After spending the night in our tent at Badger Lake (post) Heather’s foot was feeling better enough to give the Norway Pass hike a go. We were up nice and early thanks in part to an owl who visited the lake just before 4am. After a breakfast of Mountain House’s Spicy Southwest Skillet (our current favorite) we packed up and started our hike back to Elk Pass.
The view from the trees surrounding our campsite as we prepared to leave.
We had decided not to follow the Boundary Trail all the way back to Elk Pass opting to cut over to a forest road after the first two miles near the Mosquito Meadows Trail junction. Sullivan mentions doing this stating that it is “slightly quicker, but a bit tedious”. Our hope was there would be less elevation gain because we’d done a fair amount of up and down on the trail the day before.
Mt. St. Helens catching some morning light.
Mt. Rainier without a whole bunch of smoke.
There were a couple of paths near the trail junction where people had cut over to the old forest service road which was only about 10 yards away (but hidden by trees from the trail). We turned left at the first of the paths and quickly popped out onto the road.
We turned right on the roadbed and followed it downhill just under half a mile to FR 2551 which is still in use.
We snagged a few black caps along the road to as a post breakfast snack.
We turned right onto FR 2551 and were pleasantly surprised to find that there was very little elevation change (just a slight gain) over the 1.7 miles back to FR 25.
The very top of Mt. St. Helens from FR 2551.
Sullivan had labeled this stretch with the word slide which had caused a little apprehension in deciding to try this return route but despite the obvious slide(s) that had occurred here the road was in decent shape.
Not sure what kinds of birds were in this tree but there were a lot of them.
FR 25 at the end of a long straight away.
We turned right again at FR 25 walking along the shoulder for 150 yards to the Boundary Trailhead.
The Boundary Trail crosses FR 25 near the road sign ahead. The picture was taken from FR 2551 at FR 25.
We pulled our day packs out, refilled our water with some extra we had left in the car and drove north on FR 25 to FR 99 where we turned left heading for the Norway Pass Trailhead. A short connector from the trailhead leads to the Boundary Trail.
We turned left at the Boundary Trail and climbed for just over a mile to a signed junction with the Independence Ridge Trail. A couple was taking a break at the junction and another hiker, from the Mt. St. Helens Institute, coming down hill stopped to ask them if they were debating on which way to go. They weren’t and she said good because the Independence Ridge Trail is “dicey”.
We could hear a waterfall in the valley below.
The top of the waterfall.
Penstemon and pearly everlasting.
Looking back over our shoulders to Meta Lake.
Mt. Adams also from over our shoulders.
Switchback at the Independence Ridge Trail junction.
The Boundary Trail climbed less steeply beyond the junction with the exception of an up and down to cross a dry stream bed.
Heading down to the stream bed.
As the trail made it’s final climb to Norway Pass Mt. Rainier was visible beyond the ridges to the north.
Norway Pass (the low saddle to the right) from the trail.
Approaching the pass.
To get a good view of Mt. St. Helens we had to descend on the trail a short distance beyond the pass.
After admiring the view we headed back stopping along the way to debate what these flowers were and whether or not they were non-natives (we believe they probably are).
With much of the 2.2 mile return hike being downhill we made good time back to the trailhead where we changed and then started the long drive home.
Mt. Adams and Meta Lake from the trail.
This hike was just 4.4 miles but gained nearly 900′ of elevation making it a good workout with great views.
The hike out of Badger Lake had been 4.2 miles so combined it was an 8.6 mile day. Knowing that we had now hiked at least portions of all 100 featured hikes in another of Sullivan’s books was the icing on the cake of a fun but tiring visit to Mt. St. Helens. Happy Trails!
After having spent a week in SE Oregon checking off a few of Sullivan’s featured hikes in that region we turned our focus back to the Northwest Oregon/Southwest Washington guidebook where just 3 featured hikes remained. All three hikes were located on the NW side of Mt. St. Helens, a three and a half hour drive from Salem. These last three hikes were a good example of some of the things we’ve had to work out on what counts toward being able to check off a hike. Due to their distance day hikes were out and a limited number of nearby rooms meant we needed to get creative. Our plan was to do portions of all three hikes on Saturday starting at Mt. St. Helens and ending with us backpacking in to Badger Lake and the finishing up on Sunday by driving back to Mt. St. Helens to complete one of the three options Sullivan has for his Spirit Lake hike (4th edition hike #29).
