This past weekend, my girlfriend Annie and I headed out for our first short backpacking trip of the season. I've been spending a lot of time in front of the computer preparing for the CleverHiker launch, so it felt incredible to take a short break from the screen and get out into nature. Every time I set foot on the trail I am reminded of why I love backpacking and why I want to dedicate myself to this project. Initial feedback about our video series and ebook has been incredibly positive and I hope to build off of that momentum. No matter what lies ahead for CleverHiker, it feels fantastic to be working on a project that I am proud of and working to support a community that I love.
Our trip was a short one (two days and about 18 miles), but it was just what we both needed for an exciting weekend adventure. The Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is about a two-hour drive northeast of Portland and the landscape is absolutely spectacular. This spot is truly ideal for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds, whether you're interested in a short day hike, an educational stop at the Johnston Ridge Observatory, or a rewarding journey into the backcountry. It's a fantastic area to explore with an incredibly rich history of geology.
It is still early in the season for backpacking in the St. Helens/Mt. Margaret backcountry, but the snow level has been relatively low this year. Our only goal was to get out on the trail, have some fun, and see what the conditions were like at higher elevations. I was surprised to see that there hadn't been any other permits issued for backpackers last weekend, especially since the weather was around 70 degrees and mostly sunny on both Saturday and Sunday. If you're in the Northwest and considering getting out for an early trip, I'd highly recommend St. Helens.
The first five miles of our hike towards Mt. Margaret were free of snow. We didn't see patches of snow until we got to around 5,000 feet and even then it was pretty manageable. Like most lightweight backpackers these days, we were wearing trail running shoes and they handled the snow great. We didn't need micro spikes or ice axes because the snow was very soft. Our feet got a little damp from the snow towards the end of the day but we were never uncomfortable and our shoes dried quickly after we got to camp. I would categorize the hike as appropriate for intermediate/expert backpackers because some awareness of snow hiking and navigation skills are necessary. The trails will continue to get easier and more appropriate for beginner backpackers as the snow melts.
The views around St. Helens are incredible, especially if you get a clear day. On our Saturday hike we were able to clearly view Mount St. Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, and the peak of Mt. Rainier. It felt like walking in the land of giants. The snow in this area will continue to melt over the next few weeks and the trail will become more accessible for even the most beginner backpackers. If you go out before the snow melts and plan on heading to high elevations, make sure to bring a good map, compass, and know how to use them. We didn't have any navigation troubles even though we were making some of the first tracks, but we had good maps and experience.
As you can see, the weather was near perfect and we were pretty excited to be on the trail. I love taking the occasional jumping photo, so Annie and I tried out some new mid-air poses. I went with the floating man. Still not sure how I feel about it. I probably have some kinks to work out :)
Also, we discovered a new lunch! The peanut butter jelly nutter butter bite sandwich comes highly recommended.
This is a shot of Annie standing in front of Mt. Adams. There are lots of connecting trails in this area for varying lengths of trips. Permits are required but can be booked for free. This area is a relatively popular place to hike during peak summer hiking times, but I would suggest getting out earlier this year. Low snow levels will make this area more accessible then it normally would be early in the season.
Annie and I were both carrying pretty light packs, and felt very comfortable during our hike. The only gear change that I would make next time would be to bring my Jetboil for melting water. There weren't any water sources where we camped at high elevation, so we had to melt and filter snow for drinking water. I had plenty of fuel for my alcohol stove so it wasn't a problem at all, but melting/boiling water for drinking tends to be much easier with a liquefied gas stove. Other than that, all of our gear choices were ideal. We brought a single wall shelter, light down sleeping bags, air mattresses, and minimal backpacks.
We were among the first backpackers to camp at the Mt. Margaret campsite, which was still largely covered in snow. We were able to find a clear, protected patch of ground to pitch our shelter and had a gorgeous sunset. Despite the elevation and snow, the nighttime temperatures weren't too bad and my 35 degree sleeping bag kept me very warm without needing any extra insulation.
All in all, it was a fantastic short weekend jaunt to shake out the cobwebs. Our main pros were stunning scenery, fantastic weather, total solitude, great wildlife sightings (bald eagle and elk were the highlights), a brilliant sunset, and the discovery of the PBJNB sandwich. Not too shabby!
The CleverHiker journey continues from here and I'll be working hard to get out the word about our video series and continue to build more content. Thanks for reading and thanks for your support!