Oct 12, 2012

Mt St Helens - Lava Canyon

The water has been low in the PNW, even on the OP. Still, here's water to be found. One only need travel "a little higher in the drainage". One place I've really wanted to check out the past few years is Lava Canyon on Mt St Helens. Just like the name implies, it's worth the trip. When traveling to the big mountains here in WA, one is certain to find unique features that will cause immediate and sustained tranquility. Mt St Helens is a newly discovered gem for me and make no mistake, a volcanic eruption that literally blows the lid off is sure to have some sweet spots.

I first heard of Lava Canyon while perusing the waterfall enthusiast's online holy grail for sick stouts like Jordan Creek Falls a few years back. Ever since, it's been eating a hole in the back of my brain!

Lava Canyon was formed when the top 1100 feet of St Helens blew off and washed down the mountain on May 18th, 1980. It was an event locals, and pretty much anyone in the Pacific Northwest won't forget. The Muddy River flows off the south east side of Helens and when the entire mountain top washed down through, the ensuing lahar scoured the river bottom and surrounding area... clean. Straight down and through to deep basaltic bedrock formations. The high temperatures and pressure even polished the rock in places.

The St Helens lahar wasn't this violent, but here is a lahar in Japan. I've never seen water move like this or inundate an area so large, so quickly.

St Helens

a trickle in a boulder field, but then...

the Forest Service does it right

top of the canyon proper

The thought of all that debris crashing down through here is just unbelievable.

200 feet straight down

lava features in Lava Canyon

perfect clean pools

no resident trout up here

the Muddy River just keeps crashing its way downhill


when it gets too steep there are ladders

...and trails that lead to pixie hideouts

and unbelievable views

pixie cairn

There is a 12 mile loop trail which includes parts of Smith Creek and many more drops. I saved Smith Creek for another time so I could do a little more exploring elsewhere, but I'm tellin ya, St Helens is another world! If you haven't been, go get it. My pictures don't even do this place justice. Most places you can drive right into!! The woods aren't waiting. Don't you wait either. Til next time, stay safe and have a good one. Peace.

Sep 25, 2012

Low Water

When the water gets low on the classic runs here in the PNW ya gotta head upstream to the not-so-classic, somewhat-remote, and at times uber-committing "way-up-there" kinda runs. The kinda places bears don't even get into. The kinda places the old timers who  invented  the Forest Service put up signs for. Yep, I'm talking about the box canyons, every mountain's got a few. Some of 'em aren't even survivable. When dropping into a box where the only way out is downstream, scout before you route. That way when you find a stout, there's no need to pout. Cuz you know you can get out!

Mt Rainier has just such a Box
Muddy Fork of the Cowlitz

coulda stayed for days..
 just shootin' shots

 unique unformulated perfection

hard to think of anything out here

Karen Marley works on Oblivion

shooting all things large and small

even the ants make little box canyons
first drops of the Muddy Fork of the Cowlitz
terminus of rocky class II

stouts in a box

a box canyon paddler's worst nightmare

Jeremy and I headed downstream to see what other stouts were lurking. I had my Gorge Beast detector set on high... just in case. Hard to see 'em though all that murky water. The Muddy Fork's Lower Canyon is an easier version of the upper canyons, and while still committing much more 'user friendly'. Although one poorly placed log would spell disaster in any of the Muddy's canyons. The upper canyons were much steeper with a kaleidoscope of marginal to unrunnable drops, the main problem being many of the harder drops require different flows for optimal lines. Crushing holes above lethal features have kept paddlers out of many of the Muddy Fork's upper canyons.

bottom of the drop pictured above
*note the severely undercut river right wall
The current exploded at the bottom of this drop, erupting in massive plumes and boils, all going straight into the right wall without slowing or even hesitating. This undercut extended 25 feet downstream and who knows how far under the wall. Just downstream, another amazing wall and bedrock outcrops. The Muddy Fork just keeps givin'!

After several more snakes and curves this happened.

30 feet high?

more raw power unleashed no one ever sees

Hard to see here, but this drop is a beast dropping 45 feet. The river right side falls behind/just upstream of the water pouring off the river left falls. So burly. While there are runnable drops in these upper canyons, access will keep only the most adventurous crews out of here. A crew that's hahdened-da-fukk-up is what it's gonna take. Because rappelling in, running one or two marginal drops, then being hauled back out is the only option.
I'm tellin' ya.. get out to the woods
Jeremy and Karen had to get back. I kept going another mile or so, only to be stopped by a little tributary coming in. Seems like everything in this zone is a box. The 'side creek' dropped into it's own sick little canyon via an absolutely stunning 200 foot entrance falls. No words can describe the majesty in this area. I will be back because one day in here just isn't enough.

more Muddy Fork from waaay up

Box Canyon was still too high to run when we were here

panorama of another little canyon not far from the Box

Mt Rainier has some of the prettier places I've found in WA. And I've poked around a bit. If you haven't been I suggest making a weekend of it and if your leaving from the Seattle/Tacoma area, take Highway 169 to 410 east, up to the junction with 123, through the park. It really is a beautiful scenic drive and in the summer months, when those passes are open for travel, shaves about an hour off your time instead of going the long way around coming in on 12 through Packwood. Happy travels y'all.  Enjoy the woods.