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Monday, July 16, 2007

LAVA CANYON - Closed Until Further Notice

The same rains that wiped out portions of the Ramona Falls trail also played havoc with the area around Mt. St. Helens (See also Ramona Falls Trail (Super-sized) Part Two - ) .

Road 83, the 11.3 mile road that terminates at the Lava Canyon trailhead is washed out at about the 7 mile mark. There is a closed gate at the six mile mark (it’s locked…I checked) so access to June Lake, Ape Canyon and Lava Canyon require extra hiking or biking.

It can be somewhat disheartening to plod mile after mile along a broad road where posted signs sarcastically remind you to take the next curve at thirty-five miles an hour. There isn’t much to see besides trees until mile ten or so when one begins to approach a massive lahar spawned by Mt. St. Helens’ 1980 eruption.

It seems our human attention span is just not long enough to register the antics of volcanoes. We think the ground beneath us is stable and permanent and dare to build roads and skyscrapers.

Occasionally, a spokesperson for geologic time - like Mt. St. Helens - makes an eloquent case for the temporary nature of our species and its accomplishments.

Even so, we biologicals share a certain kind of stubborn shortsightedness.

Probing for weaknesses, the mountain reaches out with a finger of water.

I knew the road to Lava Canyon was closed, but what I didn’t know was that the Lava Canyon trail was also closed due to storm damage.

After walking for five miles, I kind of had a hankering to at least see what sort of storm damage had occurred. However, not wanting to defy the forest service, and taking various warnings of imminent death at face value, I could see no alternative but to send in the Monkey-Cam.

According to the Monkey-Cam, this guardrail and the little metal footings are all that remain of the trail’s first bridge.

Also, various handrails and other guides have been displaced leaving hikers to rely on their common sense when making decisions about how close to stand to the edge of polished lava overlooks.

Posted signs warn that there have been a number of recent fatalities in and around these waters.

Lava Canyon’s story goes something like this: In the distant past, between major events, a big forest covered this canyon’s floor. Then, in the course of time, Mt. St. Helens erupted and sent a river of basaltic lava down the canyon (the thick black layer). Parts of the lava layer cooled slowly enough to form crystal-like vertical columns.

Eventually, the canyon was buried and covered with a new forest that thrived until 1980 when tributaries of the massive lahar (seen earlier) scoured out the valley and revealed the remnants of the ancient lava flow.

The Monkey-Cam refused to cross the suspension bridge because of the sign that explained about it being ‘under repair’. The Monkey-Cam also started to demand more bananas as a hazardous pay bonus. Since I only had so many bananas and was unable to strike a deal with my store of trail mix, I’m afraid I have no data for points beyond the suspension bridge and cannot confirm whether the route to Smith Creek is still passable.

The setting sun creates an evocative image, casting a reddish glow in the sky above the restless mountain – as if the atmosphere were illuminated by a crater full of molten magma.


  1. Hey, be nice to the monkey! He works hard for those bananas and he's a pretty good photographer to boot.

    I really wish you and the monkey would head down from those lofty and hazardous perches earlier than sunset....

  2. The monkey cam made me laugh. Thanks for blogging this. I Googled into it looking for info on the status of the road out to Lava Canyon. Needless to say, I won't be heading there. It's an awesome place, but I think I'll let it heal a little.
    Thanks again!

  3. Bri-onic Man,

    Except for that one place washed out at about the seven mile mark, the road is in pretty good shape. The smart hikers were all riding bicycles the day I walked to Lava canyon and it looks like the trip back on a bike would be almost all coasting. Also, it may be worth exploring the June Lake and Ape Canyon trails.


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