Mt St Helens: Pine Creek #216c

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Chip Down
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Mt St Helens: Pine Creek #216c

Post by Chip Down » September 25th, 2018, 7:44 pm

Driving along road 83, south of St Helens, I happened to spot a signed trail. Investigated. Sign said Pine Creek Trail. I knew it didn't meet up with any other trail, so had to be a deadend. But where does it deadend? Must be something interesting, right? No internet access here, so I had to go find out. Soon, I reached a shelter. Kept going and ended up at the Muddy lahar. Trail was very faint, marked with cairns and ribbons. I decided that was enough, so after an extended break, turned back. Lost the trail, but I didn't care. The forest here is open, so it was no trouble to find my way back. In fact, I wonder why there's a trail here at all. Later, I found that our field guide says "it would be easy to lose your entry point if you wander too far in, so this is a good place to turn around". Indeed. Field guide also says "adventurous summer hikers may want to attempt a loop by heading cross-country about 1,200 feet up the Muddy River Lahar along Shoestring Creek to the Loowit Trail, go east and then down the Ape Canyon Hike route". I'll certainly return for that, but it won't be summer, and it won't be an Ape trail return. Anyway, field guide says my hike was 2 miles round trip, and 90 feet elevation gain.

"But wait," you're thinking, "this doesn't sound like a Chip Down report. Where's the adventure, the danger, the drunken shenanigans"? For that, we have to go back to the beginning.

After noting the Pine Creek trail, and deciding to resist temptation for a bit, I continued with my Plan A: I went a hundred yards west to a concrete culvert where a seasonal creek passes under the road. This is a substantial creekbed that extends far up the mountain, so I have no doubt there's a history of major flooding here, possibly even a bit of lahar debris from '80. I dropped into the gully and started hiking up. Other than Google Earth images, I had no idea what to expect. I knew if I could follow this gully a mere 1100 feet up (from 3000 to 4100) I'd meet a Loowit Trail crossing. From there, I intended to turn right (CCW) and follow the trail (or maybe not) into a small wedge of MSH that I haven't explored yet (unless it was so long ago that I've forgotten, but things change fast up here, so it would be new anyway).

The creekbed was actually boring. No challenges, but at least the views were better than expected. I wasn't in a deep chasm, so I saw the mountain frequently. I passed a fork, as expected, and stayed left.

Somewhat abruptly, the broad outwash turned into a narrow (but small) canyon, and up ahead I could see it would get tough. I continued, knowing I might have to turn back. In fact, if not for prior research, I would have suspected it was a dead end. Well, I went as high as I could, but one short stretch turned me back. Maybe I could have gotten through it, but my timid nature prevailed. I backtracked a bit, looking for a way out. I checked the elevation. Wow, already at 4000' so I must be just below the trail crossing. But wait, this doesn't look right. Well, whatever, climbed out of the canyon, followed the edge up a bit, looked for berries, none, realized I seemed to be further CW than expected. Whatever, dropped back in and continued up. Finally realized I had to be above the Loowit trail, but how is that possible? Looking down the canyon, I saw what looked like a Loowit post. Dropped a bit, saw what looked like a trail. Continued down to the crossing. Aha! The way the trail was angled, it wasn't visible when facing up, and there was no visible tread across the canyon bottom through the rocks and sand.

What I had feared came to be true: I had grossly misinterpreted the images I studied at home. I had been here before. It's a small narrow creekbed perhaps 15 minutes CW from the big canyon I thought I was going to end up in. I was frustrated, amused, and running late. Followed Loowit CCW, picking berries along the way, until I arrived at the extent of my previous travels. Looking into a real canyon, and up at the crater rim route I climbed last October, and down at enticing parkland that tempted me last time. I pondered my options, and decided to scrap Plan A in favor of the parkland. Beautiful undulating grassy mossy rocky slopes, gullies, an abrupt drop to the Muddy lahar. As I wandered down the canyon rim, zigging and zagging, it looked like I would brush out and have to turn back, but I didn't mind, there was so much to explore. I was shocked when I reached the high point where I had planned to turn back, and realized the canyon rim was navigable below, brush free along the edge. Okay, well, I couldn't say no to that, so down I went, into more moss and rocks and gentle easy fun wanderings.

Eventually things got less scenic, and I didn't want to follow the Muddy lahar all the way down to the road, so veered right/westish, looking for the fork of the creekbed that would likely take me back to my ascent route. It did, and so I followed my AM route back, this time in the sparse forest parallel to the creekbed.

When I heard cars in the distance, I knew I was close to Rd 83, so I veered over to meet up with Pine Creek trail, and followed it up. Soon, I reached a shelter. Kept going and ended up at the Muddy lahar. Trail was very faint, marked with cairns and ribbons...you know the rest.
Attachments
0.JPG
1.jpg
Hiking up what seems to be Pine Creek, at the junction where I wish I had taken the right fork. This is a PM pic on the way back; it was much more clear in the AM.
2.jpg
The spot where I climbed out of my intended ascent gully briefly to get past a difficult stretch.
3.jpg
Along my brief stretch of Loowit Trail. Considered that creekbed as a possible descent route.
4.jpg
Just slightly above Loowit Trail (visible in foreground), Shoestring Glacier at my back. This is where I scrapped my original plans and went exploring down through the parkland.
5.jpg
Imagine the challenge of selecting the best possible trail route through that mess (Loowit Trail).
6.jpg
7.jpg
A little below here, I veered right and hiked through the forest to meet up with my ascent route.
8.jpg
End of the Pine Creek trail.
9.jpg

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K.Wagner
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Re: Mt St Helens: Pine Creek #216c

Post by K.Wagner » October 5th, 2018, 11:02 am

So there really is a Pine Creek Shelter. (why?) I had always assumed that it was just a map holdover from pre 1980.
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Chip Down
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Re: Mt St Helens: Pine Creek #216c

Post by Chip Down » October 5th, 2018, 7:18 pm

K.Wagner wrote:
October 5th, 2018, 11:02 am
So there really is a Pine Creek Shelter. (why?) I had always assumed that it was just a map holdover from pre 1980.
I too thought it an anomaly (so close to the road, nothing of interest nearby), but I wonder if it's popular with winter users.

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K.Wagner
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Re: Mt St Helens: Pine Creek #216c

Post by K.Wagner » October 5th, 2018, 7:47 pm

That's a good possibility. The area is very popular with the snow mobile crowd.

I was up at around 4800 feet, on the flat ridge just west of East Dome on Wednesday. I found the remains of a flat drive belt & a very rusty wrench. Some poor guy had a rough day!
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bobcat
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Re: Mt St Helens: Pine Creek #216c

Post by bobcat » October 9th, 2018, 7:57 am

The shelter is the only one on the slopes of Mt. St. Helens, so it has some nostalgic/historical value. A volunteer group restored it about 25 years ago. It is well-known to winter users of the area.

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