Blue Pool on the Upper McKenzie River Trail is fascinating. No, this photo was not altered in any way. Stunning color.
The sights along the upper McKenzie are almost too vivid to believe. The color of Blue Pool is the most electrically radiant shade of turquoise you’ll ever see. The filtration of water through endless piles of lava rock give the water its clarity. Clear Lake is also striking, with colors and clarity more impressive than Lake Tahoe.
As much as I love McKenzie River Trail, day three was the pinnacle for me, literally and figuratively. Riding a 30-mile loop around Mt. St. Helens was an absolute mind blowing experience. If any single ride qualifies as an epic, this is surely on the list. Mt. St. Helens isn’t just a ride, it’s a history lesson and firsthand encounter with the raw, destructive power of nature wrapped into a mountain bike ride.
Left: The Mt. St. Helens ride starts in a beautiful, lush green forest before it pops out into barren moonscape. Right: Ranger Dave riding the moonscape beneath Mt. St. Helens.
While most rides are judged based on the quality, flow and technical nature of a trail, Mt. St. Helens is more about the otherworldly landscape, going from lush green forest and loamy singletrack to barren, treeless moonscape littered with pumice and volcanic rock so thick that you can barely keep the bike upright in corners.
Smith Creek Trail give riders a glimpse of the devastating destruction that Mt. St. Helens caused.
Trail quality isn’t as high as McKenzie River, thanks to a completely sketchy, loose and dangerous descent down Smith Creek Trail; a trail that’s overgrown, ultra tight and chock full of deep, loose pumice sand that is guaranteed to make you fall and curse like a sailor at least one time during the heinous four-mile descent.
The destruction Mt. St. Helens caused is almost too enormous to comprehend. The blast decapitated the top 1,200 feet of the mountain, taking it from roughly 9,600 feet to 8,400 feet in elevation in the matter of about 20 minutes. The mudflows were devastating, completely wiping out Spirit Lake and filling it with thousands of trees nearly 200 feet tall. Small streams turned to massive rivers of rock and molten lava, wiping out everything in its path including roads, bridges and homes.
Smith Creek is a football field wide of nothing but volcanic rock and dead trees from the eruption.
The choking clouds of ash turned day into night, killed nearly 100 people and blanketed hundreds of square miles surrounding the mountain in nearly four inches of volcanic spew. Trees in the blast zone were snapped dead flat like toothpicks and both humans and animals perished, frozen for all time like the people of Pompeii.
Riding through this natural wasteland was absolutely stunning. The weather was crystal clear, enabling us to see Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier as we rode along the foot of Mt. St. Helens. The trail took us down a spine of pumice, with 100-foot drop-offs to either side. We hit a section that was more bike surfing than bike riding, forcing us to get behind the saddle, stay off our front brake and float down the steep drops lined with pumice sand four-inches deep.
Although I was bloody and my clothes were covered in a fine layer of pumice dust from a couple falls on Smith Creek, when we got back to the parking lot at the foot of the mighty Mt. St. Helens, I realized it was one of the greatest rides in my life. A true mountain bike epic, where the trails challenge your mind and skills beyond reason and the massive, raw power of nature make you feel completely small and insignificant in comparison.