Many of the trails, especially those closest to the mountain, were closed as of May, 2006, due to volcanic activity. Climbing to the summit, or what's left of it, is not permitted at this time. I visited on May 28, 2006 and, two days later, heard about reports of an earthquake.
It may be tempting to ignore these warnings and trek onward in search of a better view or great photo. But, keep in mind that many people disregarded the warnings in 1980 to their peril. It is estimated that many people entered the blast xone area surreptitiously and were around the base of the mountain at the time of eruption. Those who were in the blast zone did not survive. The warnings are there for a reason. Heed them.
The Forest Service tells you the Loowit trail is closed across the North Side - the Blast Zone - because of potential volcanic activity. They don’t tell you of the other areas where the trail is washed away. Going north from the South Fork of the Toutle combines a wet crossing with plenty of ash and possibly washed away trail. Crossing the Swift Creek lahar on the southeast side can be very interesting considering seasonal erosion on the steep soft ash slopes of the trail. Mapreading skills and a good sense of where you are and where you are going are essential. There is also the normal creek crossing on the map. Here, just south of the Loowit’s junction with the Sheep Canyon Trail, there is about 100 meters of trail that are gone. You are not getting across at this point. The soft ash walls will simply give way and you will tumble down. There was a ‘flagged’ detour, experience is needed to recognize the flag, however. The extra elevation gain and distance is considerable. To put a trail that can last in this environment up here is quite a task. On the other hand, if you put the trail on the map and don’t maintain it, don’t warn people of what hazards lie ahead - simply telling them that the damn trail is closed from here to here! - you should just take the trail off the map for some could come to harm on such ‘trails’.
Early in the season, snows can lie deep along trails making the way treacherous without the use of special tools. Later in the season, winds blow the dry sands into your face and clothes. Be very careful with digital cameras - any cameras!
Climbing is cancelled for the moment because of volcanic activity. The Loowit Trail, a very popular trail which encircles the mountain at around the timberline level, is also closed from the Castle Ridge Trail junction to the Plains of Abraham, or basically, for the entire northern section of the mountain. The Loowit Trail is still open for a little over half of it on the south sides. *
There are no services for about 70 miles each way. In the summer it can get very hot, and in the winter there is snow on the roads.
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