One of the quirks with Sullivan is that while he has the 100 featured hikes he often gives multiple options. Typically the second option is an extension of the shorter option but sometimes the options go in different directions or are even completely different hikes starting at different trailheads. Two of these last three hikes had three options. For Spirit Lake the shortest option, Harmony Falls, started at the Harmony Trailhead while the other two, Norway Pass and Mt. Margaret, began at the Norway Pass Trailhead. We had hiked up Mt. Margaret on a previous trip coming from the other direction (post) so we didn’t feel we needed to do that option but the other two options would be new to us so we planned on doing them both starting with Harmony Falls and saving Norway Pass for Sunday.
From the Harmony Viewpoint a 1.2 mile trail leads 700′ downhill to Spirit Lake.
Mt. St. Helens from the viewpoint.
As has been the case this Summer there was a good deal of haze surrounding us but we had blue(ish) sky overhead. There were also a fair amount of wildflowers blooming, at least compared to what we had seen in SE the previous week.
Mt. St. Helens
Prior to the 1980 eruption of the mountain Harmony Falls was a 50′ waterfall but most of the falls were buried as was the lodge that sat near the base of the falls. Now there is only a small cascade along the trail.
Mt. St. Helens and Spirit Lake from the end of the trail.
As we were making our way back we were doing our best to try and identify the various rock formations and peaks across the lake.
Coldwater Peak (post) is easy with the white equipment on top.
After finishing this 2.4 mile hike we continued driving toward Mt. St. Helens on FR 99 and parked at the Windy Ridge Interpretive Site where the road is gated and only open to research vehicles.
We were now working on featured hike #28 – Windy Ridge. Again Sullivan had three options, this time all starting from this parking lot. The shortest option was a .2 mile round trip up a steep set of stairs to the Windy Ridge Viewpoint at the northern end of the parking lot (see photo above). We set off across the lot to tackle this one first.
<img src="https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/51413600517_e0b437d3fb_c.jpg" width="800" height="600" alt="IMG_3847">The interpretive site and Spirit Lake.
Mt. St. Helens.
Aside from a little section near the top the stairs were nicely spaced making the climb better than it looked from the bottom.
In addition to Mt. St. Helens both Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier were visible from the viewpoint although on this day the haze was an issue.
The interpretive signs at the viewpoint did a good job of identifying different features that were visible which we appreciated.
The Johnston Ridge Observatory was visible across Spirit Lake on a far hillside.
It’s often hard to tell if you’re seeing dust from rockfall or steam from one of the vents.
After reading the signs and taking in the views we headed down the stairs and to the other end of the parking area where we walked past the gate and followed FR 99 for 1.8 miles to a sign for the Abraham Trail, the return route for the longer option.
Butterfly on ragwort
Butterfly on pearly everlasting
Lupine in the pearly everlasting
Golden-mantled ground squirrel
Might be Oregon sunshine
The longer option would add approximately 2.2 miles and 500′ to our hike and visit the Plains of Abraham. As with Mt. Margaret we had visited the Plains of Abraham (post) previously so we were going to stick to the shorter option. Beyond the junction with the Abraham Trail FR 99 dropped to a small parking area for research vehicles where two trails began.
To the left was the Windy Trail and to the right was the Truman Trail. Our plan was to take the Windy Trail and hike a clockwise loop returning on the Truman Trail.
We followed the Windy Trail just over a mile to the Loowit Trail where we turned right.
Paintbrush and dwarf lupine
The Loowit Trail junction.
The Loowit Trail immediately dropped into a gully to cross a small stream.
Spirit Lake from the junction.
In the gully.
We continued another 0.4 miles before arriving at Big Spring which was a big surprise.
Another gully to cross.
Big Spring is in the willow thicket.
We knew that there was a spring but more often than not the springs wind up being small trickles or big mud puddles but not Big Spring. This was a good sized stream beginning almost right next to the Loowit Trail.
