Maiden Voyage

Mount Saint Helens National Monument, Washington
~10 miles,~1300 feet elevation gain

Almost the solstice, almost *officially* summer. As is typical for this time of year, the weather has been variable, but the snow is melting fast in the high country. Time for the first overnighter of the year. 

Pepper & the Loowit Trail

Thursday finds us, three oncology RNs & one wee bug (Pug/Boston mix), heading up the well-graded & well-trod June Lake trail: I’m taking two coworkers and our new(ish) little addition to the house on their first backpacking trip. 

still life with sprawled pug & packs
happiness at June Lake

Ah, backpacking. The lessons we learn, the gear we discover we want to take and what we can do without. The advice the trail throws at you.

we managed to wear out the dog (photo by Shel B.)

Both Sam and Shel had new shoes. I was trialing a new backpack and a new dog. Everyone’s feet did fine. I think I’m in love with my new pack, but I will definitely have to get more creative about what I do and don’t carry since it is significantly smaller than my old Dana Designs pack (from 2001). The verdict is still out on the snoring machine/tent/sleeping bag hog of a dog, but I think once I recover some zzzzz’s I’ll feel more favorable towards her. {GRIN}. 

Sam (left) is borrowing my old Dana pack. I'm trialing a smaller one (photo by Shel B.)
We all learned that Shel is apparently part mountain goat/part astronaut, sniffing out a route through lava rocks and vanishing trails. 

Shel leading the way through the lava fields on the Loowit trail

Woman on the moon :)

Sam learned that PB&Js do not survive being smooshed inside backpacks. They still, however, taste good. Shel introduced me to joys of box wine in the backcountry. And I learned that after a glass or two of Merlot, I apparently take lots of pictures of rocks and do poor imitations of the Karate Kid. 
It was still delicious

Karate Kid? Nope. (photo by Shel B.)


I’ve never backpacked around Helens before, and while I had heard water was scarce I wasn’t anticipating Swift Creek and Chocolate Falls to be bone dry this early in the season. The hunt for water in a pumice moonscape began in the late afternoon; we finally found that Swift Creek still existed about a mile up from the Loowit Trail, near the Worm Flows climbing route. 

sometimes you filter water where you can find it (photo by Shel B.)
Like most backpacking trips, the day falls into a few rhythms: enjoying (or not enjoying) the walk. 

Lava fields and "trail"

alligator skin tree

Sam passing through the gates of Mordor

following Swift Creek, hunting for water
Then there’s finding a suitable place to camp (sometimes this is more challenging than others). 

Sam, chillaxing (photo by Shel B.)
home sweet home

Afterwards, the world narrows down to food, water, shelter and doing, well, nothing. 

doing nothing

Helens from camp, clouds moving in

camp chores

serenely doing "nothing"

selfie simply for the sake of happiness

In the morning, you watch the world wake up over backcountry espresso. 

Backpacking frequently isn’t fun. It can be strenuous, stressful, and uncomfortable. But when it’s good, it’s really good. Neither Shel nor Sam were sure they would *like* backpacking, but they were interested in giving it a go. What struck them most (and the reason I seek it out) was the solitude, the silence of the evening. We were the only ones around. For the most part the weather held, bugs were minimal, and I tried to really consider a route that was good exercise with a good payoff that also wasn’t going to traumatize friends out for their first trip.

at 4000', we're in the clouds

heading home through the mist

Swift Creek

back through the lava

We done good. We done good. 

until next time, Helens


Suni Dei said...

Thank you for being so gracious as to take us along, A! I'm totally HOOKED!

Julie R said...

My friend linked me to your Three Sisters hike report because she is doing that trip this summer. I've spent the morning reading your blog and enjoying your pics. So gorgeous! You are a talented photographer and writer as well. I'm a trail runner but have yet to try backpacking. I loved reading about your friends' first trip. Thanks for the inspiration!

Manda said...


It was a GOOD trip.

Manda said...

Thanks, Julie! If your sister has any questions, tell her to feel free to email me. It's been a while, but I'm relatively familiar with the Sisters area. Tell her to keep in mind, too, that the Pole Creek Fire TORCHED the northern half of the wilderness in 2012 (maybe 2013, can't remember).

Trail running is another sport all together- I'd be more like a trail slug. :)