April 14, 2012.
Siouxon Creek Trail > Horseshoe Ridge > Siouxon Creek
10.8 miles | 2600′ ele. gain | 6:15 hr
This hike came together quickly after a recommendation from a friend on Thursday night. I found myself a hiking partner on Friday and we met up on Saturday to try this wooded loop near Mt. St. Helens in the Gifford Pinchot Forest. Although we arrived just after 8 in the morning, there were already several cars parked at the trailhead. I was hoping to avoid people this day (as usual) and was curious about what all these folks were up to.
Less than a quarter mile from the trailhead we found most of the car’s owners camped along the river, with kids and dogs aplenty. We happily cruised by along the beautiful, green river and admired the abundance of mosses, ferns, and early spring blossoms covering the forest floor.
At about 1.25 miles we arrived at the junction with the Horseshoe Ridge trail. The trail, which had been gently rolling downhill at this point, suddenly rose steeply as it gained the ridge. The trail was brushy and narrow. Our pace slowed down and as we climbed we were pleased with the lack of snow on the ground. Knowing we’d be gaining over 2500 feet in elevation, I was prepared to hit snow at some point in the day, but it seemed to be perfectly clear.
The ridge was more scenic than I’d imagined. There were occasional breaks in the trees that would have provided an excellent view if we hadn’t been socked in with clouds. As we sat at an early viewpoint, I half expected to see a beam from a lighthouse and a low bellow from a foghorn; it felt like we were perched upon a coastal bluff. The air was chillier than I’d hoped, so we didn’t dally at our non-viewpoint long. As we ambled along the ridge, we began to see the occasional patch of snow on the slopes to our left. I was thrilled that it was over there and not over here.
Our bliss was short-lived, however, as the snow ultimately took over the ridge. As we continued our walk, the trail roller-coastered up and down underneath several inches (or more) of wet, sloppy snow. Hoping that the snow would be patchy and inconsistent, I chose not to put my gaiters on. Hours later I would regret that decision.
Up until we reached the junction with the logging road, Sue and I were able to follow the occasional pink ribbon in the trees and old footprints in the snow. We never felt like we got that far off track.
At the junction, however, the tracks disappeared. A pile of downed tree boughs and scattered human garbage indicated that some slob had made camp here and didn’t pick up after him (or her) self. I didn’t see any frozen limbs sticking out of the snow so I assumed this person got out safely and just had no regard for fellow hikers making their way to this camp. We searched the woods for any sign of a trail, looking for cut branches and depressions in the snow. I found myself saying things like “this looks trail-y” and so the two of us pressed on in hopes of completing the loop. At this part of the hike, a logging road essentially paralleled the trail so we had some sense of where we were.
Once we left the safety blanket of the logging road behind, it was a search for sawed tree limbs and a logical path through the snow. I plodded ahead in fits and starts, keeping the ridge to my left, rushing ahead when I found a clue and slowing way down when I felt off track. I kept checking back with Sue to get confirmation that it felt like we were going the right way. I only had the hand-drawn map in the hiking book to guide me, and I had forgotten my compass today. I’m not sure that it would have helped anyways. Our amicable conversation had ceased to exist during this miserable section of the hike. I think we were both bemoaning the challenging nature of walking in unpredictable and unforgiving snow as well as not entirely being certain where we were or how far we had traveled.
Miraculously, and after what felt like many hours of carefully following faint clues of the trail along the wooded slopes, we made it back to solid, dry ground. We rejoiced as our soggy feet and tired muscles touched upon easy walking. I’d had enough postholing/sidehilling for a lifetime.
We stopped to have a snack once we got back to Siouxon Creek. That was enough fuel for the hike back to the car. Along the way we passed several groups, almost all of which were walking with white dogs. A small portion of the riverside trail was washed out, and pink flagging on nearby trees served as a warning to tread carefully. We arrived back at the car just after our planned return time that would get us back to Portland for Sue’s evening event.
You’re welcome, to anyone who attempts this loop soon. The trail has been tracked out for you. Just remember to bring your snowshoes so you can avoid the major suffer-fest we had up there.