The stream flowing over the Loowit Trail.
A pink monkeyflower at the spring.
Looking back at the willows and Big Spring.
Another half mile of big views and a couple of gully crossings followed Big Spring. We were excited to spot mountain goats lounging on a ridge between the mountain and the trail along this stretch.
Coldwater Peak to the right.
The Sugar Bowl lava dome.
Spirit Lake from the trail.
The first goats we spotted are on this ridge above the lone tree.
The Loowit Trail crossing two gullies in a short stretch, one red one black.
Dropping into the second gully.
From the second gully we could see quite a few more goats on the ridge.
A half mile from Big Spring we arrived at another trail junction.
Approaching the junction with the side trail to Loowit Falls.
Sign for Loowit Falls.
We stayed straight here following the pointer for Loowit Falls for another half mile.
Loowit Falls (right side of the photo) was visible for much of the half mile.
Looking back at Coldwater Peak and Spirit Lake. (The top of Mt. Rainier is barely visible peaking over the top of the ridges.)
As we neared the falls we noticed another small herd of mountain goats on the hillside.
We could also see the hummocks (post) off in the distance to the NE, pieces of the mountain that slid off during the 1980 eruption and settled in the debris flow creating odd mounds.
Loowit Falls looked bigger than I had expected. We took a good break at the viewpoint with a couple of other hikers and a pair of young Forest Service workers.
Spirit Lake from the viewpoint.
After our break we returned to the Loowit Trail to continue the loop.
Just under three quarters of a mile from the Loowit Falls Trail junction we arrived at the Willow Springs Trail junction.
Here we left the Loowit Trail by turning right on the 0.8 mile long Willow Springs Trail.
Mt. St. Helens from the Willow Springs Trail.
Heading toward Spirit Lake.
The Willow Springs Trail ended at the Truman Trail where we again turned right.
We followed the Truman Trail for a mile and a half back to the research vehicle parking area, re-crossing the gullies and streams we had crossed on the Loowit Trail.
The Dome above Spirit Lake
Vehicles ahead in the research parking area.
From the parking area we followed FR 99 (mostly uphill until the very end) 1.8 miles back to the Windy Ridge Interpretive Site. The haze was improving as the day wore on and we could now at least make out some snow on Mt. Adams.
Mt. Adams to the left.
Look out for snakes, not the poisonous kind just don’t want to step on them.
Some sort of sulphur butterfly on pearly everalsting.
The 53.7 mile long Boundary Trail’s western end is near Norway Pass where we planned on hiking the next day while the eastern end is located at Council Lake near Mt. Adams. The section of the trail that we planned on hiking was a 4.3 mile segment from Elk Pass to Badger Lake. From the signboard at the trailhead a short spur led away from FR 25 into the trees before joining the Boundary Trail.
We turned left on the Boundary Trail and promptly arrived at FR 25 which we then crossed.
This trail is open to both mountain bikes and motorcycles which probably explains why it was only briefly one of Sullivan’s featured hikes (#30 in his 4th edition). The forest was pretty and quiet (no motorcycles during our visit) but the trail showed a lot of wear from tires.
One plus was a good variety of berries along the way and there were a few flowers as well.
Mushrooms (the flowers of Fall)
I was really surprised to still be able to make out the remains of the petals on these trillium.
These bunchberries with a few petals left were near the trillium above.
At the 2.3 mile mark we passed the Mosquito Meadows Trail on the left.
At this junction Heather told me to go on ahead and find a campsite then hike up Badger Peak without her if I wanted. Her plantar fasciitis had flared up on the way back from Loowit Falls and was struggling a bit. We had planned on hiking up to the summit after setting up camp and I didn’t want to wait for morning because the rising Sun would have been directly behind Mt. Adams. (Sullivan’s short option for this hike was to the lake and back while the longer option was to the summit.)
The trail gained a little over 600′ over the next two miles which doesn’t sound like a lot but nearly all the elevation was packed into two short sections of the leg.
These thimbleberries weren’t ripe but a short distance further were a lot of ripe ones. I thought I might have to hike back and retrieve Heather from them.
