Been too long since I went for a hike and nature was calling me. I needed to get outside so I could clear my head and just commune with nature. This happens often when I don’t get outside enough. I for years now have seen the southern side of Mt. St. Helens but never actually hiked it. On a clear day and with enough elevation I see the south side all the time. Now I wanted to see it from where I look all the time.
I went online to the Washington Trail Association website and started looking for a hike. I wanted something between 5 and 10 miles, decent elevation and wasn’t going to kill me attempting to climb. Butte Camp Trail #238A is an out and back hike that you climb 1700’ over four miles till you reach almost 4800’. You can go a little further past this and get to the tree line part way up the mountain. Eventually the trees fade away and you are left with exposed rock. More on that later.
It’s summer so there is sun light till late and the temps would be decent all day. The high I think was the low 80’s and I knew it would be cooler in the mountain. With so much time available I was in no rush to get to the trail. I enjoyed my morning and didn’t arrived till after noon. The description mentioned only ten spots so I crossed my finger there would be space. As I was headed through the park lots of people were out. There are several parks with access to a lake that were closed because they had reached max capacity. For the Butte Camp trail as late as I arrived there was still a few spots available for parking.
From the lot you walk up a small embankment and over the top of the hill is this huge lava field which I assume is from the last time the mountain blew back in 1980. There is a clear path cut through some pretty jagged rock. You also get your first good look at the mountain. From here it still looks rather small even though you are so close. Thankfully not long after the barren wasteland you get to tree cover. You have scattered tree cover providing some shade for the next four miles which is nice.
The trail has a pretty steady climb from this point on. One thing I really liked about this trail is the elevation gain is well spread out over the entire hike. It never gets so difficult I couldn’t just keep going. Worst thing really was the sun beating down. There are not many switchbacks till you get near the end of the hike.
The entire trail is crushed pumice. It is often loose so watch your step but also the trail is clear to see. There was a trail run competition that weekend so I would find these orange dots at intersections which was handy because it ended up going right to Butte Camp like I was going. Mt. St. Helens has a pretty extensive network of trails in the park. The forest is pretty sparse since eruption destroyed most things. There are tree but mostly underbrush which was some of the first things to take hold. I think it’s also why the tree are not very dense.
One thing that is annoying is there are few good views. You have to get near the end of the trail before you can look out across the valley and begin to see the mountain range. Nothing besides the trees and brush right in front of you. Once you get above the tree line obviously it is blue sky for days. About two thirds the way up the trail you get to this lush, green, and flat area. There is a glacier feed creek which is pretty amazing to see in such a hospitable place. It was quite so I could hear the sound of the water flowing over the rocks making its way down the creek. Finally you get some pretty nice view at bends and where there are rock slides. It happened to be a rather clear day I must say. Only a little haze and absolutely cloudless.
From this campsite area it’s not long before you reach the end of the tree line. Crazy to see this definitive line on the mountain with trees and then no trees. There is some patches of grass but then it’s just dead with nothing but rocks. The mountain is pretty huge from here. There were only small patches of snow left on it now. Looking down the mountain I could see a lot of the Cascade Range finally. Way off in the distance on the horizon I could see Mt. Hood. This was a really impressive view to have. It’s about 4800’ but still damn good. This late in the afternoon the sun was beating down and with no shade this was as far as I got. I know that past the tree line you also need a permit which I didn’t have.
I sought the shade of a tree while I ate my lunch. There were no downed trees so I just sat next to one instead. In the shade it wasn’t bad but it was pretty damn hot in the sun. It was getting into late afternoon so I didn’t spend very long here. It was quicker getting down but still around two hours and then I had to drive home.
Coming down I ran into few people. Oddly enough I came across only one runner. He was actually just waking down the mountain near the start of the trail. A couple of ladies were also headed back up to camp with more provisions. I could hear their conversation at the tree line while I ate lunch. I think they were assisting with the race on Sunday. Either that or they are some really ravenous fans of trail running.
The walk down the trail is rather easy and a welcome reprieve from the hike up. As I got to the lava field I looked up to where I was just a couple of hours before. Looks so far away from down here. The parking lots was still half full which was surprising. I jammed all the gear into my car and headed down the mountainside. The gravel road is short from the trailhead and soon I was on paved roads following a ton of others out of the park in the late afternoon. The parks with access to the lakes where all open again as people left. One in particular still had a ton of cars parked on the side of the road. People love to cool off when it’s hot. I think it was a successful day for everyone that Saturday. I certainly had fun hiking.