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Hiking Mt. St. Helens Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Cinnamon Ridge – 7/20/2019

It had been a couple of years since our hikes had taken us to the Mt. St. Helens area. We didn’t want to go a third year without making a visit so we picked the 14.1 mile Cinnamon Ridge Loop Hike described here in the Oregon Hikers field guide. A shorter loop was also described in Matt Reeder’s “Off the Beaten Trail” guidebook.

We started at the Kalama Horse Camp Trailhead and consulted the signboard map to confirm our route. (We had a paper map, a downloaded pdf track, and our GPS with us, but you can never consult too many maps.)
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We set off on the Toutle Trail just to the right of the signboard.
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After a short descent the trail crossed an unnamed creek. Ripe berries were everywhere.
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Two tenths of a mile from the trailhead we came to a junction with the Cinnamon Ridge Trail, our return route. We stayed left on the Toutle Trail.
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A short distance later we stayed right at a junction with the Kalama Ski Trail.
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Beyond this junction the trail approached the Kalama River as it passed through the forest.
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Yet another junction followed about three quarters of a mile later just after climbing away from the river via a switchback. Again we stuck to the Toutle Trail.
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The trail was now a good distance above the river avoiding a series of slides.
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Just over 2 miles from the trailhead we arrived at the third and final junction signed for the Kalama Ski Trail where we also stuck to the Toutle Trail.
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There had been plenty of ripe huckleberries and lots of pinesap but not too many flowers. There were a few lousewort and twin flowers though along this section of trail.
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At the 2.5 mile mark we came to a Forest Service Road.
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Reeder’s shorter/easier loop utilizes this road which he lists as FR 8122 (our maps showed it as 8022). He also has you hike in the opposite direction so we would have been coming down the road to this junction then returning to the horse camp the way we’d come on this hike. Since we were doing the longer loop we crossed over the road and continued on the Toutle Trail which was once again closer to the Kalama River.
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Along this stretch we noticed a few really large mushrooms.
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Approximately 1.2 mile from the road crossing we crossed a second road bed where the trail hopped to the opposite side of the river.
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A good sized frog jumped off the trail in front of us here.
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As we neared McBride Lake (now more of a wetland) we obtained our first glimpses of Mt. St. Helens.
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IMG_3706Mt. St. Helens beyond the remnants of McBride Lake.

We averted disaster when a rough skinned newt charged Heather but it was only a bluff.
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The trail climbed through a nice forest as it passed McBride Lake on its way to Red Rock Pass.
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IMG_3722Cars parked at Red Rock Pass

We didn’t go all the way down to Red Rock Pass as the Cinnamon Trail headed uphill at an unsigned junction about 100 yards above the trailhead.
IMG_3723Cinnamon Trail on the left and Toutle Trail on the right from the unsigned junction.

While the Toutle Trail had gained almost 1200′ in the 5.7 miles from the trailhead to the Cinnamon Trail junction the Cinnamon Trail gained nearly 700′ in less than a mile. Although the climb was never particularly steep it provided a good workout. It also provided some nice views of Mt. St. Helens and our first (and best) look at Mt. Adams.
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Things leveled out a bit after gaining the ridge where the trail passed through a variety of scenery.
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IMG_3749Fungus on a stump.

After a little of two and a half miles on the Cinnamon Trail we came to a small meadow with a view south to Mt. Hood.
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Just beyond the meadow the trail reached a saddle with a view NW to Goat Mountain.
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The trail continued to follow the ridge west and then south as it passed around a butte.
IMG_3770The butte ahead (we didn’t want to have to climb that.)

IMG_3774Trail wrapping around the south side of the butte.

On the far side of the butte we arrived at another saddle.
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IMG_3780Mt. St. Helens from the saddle.

The trail stuck to the north side of the ridge for a bit allowing for some good views of Mt. St. Helens and another Mt. Adams sighting.
IMG_3781Goat Mountain

IMG_3783Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams

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At the 4.5 mile mark of the Cinnamon Trail we arrived at the first of three successive road crossings (all of the same road).
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Approximately a quarter mile from the third road crossing the trail began to descend through a small meadow with a few cat’s ear lilies.
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Soon we were dropping down along a narrow ridge where we were able to see the top of Mt. Rainier beyond Coldwater Peak.
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The sun was glinting off of the equipment on top of Coldwater Peak (post).
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The trail continued to descend crossing over another old roadbed before reaching FR 8022 (or FR 8122 per Reeder) 6.2 miles from Red Rock Pass.
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IMG_3825old road crossing.

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IMG_3830Dropping to FR 8022(8122).

We crossed this road onto an old roadbed which we followed for four tenths of a mile.
IMG_3831Goat Mountain from the roadbed.

IMG_3835Goat Mountain and Mt. St. Helens

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IMG_3842Rock slide along the roadbed.