A brief glimpse of Mt. Rainier from the ridge the trail was following, it looked like a lot of the smoke had blown away.
Two miles from the Mosquito Meadows Trail I arrived at a junction with the Badger Peak Trail.
Before I headed up that trail though I needed to hike on to Badger Lake to find a campsite (and get rid of my full backpack). Beyond this junction the trail passed through a meadow crossing Elk Creek and arriving at the lake on the far side.
Pink monkeyflower along Elk Creek
The trail near Badger Lake was particularly torn up and there were several signs posted admonishing motorcyclists to stop driving off trail.
Torn up hillside near the lake, it only takes one or two idiots to cause a lot of damage (the same goes for hikers/mountain bikers).
The little puddle in the foreground is not the lake, it is further back.
I found a tent site back in the trees near the meadow and dropped my pack off and hung my hunter orange shirt so Heather couldn’t miss it. Then I grabbed my day pack and hiked back to the Badger Peak Trail and headed uphill.
This mushrooms was at least as wide as a salad plate.
It was 0.8 miles to the summit with 700′ of elevation to gain which meant the trail was pretty steep. In addition the motorcycles had gouged a deep trough in the center of much of the trail which was uncomfortably narrow to walk in. It turned out to be for the best that Heather had decided to skip the summit.
The view was nice though and the sky around Mt. Adams had also cleared up greatly from earlier in the day.
A hiker from Boise was at the summit when I arrived. She said she had been planning on staying up there until sunset but was having second thoughts due to the chilly breeze and not wanting to have to hike down the trail in the dark. I helped her identify the different mountains as this was her first time to the area. She was on a driving expedition as was thinking of heading to the Olympic Mountains next.
Mt. St. Helens was hard to make out with the combination of haze and Sun position.
Looking south toward Mt. Hood (I could make it out with the naked eye.)
Mt. Hood in the haze.
The Goat Rocks were also hard to make out due to the smoke.
Western pasque flowers, aka hippies on a stick, below the summit.
I headed down after a short break and found Heather finishing setting up our tent.
We took our dinner over near Badger Lake and then turned in for the night. It had been a long day with a lot of hiking. For me it was a 19.4 mile day with approximately 3800′ of elevation gain and Heather was in the 18 mile range with over 3000′, no wonder her plantar acted up.
The last of the sunlight hitting Badger Peak.
We hoped her foot would be feel better in the morning so the hike out wasn’t too miserable and so she might be able to do the Norway Pass hike. For now though we just needed to get our sore bodies to let us fall asleep. Happy Trails!
The only backpacking trip that we had planned for this year which required a permit was an overnight stay in the Mount Margaret Backcountry near Mt. St. Helens. The area is part of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, displaying the effects of the 1980 eruption. The lateral blast from the eruption shattered trees toppling thousands of acres of forest.
Camping is limited to designated sites at eight backcountry camps where the maximum group size for camping is four. Pets and pack stock are prohibited in the Mount Margaret Backcountry and fires are not allowed. We made our reservation for Obscurity Camp on March 19th, the day the permits became available.
One drawback of a permit system is not having any idea what the weather is going to be like on the days you reserve. We were looking at the chance of showers and maybe even a thunderstorm as we were hiking out, but we liked our odds and we had spent a whole $6.00 on the permit so we decided to give it a go. It was a wet drive to the South Coldwater Trailhead which is located along the Spirit Lake Highway (SR 504).
Starting at Norway Pass would have made it a shorter hike but where is the fun in that? It also would have been a longer drive. Our plan was a lollipop route using the South Coldwater Trail 230A, Coldwater Trail 230, Boundary Trail 1, and Lakes Trail 211. We had been on some of the trails in 2013 during a May hike around Coldwater Lake, but that hike had been early enough in the season that there had been very little vegetation and almost no flowers. It was evident from the flowers at the trailhead that we’d be seeing different sights this time around.
We were under the clouds as we set off on the trail which passed through a short section of woods before emerging into wildflower filled meadows.
Although the clouds limited the view we were able to see back down to the South Coldwater Creek Valley where we spotted several elk.
The trail then crossed over the ridge we were climbing providing views of Coldwater Lake.
