It’s just dumb luck. Four days before we leave for the Northwest, we learn from our friend Patty in Oregon that a friend of hers has recently stayed at a B and B in Cougar, WA. That’s the same Cougar, WA that will be the jumping off point for our hikes at Mt. St. Helens. I had focused on motels 50 miles away in Kelso, WA on I-5. Cougar is a mere eight miles from the park. Who knew a town of 122 would have B and Bs?
A quick Internet check of B and Bs in Cougar, WA brings me to the Mount Saint Helens B and B, where each review is five stars. Tracey Rogers (can you guess her husband’s name? That’s right, Kenny) informs me that the all the rooms in the main house are full for this Thursday night, but they do have a cabin with a king size bed and a refrigerator. She wonders if we’d be interested?
We are and we really are when she says the magic words “for $75.”
Looking to get an early start on this first Friday of August to hike Ape Canyon, we wander into the main house for a Kenny Rogers breakfast just before 7A. Sitting over coffee, we shoot the breeze with Kenny as he slices up Texas size sausage links for Hannah’s breakfast burrito. I’ll have my burrito without the hard stuff.
Blueberries and chunks of cantaloupe and watermelon are spread out on the table. With cereals, granola, and yogurt for the taking, we engage Kenny to learn about very rural Cougar. We learn that July fourth fireworks are held on the main street, a state highway, for all the residents. With a log cabin kit from Canada, Kenny built his five bedroom, 5000 square foot retreat that they share with guests. Tracey, a trucker, hauls the big logs and veneer to nearby mills as she has done for 30 years.
(Feeling indebted to the reviews which led us to the Mount St. Helens B and B, I write my own. Click on this link for my review and more info on the Mount St. Helens B and B.)
As we finish breakfast, Melissa comes down the steps into the kitchen. She and her two partners are “den mothers” to 17 inner city teenagers here to climb Mt. St. Helens. As a PAL (Police Athletic League) officer, she and her two colleagues have driven two vans nearly 1100 miles to show these kids a world beyond the mean streets of Las Vegas, NV. Mount St. Helens is not the only mountain Melissa climbs.
So the name, Ape Canyon? Legend has it that miners in the 1930s were pelted with rocks by an unknown source near Mount Saint Helens. They thought it was a Big Foot, Sasquatch-type, “ape-like” animal showering them with pumice. The dark moonlit figure appeared threatening to the miners. Most likely, these were young campers messing around and miners with wild imaginations. Whatever the origin, this story of Sasquatch took hold in this area.
After breakfast, the ride on winding route 83 from Cougar is dense forest similar to what D. B. Cooper, might have found when he jumped from a Boeing 727 out of Portland, OR in 1971 with a $200,000 ransom. Though he was the only American hijacker never prosecuted, Ole D. B. was also never found in this dense rain forest or any forest for that matter.
As we lace up our hiking boots at the trailhead on this 54F early August morning, we pack our ponchos, for the gray/black clouds are low in the sky. Securing our water bottles in our fanny packs, we head for the Loowit Trail, the rim trail around Mount St. Helens, some five and a half miles away. In the early stages, the trail is ideal for hiking with its pine needles on packed dirt with a gentle grade.
Hannah and I have a common purpose when we hike: to get some serious exercise. Hannah often leads our hikes and sets a steady pace. As one-time phys. ed. majors, we love vacation days filled with physical activity.
Along the trail, signs of the eruption in 1980 are evident in the rock filled Muddy River to our left. The river bed was wide enough to hold most of the 45 mph mud and rock slide that was once part of the upper slope of Mount St. Helens. Today in the drizzle and fog we will not see any of the mountain shown below.
Hannah spots elk breakfasting in the river bottom and my iPhone zoom technology captures these majestic animals.
The trail climbs increasingly, but we maintain a three mile per hour pace through the rain forest.
Though there are no trail signs or directing blazes on the trees, the trail is obvious and we never feel lost in this shady forest.
The rain forest nature of the trail is evident by the monstrous leaves on the trailside. There are rocky sections, but the negotiating is easy and an excellent hiking rhythm can be had by one and all.
Seventy minutes and three to four miles into the hike, we tire of the muddy trail. Puddles with wet leaves and grass smacking our legs have us turn back to save our energy for two more hikes today.
Once home, a friend asked if I was disappointed that we didn’t see the mountain top. This isn’t the first famous mountain top we didn’t see. Having driven 4500 miles on a family trip to Denali National Park in Alaska, we got to the base of Denali, the highest peak in North America, found it covered with clouds, and never saw the top at all during our two day stay there.
True, it would have been nice to see the top today, but I am not disappointed. The cliché lives: it’s the journey. Today it’s together on trails with gentle grades and packed dirt that we have never hiked before.
And by the way, there’s a lot to be said for road trips. That said, we’d just now be approaching the Mississippi River if we had begun driving yesterday from Maine to Oregon.