Mount Whittier is the highest point in the Mount Margaret Backcountry
- part of the Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
- and is part of a ridge system located just north of Mt. St. Helens
and Spirit Lake. This area took the brunt of the 1980 eruption - the lateral blast leveled thousands of acres of forest north of the volcano and scoured the ridgetop down to the bedrock in places. The views of the St. Helens crater from atop the ridge are some of the best anywhere in the Monument. Mount Whittier likely does not receive too many visitors. The easiest trail approaches eastwards from Norway Pass - although most hikers likely visit the nearby and slightly lower Mount Margaret (5858') to the south. Visitors may also be deterred by the Forest Service warning: "The Whittier Trail #214, in particular, is very narrow and crosses steep cliffs; it is not suitable for hikers that are uncomfortable with heights." The old trail is largely unmaintained but has several sections of easy class 3 scrambling along a narrow ledge. It's fine if it's dry, but if not, you may want a handline for safety. Mt. Whittier could easily be combined with nearby Mount Margaret (5858') as a day outing.
As of spring 2011 the trail at the north end of the Whittier Ridge has been re-routed allowing loop hikes to be made into the lake basin north of the ridge.
If the Blast Zone below the St. Helens crater is open to hikers, one great backpack is to hike the Mt. Margaret traverse out along the Boundary Trail (#1) and return on a loop via the Truman Trail (#207). This may require a car shuttle or hiking for a distance along the Windy Ridge Rd.
Trails of the Mt. Margaret Backcountry
Note that some USGS maps do not show the trails in the Mt. Margaret Backcountry. Other than the old Whittier Trail (and possibly the Independence Pass trail which was washed out in sections in 2002) they appear to otherwise be largely well-maintained, well signed, and easy to follow trails
Note - While currently dormant, Mt. St. Helens is an active volcano. It's probably best to check on the Monument Conditions for any special closures before visiting this area.
The easiest approach is via the Norway Pass trail - located on the northeastern side of Mt. St. Helens. From I-5, take exit 68 and follow Rt 12 ~47mi to Randle. Turn off right onto Rd 25 (signed for Windy Ridge) and follow south ~13mi before turning right again onto Rd 99 (also signed). Follow the road into the outer blast zone of the Monument for 9.2mi, turning right onto Rd 26 and continue ~1mi to the Norway Pass trailhead on the left.
A somewhat longer approach to Mt. Whittier would be from the Johnson Ridge Visitor Center on the northwestern side of the Monument. From I-5, take exit 49 (Castle Rock) and follow Hwy 504 east to its very end at the parking area for the Johnson Ridge Visitor Center. The trailhead is at the far eastern end of the parking lot.
A NW Forest Pass is required to park at Norway Pass and Johnson Ridge.
A permit is required for overnight camping (see below).
When To Climb
Mount Whittier is probably best climbed in late-spring/summer/fall. Possibly it can be climbed all year 'round, although getting into the Backcountry may be more difficult if roads are not plowed. There may be some avalanche hazard in some areas of the Backcountry. Mt. Margaret would probably be fairly easy to reach in winter -- although the narrow ridge out to Mt. Whittier might require some fixed lines under snow conditions. Snow typically lingers on the ridgetop until late-June or early July. An ice axe and crampons may be a good idea earlier in the season.
The fall colours in the area make this a great late-season hike. Elk are numerous in the area and we spotted two mountain goats on the Whittier Ridge.
Camping in the Mt. Margaret Backcountry requires a permit. Group size is limited to four and groups are required stay at established camps. Water may be an issue at the ridgetop camps later in the season.
Information on Backcountry Permits and Camps
Online Permit Form
The nearest car-camping on the northeastern side of the Monument is likely the Iron Creek Campground located on Rt 25 about 8mi south of Randle.
Mountain ConditionsNWS Point Forecast for the Mt. Margaret Area
Mt. St. Helens WebCam
Can be used to check on volcano activity and get an idea an idea of weather conditions in the area.
Mt. St. Helens Current Conditions