A Finn rides Mount St Helens


Hello all, and greetings from Finland – land of thousands of lakes in Northern Europe.  I work for Nokia and recently got a chance to spend a weekend in Seattle before starting some work together with Microsoft. Some 14 years ago I was hiking in the Mt St Helens area and thought It would be nice to go and explore the area on mountain bike.  After some Googling around I found PUMP site and got in touch with David Anderson. Thanks David for excellent hints on selecting the trails to study.

I arrived to Seattle the previous night from Finland and it took me a little while to leave Seattle in the morning. Thus, I arrived to the Lava Canyon trail head at about noon.  Saturday 27.Aug. 2011 was a perfect day for exploring the surroundings of Mt St Helens with 80F temperatures and bright sun in the sky.  I packed my small Camelback with some food and about a gallon of water for the trip. For a map I used Green Trails Map number 364 and my Garmin loaded with a free put not so good North-West USA map. I decided not to use my mobile maps as some weeks ago I was stung with a $2000 data charge from AT&T for the data roaming charges just for using Google maps in USA with my Finnish Mobile SIM card.  Ouch! - that was a bit steep!

Smith Creek - Ape Canyon on August 27th, 2011

Originally my plan was to ride first up the Ape Canyon / Plains of Abraham and then come back down the Smith Creek. The Green Trails Map does not have all the trails / roads marked on it. Road 83 was not on the map and thus, I ended up taking Rd 83 down to Smith Creek and starting my trip in the counter clockwise direction.  Road 83 is an easy slope down the hill on over grown old access road. I assume this road has not been maintained for the past 30 years and thus, nature is taking over its own. Road 83 eventually hits Smith Creek and I made a left up the Creek. Initially the Smith Creek trail follows the creek and it is a very nice and easy ride among the trees and massive trunks that have been thrown in peculiar places by floods. For a Finn like me just the sheer size of the trees in Washington is exotic – let alone seeing the huge trunks tossed like tooth picks by flooding water.  After about 1/4th of the loop behind me I met some riders from Seattle heading the other way and they told me that I will have some serious climbing in front of me – “Finns are famous for “Sisu” (guts) and it will be needed to climb the hill ahead”.  Well - the guys were spot on.  Riding the bike up was getting impossible in many places. Hill was very steep and the surface of the path was loose fine lava rock / sand. My pulse meter was reading 150-160 and I was barely moving when pushing the bike up. On my way up I met several jolly fellows clearing the trail. They told me that David had send them on a mission and I promised not to turn them in to David if saw them take a break from their hard labor. It was very nice to see folks in good spirits maintaining the trail and having fun while doing it.  Thank you Bernie, Len and Grant!  Eventually the road 99 came in sight and the going got easier. I crossed over to the other side of 99 and continued on the path with beautiful vistas of Lake Spirit. When I hit the parking lot at the end of the road 99, more than 2/3 of my water reserves were gone. Luckily the sun was not as hot as earlier during the day and the most demanding climbing was behind me. 

Riding down from Lake Spirit to Ape Canyon is a great ride with fantastic vistas and generally easy and at times pretty fast riding down the hill. I did not quite know what to expect from this part of the ride. When I finally got to Ape Canyon and saw the wedge water has carved to the rock - it took a while to understand what I was seeing.  Just amazing!  I also really enjoyed the moon like vistas of Plains of Abraham with some flowers added here and there and the “twists and turns” of trail 234 along the Muddy River taking me  through the old forests back to Lava canyon. The whole ride of 25 miles took 6h15 min - What a nice day on bike.

During the whole day I felt like I had the whole trail to myself. Much less people on the trail than I had imagined. Especially the Smith Creek was a place for those who enjoy peace and quiet.   

Will I come back?  - Absolutely!

What I would do differently next time?

 - Stay overnight nearby and start earlier

- Take even more water

- Have a good map.


Norway Pass - Bear Meadow - Elk Pass and back on August 28th, 2011

The start of my adventure was even later than previous day, but that was OK as my plan was to spend about 4-5 h on bike and not push as hard as previous day. Norway Pass and to the parking lot where from I started my trip, is on the road 23 about a mile from the intersection of 99 and 23. Road 23 was closed some miles up and not maintained for some time. Even a chipmunk had found home on a crack that had developed to the asphalt :0). We both kept distance from each other and nobody got hurt!  My plan for the day was to ride the Boundary Trail from Norway Pass - Bear Meadow - Elks Pass - Bear Meadow and then ride along road 99 back if I started running short of time (or energy). Norway Pass to Bear Meadow starts with a good climb over the hill that lost it's trees during the eruption.  The sun was very hot and the uphill burned breakfast calories very  fast. Finally the crest comes about and a very interesting part of the trail start. I call it mountain biking hurdles. The trees that got damaged during the eruption form now a forest of huge dead snags. Every now and then one of the trunks standing falls and forms a new hurdle on the bike path. Eventually the path dives into a forest of living huge trees and suddenly the whole ecosystem changes extremely fast to a buzzing big forest. Clearwater Creek was a nice place to spot to dip your head into cool water and have a break. 

The ride from Bear Meadow to Elk Pass is very different from the Norway Pass to Bear Meadow. When the first part had some demanding climbs and mostly open landscape with snags, the latter part is fast riding in the big forest that is at times even allowed for motorcycles. Well - it may be allowed for motorcycles, but with bridges collapsed and some snags on the path - this limits the motorcycle access to selected parts only and keeps traffic down. When on a mountain bike, these hurdles are nothing but part of the game. For those of us who enjoy zoom zoom zooming through the forest on path that is quite wide and mostly in good shape, this is a treat. Motorcycles had even created some jumps. 

On my way back I did opt for taking the road back from Bear Meadow to Norway pass. It is mostly downhill and was a lot of fun to blast down the hill and test the energy reserves I still had left. I did record speeds in excess of 40 mph and at places the twists and turns of the road felt quite steep :0)  I literally had the trail to myself, as I did not meet anybody on the trail. 

Will I come back?  - Absolutely! 

What I would do differently next time? 

- Next time I'll go for a longer trip on Boundary trail. Norway Pass to Elk Pass got me curious about what else there is on Boundary Trail. 

My big dream is to ride all the best trails on this little planet of ours. I do expect this very short trip to Surroundings of Mt St Helen to stay very high on my list of great mountain biking memories for years to come. Thank you NWTA for caring for and maintaining a spectacular trail system around Mt St Helen. 


Ismo Karali

Espoo, Finland

ismo.karali at gmail dot com


You can view Ismo's photos of his two rides at Mount St Helens on flickr.  Go to: http://www.flickr.com/photos/67568828@N06/sets/72157627553664403/

Wow, what a trip! What

Wow, what a trip! What precautions did you take for such an endeavor. Did you have to get short term health insurance washington state in case of an accident? I hope you can someday fulfill your dream of riding all the trails this wonderful world can offer. You certainly sound like you are quite adept at navigating the trails(i'd be over the handle bars if i went as fast as you). I bet the memories of your ride around Mt. St. Helens will last a lifetime.


Normally I ride with riding buddies, but this time I did not have that luxury. I had to rely on preparing for the trip by getting informing myself about the trail ahead, SPOT Connect emergency beacon, other riders and good life and medical incurance to take me home safely.

In weeks time I'll be heading to Kokopelli trail in Colorado and Utah - this time with my brother and two satelite trackers (SPOT and InReach) to keep folks at home informed and capable to follow our progress in the desert.

Cheers, Ismo