Canyoneering Prospects near Mount St. Helens


Sheep Canyon is on the western slope of Mount St. Helens. There are two high waterfalls near the lower end. To get there, take highway 503 to forest service road 90. Follow it and turn left onto forest service road 81. Follow 81 north past Merrill Lake and continue until forest service road 8123. Follow road 8123 to the end. Hike trail 238 past Blue Lake to the junction with the Sheep Canyon trail 240. This is about three miles. To reach the lower end of the canyon and the waterfalls, stay on trail 238 at the junction. It is a short distance. To reach the upper end of Sheep Canyon turn right at the junction and take trail 240 uphill 1.6 miles to the junction of trail 216. Turn left on 216 and you will soon arrive at Sheep Canyon Creek.
The South Fork of the Toutle River has cut an impressive looking gorge one mile to the north. I have no information as to whether it has any falls or other interesting features. You can reach the lower end of it by following trail 238 about 1.8 miles past the junction with 240.

Map: Smith Creek Butte Quad.

Lava Canyon is on the southeast side of the mountain. To get there take state highway 503 to forest service road 90. Turn left on to forest service road 83 and follow it to the end. Lava Canyon is very scenic with many waterfalls and has a wonderful trail down its entire length. The trail features a suspension bridge over the creek and a 32 foot ladder at a vertical spot. The trail stays, for the most part, well away from the water course. A canyoneering descent down the creek would be very challenging due to the many falls and substantial water flow. Several hikers have been swept over the falls and died. This is not a place for the inexperienced to fool around.

Bryan Swan has generously allowed us to use the following pictures of waterfalls in Lava Canyon. More pictures of Northwest waterfalls can be found on his website www.waterfallsnorthwest.com. Click on any of the pictures to enlarge.

The North Fork Ape Canyon drops steeply for a half mile with many waterfalls before joining the Main Fork of Ape Canyon. Ape Canyon was on the "Seven Undescended" list before its first recorded descent in 2011. The still undescended North Fork is likely to have difficulties similar to the Main Fork, and more water.

Directions, beta and photos can be found on the Ape Canyon page. The drop in for the North Fork is about a half mile north of the drop in for the main fork on the Plains Of Abraham.

 

Ape Canyon: Photo by Matt Bannon. The North Fork is on the right. The Main Fork is on the left.