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Hiking Mt. St. Helens Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Norway Pass – 08/29/2021

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.
IMG_4311The 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.
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IMG_4316Mt. St. Helens catching some morning light.

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IMG_4318Mt. Rainier without a whole bunch of smoke.

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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.
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We turned right on the roadbed and followed it downhill just under half a mile to FR 2551 which is still in use.
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IMG_4331We snagged a few black caps along the road to as a post breakfast snack.

IMG_4333FR 2551

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.
IMG_4335The very top of Mt. St. Helens from FR 2551.

IMG_4338Sullivan 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.

IMG_4339Not sure what kinds of birds were in this tree but there were a lot of them.

IMG_4343FR 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.

IMG_4344The Boundary Trail crosses FR 25 near the road sign ahead. The picture was taken from FR 2551 at FR 25.

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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.
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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”.
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IMG_4359Paintbrush

IMG_4360Buckwheat

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IMG_4369We could hear a waterfall in the valley below.

IMG_4368The top of the waterfall.

IMG_4373Penstemon and pearly everlasting.

IMG_4382Looking back over our shoulders to Meta Lake.

IMG_4384Mt. Adams also from over our shoulders.

IMG_4385Aster

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IMG_4388Switchback 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.
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IMG_4396Heading down to the stream bed.

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IMG_4399Penstemon

IMG_4445Monkeyflower

As the trail made it’s final climb to Norway Pass Mt. Rainier was visible beyond the ridges to the north.
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IMG_4407Norway Pass (the low saddle to the right) from the trail.

IMG_4408Orange agoseris

IMG_4412Approaching the pass.

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To get a good view of Mt. St. Helens we had to descend on the trail a short distance beyond the pass.
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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).
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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.
IMG_4446Mt. 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!

Flickr: Norway Pass

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Hiking Mt. St. Helens Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Harmony Falls, Loowit Falls, and Badger Lake – 08/28/2021

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.
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From the Harmony Viewpoint a 1.2 mile trail leads 700′ downhill to Spirit Lake.
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IMG_3772Mt. 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.
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IMG_3783Pearly everlasting

IMG_3789Penstemon

IMG_3791Paintbrush

IMG_3798Mt. St. Helens

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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.
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20210828_085006Mt. 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.
IMG_3834Coldwater Peak (post) is easy with the white equipment on top.

IMG_3835The Dome

IMG_3832Mt. Margaret

IMG_3831Mount Teragram

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.
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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&quot; width="800" height="600" alt="IMG_3847">The interpretive site and Spirit Lake.

IMG_3851Mt. St. Helens.

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Aside from a little section near the top the stairs were nicely spaced making the climb better than it looked from the bottom.
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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.
IMG_3861Mt. Adams

IMG_3864Mt. Rainier

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The interpretive signs at the viewpoint did a good job of identifying different features that were visible which we appreciated.
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IMG_3878The Johnston Ridge Observatory was visible across Spirit Lake on a far hillside.

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IMG_3882It’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.
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IMG_3895Butterfly on ragwort

IMG_3897Butterfly on pearly everlasting

IMG_3899Lupine in the pearly everlasting

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IMG_3911Golden-mantled ground squirrel

IMG_3913Might be Oregon sunshine

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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.
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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.
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We followed the Windy Trail just over a mile to the Loowit Trail where we turned right.
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IMG_3942Paintbrush and dwarf lupine

IMG_3943Pearly everlasting

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IMG_3950The Loowit Trail junction.

The Loowit Trail immediately dropped into a gully to cross a small stream.
IMG_3951Spirit Lake from the junction.

IMG_3953In the gully.

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We continued another 0.4 miles before arriving at Big Spring which was a big surprise.
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IMG_3964Another gully to cross.

IMG_3965Big 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.
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IMG_3970The stream flowing over the Loowit Trail.

IMG_3974A pink monkeyflower at the spring.

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IMG_3984Looking 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.
IMG_3989Coldwater Peak to the right.

IMG_3992The Sugar Bowl lava dome.

IMG_3996_stitchSpirit Lake from the trail.

IMG_4001The first goats we spotted are on this ridge above the lone tree.

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IMG_4010The Loowit Trail crossing two gullies in a short stretch, one red one black.

IMG_4016Dropping into the second gully.

IMG_4019From 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.
IMG_4030Approaching the junction with the side trail to Loowit Falls.

IMG_4031Sign for Loowit Falls.

We stayed straight here following the pointer for Loowit Falls for another half mile.
IMG_4039Loowit Falls (right side of the photo) was visible for much of the half mile.

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IMG_4043Looking 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.
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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.
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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.
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IMG_4070Spirit Lake from the viewpoint.

After our break we returned to the Loowit Trail to continue the loop.
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IMG_4104Paintbrush

IMG_4105Dwarf lupine

Just under three quarters of a mile from the Loowit Falls Trail junction we arrived at the Willow Springs Trail junction.
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Here we left the Loowit Trail by turning right on the 0.8 mile long Willow Springs Trail.
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IMG_4110Mt. St. Helens from the Willow Springs Trail.

IMG_4122Heading toward Spirit Lake.