Shortly after passing through the rock slide the roadbed ended and we were back on a trail.
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The trail descended for another mile and a half eventually coming back within earshot of the Kalama River but not close enough to provide many views until we arrived at a footbridge across it.
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From the bridge it was just 100 yards to the end of our loop and .2 miles from the trailhead. The 14.1 miles combined with nearly 3000′ of elevation gain make this a challenging hike. Despite the difficulty and lack of any real big WOW moments it was a really enjoyable hike. There were plenty of positives; the ripe berries, the river, mountain views, a little wildlife (including some grouse which as always gave us a start when they flew off.), a few wildflowers, and some nice forests to keep us entertained the entire way. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Cinnamon Ridge

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Hiking Mt. St. Helens Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Mount Margaret Backcountry – South Coldwater Trailhead to Obscurity Lake

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).
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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.
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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.
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Although the clouds limited the view we were able to see back down to the South Coldwater Creek Valley where we spotted several elk.
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The trail then crossed over the ridge we were climbing providing views of Coldwater Lake.
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The wildflowers were thick along the trail, but we were starting to enter the cloud bank and quickly losing our visibility.
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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.
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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.
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The hares weren’t the only ones enjoying some snacks. A variety of ripe berries offered us a nice selection of treats.
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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.
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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.
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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.
Tiger lilies
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Lupine, paintbrush and yellow wildflowers
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Large patch of paintbrush
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Arnica
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Bugbane
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Corydalis
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Columbine
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Scouler’s bluebell
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An aster or fleabane
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Pussypaws
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Mock orange
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Bistort
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Another type of aster or fleabane
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Violets
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Orange agoseris
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Spirea
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Cat’s ear lily
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Avalanche lily
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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.
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Coldwater Peak was to our left and seemed to be acting as a cloud break.
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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.
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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.
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We had some great views of St. Helens Lake below us as we passed the spur trail to Coldwater Peak after .4 miles.
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The trail the continued around the lake with views opening up to Spirit Lake below St. Helens Lake.
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For the next 3 plus miles the clouds came and went as the drifted over the ridge down toward Spirit Lake.
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There was more snow along this section of trail and we started seeing more flowers that bloom soon after snow melt.
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Cinquefoil
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Cusick’s speedwell
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White heather
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Avalanche lilies
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Cat’s ear lily
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We crossed our first snowfield near The Dome, which was mostly hidden by the clouds.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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We could see some spots where mountain goats had been on a nearby ledge but no goats, just a swallowtail butterfly.
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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.
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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
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We had been gradually descending since Mt. Margaret and the visibility was getting better the lower we got.
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Along the way we spotted another mountain goat not far above the trail.
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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.
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Two miles from the Whittier Ridge Trail we arrived at the junction with the Lakes Trail at Bear Pass.
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The Lakes Trail descended from Bear Pass toward Grizzly Lake.
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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
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Penstemon and candyflower
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Pink monkeyflower
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Blue-bells of Scotland
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Fireweed
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Bleeding heart
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As we approached Obscurity Lake a waterfall was visible along the outlet creek of the lake.
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We finally arrived at Obscurity Lake after almost 16 miles of hiking.
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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.
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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!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157668318616563

Categories
Hiking Mt. St. Helens Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Ape Cave and Ape Canyon

We are in the midst of revisiting several trails that we first hiked in 2012. Next up after our return trip to the Table Rock Wilderness we headed to the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument for a second hike on the Ape Canyon Trail. In 2012 we had done a second short hike along Lava Canyon after finishing the Ape Canyon Trail and this time we decided to add a visit to Ape Cave to the agenda.

