backpack: Mount St. Helens – Plains of Abraham

This was a two night backpacking trip during peak wildflowers at Mount St. Helens, and the first trip for me where photography was the main focus (pun intended!).

Day 1

We started our hike in at the Ape Canyon trailhead. The first four miles are through an old growth forest with occasional views of the mountain scenery we were headed towards. Mount St. Helens was visible at the start of our hike in, enticing us to keep going so we could enjoy her splendor up-close.

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking tripMount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

 

After the forested section, the rest of the hike is open and exposed.

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

Ape Canyon, with Mount Adams on the horizon

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

 

At the trail junction with the Loowit Trail, we headed to the right towards the Plains of Abraham camp area.

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

 

We were the first to setup camp in the area, so we had our pick of campsites. I was happy to find a nice spot with trees for shade.

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

 

The only water in this area is a spring that dries up later in the season. The water collects next to the trail in small pools on the side of rocky slope.

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

 

Views from our camp area with peaks shown using the Peakfinder app

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking tripMount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

 

We scouted the area for night photos of the Milky Way using the PhotoPills app, then we went on a short hike in the Plains of Abraham to get a preview of where we would spend most of the next day. After dinner, we hiked back to the Ape Canyon trail junction to take photos at sunset. A marmot was making its way through the rocks and stopped to watch us for awhile. There wasn’t much color in the sky for sunset so we didn’t stick around for long.

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

Mount Hood on the horizon

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

Mount Adams

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

Mount St. Helens

 

After a quick rest in our tents, we got up to take photos of the night sky full of stars with the Milky Way visible for a short time. Two of the brightest spots in the sky are the planets Jupiter and Saturn. Just before the moon rose, it colored the horizon with a band of orange. I’ve been taking a landscape photography class to learn how to take better photos and spent the previous two weeks studying the night photography section. I never thought I’d want to carry a full tripod on a backpacking trip, but it’s the only way to get shots like these.

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

 

Day 2

On the second day of our trip, we hiked through the Plains of Abraham to take photos of the wildflowers. We were here during peak wildflowers – penstemon filled the normally barren plains with bright purple color, and surrounding hillsides were carpeted with fields of red paintbrush.

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

 

This year is the 40th anniversary of Mount St. Helens’ eruption. The tree trunks on the ground in this photo are from the blast, half buried in ash and still in the process of decaying.

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

 

The best light of the day was after sunset so we went back to the Plains of Abraham to snap a few shots.

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking tripMount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

 

The camp area filled up on both nights. Although I haven’t shown it in the photos for this trip, we saw a LOT of people all weekend. Day hikers, backpackers and trail runners doing the full Loowit loop around the mountain, and tons of mountain bikers. We probably saw at least 100 people over two days. Most of the people we encountered were good about wearing masks and distancing.

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

 

Day 3

There was a 10 percent chance of rain on our last night and the next day, so of course it rained. It started around 4:00 am and continued off and on until around 11:00 am so we waited it out, cooking breakfast in our vestibules and taking our time to get packed up. When it finally let up, we hiked out. Foggy conditions in the exposed areas gave the area a surreal feel. Once we reached the forested section, the fog cleared out and we had no rain for the remainder of our hike.

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking tripMount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

Ready for the hike out (photo credit: S. Sachdeva)

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

(photo credit: J. Stoffel)

Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip Mount St. Helens - Ape Canyon backpacking trip

Overall, I was blown away by the scenery on this trip and plan to return again to explore more of this area.

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