The wildflowers were thick along the trail, but we were starting to enter the cloud bank and quickly losing our visibility.
The trail continued to climb along the ridge passing a couple of pieces of old machinery that is left over from the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.
We were now in the midst (or mist) of the clouds. At least it wasn’t raining and despite the low visibility there were still plenty of flowers along the trail to see and there were a couple of snowshoe hares out having breakfast.
The hares weren’t the only ones enjoying some snacks. A variety of ripe berries offered us a nice selection of treats.
After 3.2 miles we arrived at Tractor Junction. Named for another piece of nearby equipment, this junction marks the end of the South Coldwater Trail at it’s intersection with the Coldwater Trail.
We turned right at the junction and headed toward the Boundary Trail which was just over 2 miles away. After .2 miles we passed Ridge Camp, one of the designated camps in the area.
The wildflowers were once again impressive along this trail, but the visibility was even worse. We focused on finding as many different flowers as we could.
Lupine, paintbrush and yellow wildflowers
Large patch of paintbrush
An aster or fleabane
Another type of aster or fleabane
Cat’s ear lily
We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the junction with the Boundary Trail overlooking St. Helens Lake. We had suddenly found a little blue sky and some better visibility.
Coldwater Peak was to our left and seemed to be acting as a cloud break.
While we were watching the clouds swirl around the back side of Coldwater Peak we noticed a mountain goat on the cliffs below the summit.
We took a nice long break at the junction watching the mountain goat and the ever changing clouds. When we finally set off again we passed by Coldwater Peak in sunlight.
We had some great views of St. Helens Lake below us as we passed the spur trail to Coldwater Peak after .4 miles.
The trail the continued around the lake with views opening up to Spirit Lake below St. Helens Lake.
For the next 3 plus miles the clouds came and went as the drifted over the ridge down toward Spirit Lake.
There was more snow along this section of trail and we started seeing more flowers that bloom soon after snow melt.
Cat’s ear lily
We crossed our first snowfield near The Dome, which was mostly hidden by the clouds.
It was a bit of a shame that we couldn’t see more of the surrounding area because the peaks and cliffs we could see where really neat.
The view downhill was a little better and we got a decent look at the outlet of St. Helens Lake, a log jam on Spirit Lake, and some elk in the valley.
We had skipped the .6 mile trail up to the summit of Coldwater Peak not wanting to make that climb with our full packs on a day when the visibility wasn’t great, but when we reached the shorter spur trail to the summit of Mt. Margaret we decided to head up. Unlike Coldwater Peak we had not been up this trail before so even if we didn’t have a view we couldn’t pass it up. The view from Mt. Margaret turned out to not be too bad. We could see Spirit Lake fairly well and the Boundary Trail below the peak. Other nearby peaks occasionally emerged from the clouds.
We could see some spots where mountain goats had been on a nearby ledge but no goats, just a swallowtail butterfly.
We took a nice long break and had some lunch on Mt. Margaret. As we were preparing to start hiking again we could hear people coming up the Boundary Trail, lots of people. Heather counted nearly 30 folks emerging from the trees below. We made it back to the junction with the Boundary Trail just as the first of these other hikers were arriving. The majority of them turned out to be members of the Mazamas, a nonprofit Mountaineering Education Organization based in Portland, Oregon.
After passing through the Mazamas we crossed another nice snowfield and reached a junction with the Whittier Ridge Trail.
The Whittier Ridge Trail was not on our to-do list on this hike. The trail is narrow and in places along exposed cliffs where the rocks had to be blasted to create a trail at all. Recent reports from members of the Oregon Hikers forum reported some snow still along the trail as well and with little visibility it wasn’t even tempting. We continued on the Boundary Trail getting our first view of some the lakes in the Mt. Margaret Backcountry.
Boot and Obscurity Lakes
We had been gradually descending since Mt. Margaret and the visibility was getting better the lower we got.
Along the way we spotted another mountain goat not far above the trail.
As we got closer it crossed the trail and disappeared over the hillside leaving us with just it’s smell. (And boy did it smell)
We had been working our way around Spirit Lake and were now just to the NE of it. Mt. St. Helens lay directly behind the lake but only the lowest portions were visible. What we could see was Windy Ridge on the Mountain’s flank.
