St Helens: High traverse above Plains of Abraham

Discussions and Trip Reports for off-trail adventures and rediscovering lost trails
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Chip Down
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St Helens: High traverse above Plains of Abraham

Post by Chip Down » October 21st, 2018, 3:21 pm

Plan: hike from Ape Canyon across Plains of Abraham to Windy Pass, then up in search of random fun. Last July I went poking around the slopes above PoA and discovered a fun route to the crater rim, via what I came to identify as East Dome and Ape Glacier. I figured that success was a lucky fluke, but I was willing to roll the dice again.

I dropped my car alongside Rd-83 where it crosses Muddy River, and walked a quarter mile to the Ape Canyon trailhead, arriving exactly at 5:00, my desired start time. Off to an auspicious start. I hate that trail, but in the dark it doesn't matter, it's like any other trail.

At 6:45 I arrived at the Ape Canyon overlook (above the slot) as it was just barely getting light. Perfect timing. I had considered starting earlier, but I knew the east slopes of MSW would appear to be a homogeneous bleak slagheap in dim light, so I wanted sunrise to illuminate it, bringing out colors and textures that would enable me to evaluate some possible routes.

I'd forgotten how long it takes to get to Windy Pass. Took 90 minutes, but it's a nice walk. At the pass I encountered a goat. I had already seen several up on the east slopes as I passed through PoA, but this one was close. We stared at each other for several minutes. He won, as I had things to do, while all he had on his agenda was eating grass. I went down the trail just a bit to a nice viewpoint. Haven't been here in ages, had forgotten how nice it is.

Back at the pass, I went up a trail that one would assume to be unofficial, but there was a wooden post a ways upslope, of the sort used to mark trails in the monument. I reached a junction, the left fork heading towards an instrument station, the right climbing and traversing, spiraling CCW. The terrain was gentle, but not uniform, and that combination made it hard to judge where I was or where I was going (there were no landmarks, but the slight dipping and weaving was disorienting when the rest of the mountain was mostly hiding behind the terrain I was ascending).

The "trail" faded. I came to realize if I continued working up and CCW I'd end up in the big gully that skirts Sugar Bowl, so I veered back CW and ascended a gentle dome. It was satisfying to reach a high point, where I could survey my options, and where I also found a sense of accomplishment. There were remnants of a drive belt, perhaps from a snowmobile, so I'll always remember this as Drivebelt Point. (10:00 5800')

There was a high point on the crater rim that I had my eye on, but it looked like maybe crampons & axe would be the way to go, and I had wisely left them behind. I saw fun terrain up and CW, so set off on a spiral, until I reached the crest of a jumbled ill-defined ridge (11:05 6380'). Ascend? Hmm. The day had been fun so far, but a further ascent could be miserable. What finally made up my mind was the realization that it would be fun and easy in June/July.

I dropped to PoA on a new route, seeking fun and scenery, but also favoring easy terrain when in doubt. As the slope became more gentle and blended into the higher reaches of PoA, I turned south, headed towards the area below East Dome, until I could drop to Muddy River (crossing Loowit Trail along the way at 3:00) and follow it back to my car (6:00, fifteen minutes before sunset). A leisurely stroll along the river took three hours, longer than the Ape Canyon trail would have taken, but it was worth it.

Weather: Crossing a breezy PoA at dawn was the cool point of the day, and I put on my jacket. As soon as the sun hit, it came off. By 10:30 6000' I was sweating profusely on my sunny ascent, but I knew that meant it would be a beautiful afternoon descent in the shade, so I didn't mind too much. Not a cloud spotted all day.

Other parties: The mountain was swarming with two types of large mammals: mountain goats, and people on bikes. The cyclists were loud! I can partly attribute this to the fact that they travel farther apart than hikers, so they have to speak louder, but some of them were just yelling for the sake of yelling. You know, kinda the way kids do at Jefferson Park. I didn't see any hikers, but of course people moving slowly on foot are harder to spot from a distance.

Just noticed that most of my pics feature Ape Glacier, quite by accident. It's like Ape and the East Dome were stalking me all day! Not that I mind.
Attachments
0.jpg
1.jpg
East Dome is the steep-sided feature in the distance. Closer and to the left was a nice vantage point, and my longest break of the day.
2.jpg
Exactly what I wanted to see at sunrise: color and texture that didn't show up in twilight.
3.jpg
Across Windy Pass.
4.jpg
The left fork of the trail, which I didn't take.
5.jpg
A little higher, across a ridge, looking back down the trail.
6.jpg
Drivebelt Point, surveying my options.
7.jpg
This would have been an easier ascent, but not as much fun.
8.jpg
My high point. I had little desire to delve into that mess.
9.jpg
I guess this could be considered the upper reaches of PoA.
Last edited by Chip Down on October 21st, 2018, 3:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Chip Down
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Re: St Helens: High traverse above Plains of Abraham

Post by Chip Down » October 21st, 2018, 3:25 pm

The man-made stuff:
Attachments
a.jpg
Muddy River is the obvious canyon at lower left. From there, I spotted this and had to investigate.
b.jpg
Sdaly, the beer I wanted to bring is now part of the AB-InBev empire.
c.jpg
Big flat rock where I took my longest break of the day. Left because there were too many spiders for my liking.
d.jpg
Drivebelt Point. Background is where I would have ended up if I had continued my CCW spiral. Not a bad way to spend a day, but a little boring.
e.jpg
This one is different, double sided.