At 12,810 feet long Ape Cave is the longest known Lava Tube in North America. It is also one of the more popular places to visit in the monument so we decided to tackle this trail first in an attempt to beat the crowds. A staffed information booth awaits at the trailhead, but we had arrived before it opened for the day.
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A short paved trail leads to an kiosk with signboards and the lower cave entrance.
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An above ground trail leads past the lower entrance to an upper entrance (or exit).
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We decided to hike up to the upper entrance and then descend down the lava tube to it’s end 3/4miles past the lower cave entrance. The trail to the upper entrance passed through the forest before skirting a lava flow and passing some smaller lava tubes that were not part of the cave.
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The trail actually did pass over the cave three times before arriving at the site of the upper entrance. We walked passed the entrance initially following a well used path about 50 yards too far before realizing our mistake. There was no sign marking the upper entrance and the hole was much smaller than the lower entrance. It took a moment for us to spot the metal ladder barely sticking up from out of the dark hole.
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Climbing down the ladder was interesting as the first 17 steps angled downward before the ladder suddenly dropped straight down for the final 10 or 12 rungs.
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The cave extends another .1 miles or so beyond the upper entrance so we turned north and walked to the end before turning around and heading for the lower entrance.
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The cave was really neat. The rock surrounding the tube was full of colors and different textures. White portions of rock reflected our headlamps imitating rays of sunlight along the walls and ceiling.
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A third of a mile from the upper entrance the trail past under a skylight where green ferns and mosses grew on the rocks.
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The lower entrance was another 1.1 miles beyond the skylight. This section of the lava tube was a workout. Ten different rock falls required scrambling over and around piles of lava rock and a pair of lava falls, drops of around 8 feet, proved a challenge to descend. The second lava fall was particularly difficult requiring us to slowly lower ourselves down using small nubs on the cave floor as handholds. The scenery of the cave was worth the effort and we wondered if climbing up would have been easier than coming down as we had.
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It was fairly slow going but we eventually made it to the base of the staircase leading down from the lower entrance.
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We headed down the lower end of the cave which was, as the sign said, a relatively easy walk. We turned around when the cave had become small enough that we would have had to crawl to continue any further.
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We had started to run into a few more people near the end of the lower cave and on the way back to the lower entrance the number of people increased dramatically. We exited up through the lower entrance and headed for the car.
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In hindsight we should have descended through the lower entrance as it seemed like it would have been easier to ascend up through the cave and it would likely have avoided the crowds that had formed later in the morning in the lower cave.

We drove from the Ape Cave parking area to the Ape Canyon Trailhead for our second hike of the day. On our previous visit we had taken the Ape Canyon Trail to the Loowit Trail and then followed that trail to a junction with the Abraham Trail which covered a total of 12.7 miles. Our second hike that day at Lava Canyon was only 1.3 miles for a 14 mile total. This time around we had already done nearly 5 miles at Ape Cave so the plan was to stop at a spring along the Loowit Trail in the Plains of Abraham. The small parking lot at the Ape Canyon Trailhead was full so we parked along road 83 and walked to the start of the trail.
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We were on high alert as we started the trail due to warnings about local wildlife.
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The Ape Canyon Trail starts in the forest next to a lahar created by the Muddy River when the mountains 1980 eruption sent a large portion of the Shoestring Glacier down the valley. Our previous visit had been on a clear day in Mid-September where the views across the lahar to Mt. St. Helens were spectacular.
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We were not to be so lucky on this day with our Mt. St. Helens views but the temperature was pleasant and we hoped to see more flowers this time than we had previously.
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We did see more flowers along the lower section but we were a little late due to the weather we’d been having this year.
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The trail passes through an old growth forest starting at the 1.4 mile mark then climbs a series of switchbacks as it heads up a ridge toward the Loowit Trail. We passed a few viewpoints that had provided impressive views on our first visit but today we had to rely on those memories to picture the mountain.
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After 4 miles the trail enters the blast zone from the 1980 eruption. The trail spends winds a half mile through the blast zone above forested Ape Canyon.
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A narrow slot at the top of the Canyon frames the creek below and apparently Mt. Adams in the distance. I say apparently because we have not been able to confirm this on either of our visits. In 2012 the Cascade Creek Fire was burning on the slopes of Mt. Adams filling the sky with smoke and clouds were now playing the same role on this day.
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The trail ends after 4.5 miles at the Loowit Trail which circles the entire mountain.
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We turned right here heading for the Spring .8 miles away. This section of the Loowit Trail passes through the Plains of Abraham, a pumice plain with a barren looking landscape which is really fascinating. Heading NE Mt. St. Helens looms on the left across the broad plain while hills on the right reveal the force of mountains eruption. Trees lay blown down on the hillsides facing the mountain while other sides are striped away exposing various layers of rock. Other areas green with trees and other vegetation.
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Flowers are sparse but some still manage to bloom in what looks like the most improbably conditions.
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One thing that didn’t change from our previous visit was being greeted by a marmot as we crossed this section. We couldn’t help but wonder if it was the same furry little guy.
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When I had added this hike to the schedule I had hoped to find flowers near the spring where we would turn around, but with the timing being so far off this year due to the weather I wasn’t sure what we’d find. It wound up working out even though things were beginning to dry out. We spoted several different types of flowers including a nice clump of bluebell-of-Scotland.
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It was no apline wildflower meadow but considering the area it was an impressive display. What surprised us was the lack of water from the spring. Despite it being September on our previous visit a small steady stream of water was flowing down the rocks and into Ape Canyon, but this time the only water was a small pool left filling a depression in the rock.

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Spring fed stream

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After resting a bit, and starting to get chilly due to a nice breeze and cooling our sweat, we headed back down. The clouds had only lifted a little as we passed the lower viewpoints and small pockets of blue sky teased us from above the mountain.
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It had been a long but interesting day of hiking. It was also our first visit of the year to one of the major Cascade mountains and it had been a good reminder of just how much we enjoyed our hikes on them. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157655789278375