Two miles from the Whittier Ridge Trail we arrived at the junction with the Lakes Trail at Bear Pass.
The Lakes Trail descended from Bear Pass toward Grizzly Lake.
A trail crew from the Washington Trails Association was busy brushing out the trail and restoring the tread along this section. They were doing some impressive work and we thanked them as we passed by.
Between Grizzly Lake and our final destination at Obscurity Lake were more wildflowers including a few we hadn’t seen yet that day.
Partridge foot and paintbrush
Penstemon and candyflower
Blue-bells of Scotland
As we approached Obscurity Lake a waterfall was visible along the outlet creek of the lake.
We finally arrived at Obscurity Lake after almost 16 miles of hiking.
We thought the hard part was over but then we went in search of the designated camp site. We found one tent pad already occupied and began looking for a second one. When I had made the reservation on the Recreation.gov website there had been 2 available permits for up to 4 people. There were several areas where tents had obviously been placed in the past but we couldn’t find any other tent pad or post marking another designated site. The hikers from the other tent said they had not been able to find a second one either so we picked what seemed like the most likely spot where there was no vegetation to trample and set up the tent.
We hoped that we had picked the right spot and figured if we hadn’t and a ranger came along we’d just ask them where the other designated site was and move there if we had chosen poorly. Oddly enough a third tent had appeared when we awoke the next morning. I don’t know if they were possibly with the Forest Service, but if they weren’t someone was not where they should have been.
Regardless of the confusion over the camp sites the day had been pretty spectacular. The showers had never materialized and between the wildflowers, wildlife, and scattered views we did get we’d been totally entertained. The clouds just made us more eager to come back again someday in the future so we could see what we missed this time around. Happy Trails!
After almost a mile and a half we took a side trail to the right to visit Lonesome Lake where we had originally planned on staying the night before. As it turned out much of the area around the lake had been burned by the same fire and there didn’t seem to be many places to set up a tent. //embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
From Lonesome Lake the trail continued to climb up to the Siskiyou Crest where views extended ahead to the Red Buttes. To Echo Lake, our goal for the day, we would need to make it around the back side of the buttes where we would pick up the Horse Camp Trail and descend a half mile to the lake. //embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
As I was busying zooming in on a rock Heather spotted a bear moving across the rocky slope to the right of were I was looking. She lost it in this clump of trees but I took a picture anyway. There is a suspicious black thing in front of the trees but we couldn’t tell if it was in fact the bear or if it is a piece of burnt wood. //embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
After crossing over the crest we were now on the Boundary Trail which followed the crest east joining the Pacific Crest Trail on the shoulder of Kangaroo Mountain. The Fort Complex Fire over-swept the entire section of the trail between Lonesome Lake and the PCT as well as a portion of the PCT. This left a lot of burnt trees and some sections of thick brush that has since grown up along the trail. //embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
The brush was the thickest in the first quarter of a mile or so and then it thinned out some. The trail here was a little tricky to follow so we had to make sure we were paying close attention to it’s location both ahead on the hillside and directly in front of us. //embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
The views along the trail were great. With very few trees left we could see unobstructed in every direction. It was a cloudy day but they were high enough in the sky to reveal many of NW California’s peaks, most of which we were unfamiliar with. //embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
Often we could see the trail further ahead easier than it was to pick out directly in front of us. A good example of this was the trail leading up and around Desolation Peak. //embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
While the Boundary Trail has seen little to no maintenance since the 2012 fire the PCT has been. While we were sitting on a log having a snack we saw our first other humans of the trip. Three members of the Forest Service out on a tree survey were hiking up the PCT and heading back to their vehicle. After a brief conversation they went on and we soon followed heading toward Red Buttes. //embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
Kangaroo Mountain was by far the widest peak that we’d gone around that day and the backside was an interesting mix of rocks with marble outcrops dotting the red peridotite. //embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
No sooner had we gotten settled into the tent when it began to rain. The wind blew and the rain fell all night long. We got what sleep we could wondering what Wednesday would be like and just how wet we were going to get. Happy Trails!