Mount St Helens : Ape Canyon, Plains of Abraham, Smith Creek


Mount St. Helens is an active Stratovolcano located in the Cascade Range just 50 miles northeast of Portland. In 1980 the volcano erupted devastating the region and drastically changing the landscape of the mountain. Fast forward to present day; hikers and bikers have been granted access to it's beautiful trail system. [portfolio_slideshow id=4265 width="1200px"]

We’re currently dealing with extremely high temperatures in the Pacific Northwest so we set out early hoping to avoid the afternoon heat. With the sun already beating down on our necks we bombed the paved road from the parking lot to the trail head of Ape Canyon. The trail slowly climbs through an old growth forest of Douglas-fir, Western Red Cedar and Hemlock. There is the occasional kick of the gradient but for the most part your making your way through a labyrinth of switchbacks and twisty climbs.

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Our legs are warmed up as we enter the Plains of Abraham which is an iconic stretch of trail with the resemblance of a moonscape. The ground is littered with Pumice and there are occasional sections where I had to hike and bike. The trail briefly flattens out offering incredible views of Mt St Helens. Its here that we paused to reflect on how nice the weather was. We were expecting temperatures in the high 90s but there was an amazing breeze sweeping through the ridge lines cooling the summer air. From here the trail hugged the mountain walls, twisting and climbing until we reached the epic view of the volcanic damage. The view is breathtaking and I feel fortunate to be here.

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I pedal out ahead traversing the spine of the mountain in hopes of capturing a picture of the crew. I love riding with friends but there is something to be said about being alone on the trail. After snapping the photograph I catch up with the guys. We have lunch at a lookout, it’s hot now and that once cool breeze is long gone. From here we jump on a paved road and climb to the Smith Creek Trail head. The trail is steep and loose with pumice. I am chasing dust left behind the crew and I struggle to keep up. The trail is overgrown and at times it’s hard to see where the tires are going. We fight our way through the overgrowth but not without taking a branch to the face. Reaching the river bed we’re disappointed to find the water is static and dirty. The glacial water is freezing and regardless it feels damn good crossing it. After a punchy climb the trail opens up to a flowy section following the river. The section is short and drops us off at the foot our climb back to the car. Once a fire road is now a 4 mile tree covered climb from Smith Creek to Apes Canyon. It’s one of those climbs that just keeps going and going and going. Eventually the trail opens up and spits us onto the road.The summer heat is reflecting off the pavement and we find relief at a small glacial stream just off the road. The water is freezing but too good to pass up.

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