were the ones we thought were breaking away from the herd to corner us. Photo: Tory Scholz|
|Clinging. Photo: Tara Berry|
|Looking east toward Mount Adams. Photo: Tory Scholz|
This was an amazing, rugged, beautiful, challenging adventure, and only the third time in my life I've run 50k (I use the term "run" loosely here - there was definitely a lot of hiking/scrambling/climbing/clinging as well). I have the utmost respect for Mount St Helens, and am so thankful that Loowit was there to guide us and allow us to experience her incredible landscapes firsthand, on our own power. And I am forever grateful to have wonderful, strong, adventurous women like this in my life, who, like me, think that running around a volcano is the perfect way to spend a girls' weekend.