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-Q-
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Re: St Helens: High traverse above Plains of Abraham

Post by -Q- » October 21st, 2018, 6:25 pm

Curious... Are you getting permits for all your trips above 4800 feet on MSH as per the requirements??

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Bosterson
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Re: St Helens: High traverse above Plains of Abraham

Post by Bosterson » October 22nd, 2018, 8:22 am



No, but really, I don't care about whether you heed the "requirements" from the MSHI. What I want to know is where you found the Wayfinder-Heater Allen collab in cans??
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Will hike off trail for fun.

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Water
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Re: St Helens: High traverse above Plains of Abraham

Post by Water » October 22nd, 2018, 11:20 am

-Q- wrote:
October 21st, 2018, 6:25 pm
Curious... Are you getting permits for all your trips above 4800 feet on MSH as per the requirements??
I'd also like to know, even if you do have permits, if you're maintaining the integrity of the micro-roots of all the plants you encounter?
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Chip Down
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Re: St Helens: High traverse above Plains of Abraham

Post by Chip Down » October 22nd, 2018, 5:34 pm

-Q- wrote:
October 21st, 2018, 6:25 pm
Curious... Are you getting permits for all your trips above 4800 feet on MSH as per the requirements??
I think you mean you're "Qurious" :D . All of them? No. A salient memory about that: My first rim hike was 11/10/2001. I knew the permit thing was a bit more lax after 11/1, so I went rogue. Strangely, I was the only climber, and stood alone at the top. On the way down I realized there were many others; they started late. A couple weeks ago I had reason to look up my old hand-written logbook, and reminisced a bit. Was shocked when I read my notes and discovered I didn't set out to climb to the rim. It happened along the way, an extemporaneous decision to seize the day. I've never felt guilty about it. The stated reasons for the permit system are to relieve crowding and prevent damage to the mountain. I was alone (no crowding) and walked on snow (no damage).
Water wrote:
October 22nd, 2018, 11:20 am
I'd also like to know, even if you do have permits, if you're maintaining the integrity of the micro-roots of all the plants you encounter?
I'm going to assume you're being serious, but I can't help wondering if you're alluding to a certain Q/Bosterson exchange. I'm conflicted on this. I know that the mountain will recover on its own. There's little we could do to stop it if we tried. Also, there's nothing wrong with MSH the way it is. It's a treasure, and although I look forward to seeing recovery, I also cringe at seeing the slow transformation into just another dormant volcano. So that part of me says "go ahead, trash it, it doesn't matter". And yet I'm just neurotic and fussy enough that I do want to minimize the aesthetic impact of my path. I don't want to see MSH braided with faint user paths that break up the scenery. So I try to stay on snow, hop from rock to rock, etc. It's probably pointless though; nobody goes up there, I don't think anybody even wants to. In all my travels, I've seen zero off-route travelers. I'm not exaggerating when I say elk and goats are impacting that mountain far more than human visitors ever could.
Bosterson wrote:
October 22nd, 2018, 8:22 am
...I don't care about whether you heed the "requirements" from the MSHI. What I want to know is where you found the Wayfinder-Heater Allen collab in cans??
I don't know if you mean that you've seen it in bottles, or only on tap. Anyway, I picked it up at Tin Bucket, but I also saw it at Beermongers. (I keep thinking it would be funny to join Beer Advocate and post about my hiking).

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Water
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Re: St Helens: High traverse above Plains of Abraham

Post by Water » October 23rd, 2018, 10:51 am

you're a good person chip.

my statement no, was not intended to be serious, but kudos to you for the legit answer. I too have observed this at the pole creek fire OT/camping closure (I think we're on year 6 now, though I did not make it out there this summer, maybe it has passed). Last time I spoke with the rangers and then their fires expert, the original 1 year 'hopeful' closure to off trail travel and camping in areas was continuing to be extended because the 'fire burned so hot it sterilized the soil' and they were hoping for vegetation to come back.

Well.. the elk there have done a better job than specific OT footpaths could ever do, at keeping any vegetation at bay. Watching a herd of 30 of them pound through soft volcanic soils through a forest full of dead trees. I'm not knocking that natural process or the elk, but, they absolutely destroy it, nip young vegetation, and tear it up around the riparian areas.
The idea of restricting OT travel 5 years out is laughable.
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BigBear
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Re: St Helens: High traverse above Plains of Abraham

Post by BigBear » October 25th, 2018, 8:37 am

I'm wondering just how you accomplish a "high traverse" on a mountain that is missing its northeast flank.

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