Mt St Helens by bike and backpack

It’s pretty sweet to live in a part of the world where I can get out into the wilderness on a bicycle in a day.


With 5 precious days off last week, I wanted to strap on a backpack and walk into the backcountry, like way the heck off any kind of road. But I also wanted to bike to wherever I decided to go, because renting a car to drive someplace and then park it for a few days seems like an egregious waste of both fossil fuels AND money. Plus, biking is an integral part of the adventure.

So it was that I settled on Mt St Helens — about 75 miles away, so totally doable — and the Loowit trail that circumnavigates the mountain in a lovely, 30ish-mile loop (I’m so into circumnavigating these days;) So for five days of adventure, I planned to spend two biking, one day each to get there and back, and three days backpacking. Pretty great:)


The Gear

I’ve sort of touched on this here before, but it turns out that bike travel and backpacking are super compatible, since they basically require all the same camping gear. As long as you have a way to attach your backpack to your bicycle, you’re good to go.

This is what my set-up looked like, for example.


(with the Lewis River at Moulton Falls Park as a lovely backdrop:)


If you didn’t know I’d also used it to backpack, it just looks like your standard bike-touring fare: panniers, a front bag, and another bag strapped to the top of my back rack. That strapped bag in the green is my backpacking pack. It’s a lightweight pack with no internal frame, so I can kind of roll it up, wrap it in my green waterproof backpack cover to keep all the straps contained (also helpful to keep everything dry if it rains), and then bungee it down to my rack. If I have a lot of gear, like too much to fit into just two panniers, sometimes I’ll keep my tent and maybe some extra clothes in the backpack, too — I’ll just put those things in it and then roll it up into a bigger ball, cover it with the backpack cover the same way and strap it down.

It works out pretty well. Though the lack of any kind of internal frame makes the pack not super comfortable if it’s really heavy, it’s a good enforced gear limit: I can only fit so much in there, so I have to be careful about what I bring, and bring just what I need.


(all packed and ready to go! With a bonus apple to eat immediately, heh)


The stuff that I didn’t need out on the trail with me, like my bike shoes and an extra set of clothes, helmet, that kind of stuff, I just stuffed in my panniers, which I left on my bike, which in that picture is stashed near the trailhead in the woods somewhere. I just locked everything together around that tree and thought happy thoughts (so far, this has always worked out).


(Mt St Helens and so many wildflowers!)


The Trail

The Loowit Trail is, to put it lightly, the shit. Oh man. It is not built for the faint of heart, unsure of foot, afraid of heights, or unhardy of soul. It is a route-finding, scree-scrambling, rope-climbing, ever-shifting, exposed piece of work, and it is amazing. I put together a hodgepodge of pictures over here, so if you want some flavor of it, check those out.

Fun highlights from the trail include — get this — actually running into my good friend Marisa, who unbeknownst to me was also hiking the same trail at the same time. How crazy is that? I saw like three people that whole day in the middle of the wilderness, and one of them happened to be my very dear friend! Best trail magic ever:) We took a break together for a good while before we parted ways, she continuing counterclockwise and me in the other direction.


(awww my always adventure soulmate!!)


Also, gosh, there were so many flowers! So many elk! So many mountain goats! Coyotes and grouse, though I only heard those and never saw them. Snakes! Cougar tracks! Solitude! Amazing views! Even though the first day and a half I didn’t ever see Mt St Helens in its entirety (too many clouds), the views around Mt St Helens are also amazing, and the trail is super engaging: crazy route-finding rock traverse one minute, scrambling down sketchy pumice slopes the next, ducking into a deep, deep glacial wash, fording the river barefoot, and scrambling up a rope on the other side. Emerging from the forest to the blast zone, where all the vegetation was scoured away in 1980’s explosion and is still regrowing now in a riot of wildflowers.


(beargrass was EVERYwhere!!)


By evening on the second day, the clouds lifted, and I was able to see not only all of Mt St Helens, which I’d been walking on the shoulders of all along, but all the surrounding mountains too — Rainier, Adams, Hood, even Jefferson from one lucky spot on the trail. It was so, so lovely.


(Mt Adams from the trail. Plus the usual profusion of wildflowers, of course;)


And when I came out, my bike was still there, and aside from a slow leak in my back tire which I never actually fixed (I just pumped it super full and then topped it off about every 3 hours), all good to go.

All in all, it was a grand feeling of adventure, snuck into 5 days away from a full-time job where I didn’t even need to take vacation, just capitalize on my weekend, the 4th of July holiday, and one flexed day of work. YAY! Just like biking and backpacking don’t have to be exclusive sports, maybe for-realz full time work and adventure don’t have to be exclusive either:)

More pictures here!


  1. Ah! The suspense has lifted. ;-)

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