The Willow Springs Trail ended at the Truman Trail where we again turned right.
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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.
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IMG_4139The Dome above Spirit Lake

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IMG_4150Vehicles 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.
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IMG_4155Mt. Adams to the left.

IMG_4160Mt. Adams

IMG_4165Look out for snakes, not the poisonous kind just don’t want to step on them.

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IMG_4168Some sort of sulphur butterfly on pearly everalsting.

Our 10.7 mile track from the Windy Ridge Interpretive Site

We hopped in the car and drove back to FR 25 where we turned south to reach the Boundary Trailhead at Elk Pass.
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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.
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We turned left on the Boundary Trail and promptly arrived at FR 25 which we then crossed.
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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.
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One plus was a good variety of berries along the way and there were a few flowers as well.
IMG_4192Salmonberries

IMG_4196Blueberries

IMG_4210Huckleberries

IMG_4209Mushrooms (the flowers of Fall)

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IMG_4212I was really surprised to still be able to make out the remains of the petals on these trillium.

IMG_4213These bunchberries with a few petals left were near the trillium above.

IMG_4193Candyflower

At the 2.3 mile mark we passed the Mosquito Meadows Trail on the left.
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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.
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IMG_4225These 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.

IMG_4229A brief glimpse of Mt. Rainier from the ridge the trail was following, it looked like a lot of the smoke had blown away.

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Two miles from the Mosquito Meadows Trail I arrived at a junction with the Badger Peak Trail.
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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.
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IMG_4240Aster

IMG_4243Elk Creek

IMG_4244Pink monkeyflower along Elk Creek

IMG_4247Lupine

IMG_4248The trail near Badger Lake was particularly torn up and there were several signs posted admonishing motorcyclists to stop driving off trail.

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IMG_4250Torn 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).

IMG_4251The 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.
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IMG_4257This 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.
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IMG_4266A columbine

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The view was nice though and the sky around Mt. Adams had also cleared up greatly from earlier in the day.
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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.
IMG_4277Mt. St. Helens was hard to make out with the combination of haze and Sun position.

IMG_4278Looking south toward Mt. Hood (I could make it out with the naked eye.)

IMG_4281Mt. Hood in the haze.

IMG_4283Mt. Rainier

IMG_4284Mt. Rainier

IMG_4286Mt. Adams

IMG_4293The Goat Rocks were also hard to make out due to the smoke.

IMG_4292Western 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.
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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.
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IMG_4305The 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!

Flickr: Harmony Falls, Windy Ridge, and Badger Lake

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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!

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Hiking Mt. St. Helens Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Mt. St. Helens Rim

We kicked off our September hiking with the steep rocky climb to the rim of Mt. St. Helens. After missing out on climbing permits last year (The passes are limited to 100 per day from April 1st through October.) we had scooped up this years permits as soon as they went on sale in February. We were fortunate to have wound up picking a day with a forecast for clear skies and mild temperatures.

After picking up our permits and signing the climbers register at the Lone Fir Resort in Cougar, WA we drove up to the Climbers Bivouac and got ready to climb. The first 2 miles of trail climbed gradually through a forest. There were just a few flowers and a couple of berries left here and there. We had blue skies above us but the sky was hazy to the East and South hiding Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams from view.
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At the 2 mile mark we crossed over the Loowit Trail and continued up the mountain.
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Going up

The trail quickly emerged from the trees and headed for the lava flow on Monitor Ridge.
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Posts indicated the general path to follow up the lava, but it was nearly impossible to tell where the optimal route was. It seemed like no matter where we were a better looking route was just to the left or right.
Following the posts up Monitor Ridge
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We picked our way up and over the rocks as best as we could passing the first monitor (yes there are actually monitors on monitor ridge) and gaining ever better views of Goat Mountain just to the SE of Mt. St. Helens.
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Just under 2 miles from the Loowit Trail we found the second monitor. Used for monitoring any swelling of the mountain we used it as proof that we were actually getting somewhere.
The 2nd of the two monitors
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From the second monitor there was one final pile of lava rocks before a final stretch of loose rock and ash.
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Final stretch up to the rim of Mt. St. Helens

The sky above the rim was a clear blue and we had hopes that maybe the view North would be clearer than the rest of the horizon, but from the rim the view in that direction looked like the others.
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There was one big difference, the view down into the crater was unobstructed and Spirit Lake lay beyond with its flotilla of logs.
Lava dome in the crater of Mt. St. Helens
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More of the crater
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We sat on the rim for awhile catching our breath and resting our legs. The steam rising from the lava dome coupled with the nearly constant sound of rocks falling down into the crater gave us plenty of entertainment.
Somewhere out there is Mt. Rainier
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Once we had sufficiently recovered we began our descent.
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Going down was just as difficult as climbing up. We slowly made our way back down though and wound up back in the trees. The final 2 miles seemed to fly by compared to how long it took to come down the lava flow and we were soon leaving the volcanic monument.
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Back at the car we had one final look at the rim we had been on just a few hours earlier. It had been an interesting hike, arguably the most difficult we’ve done, but worth the effort.
Mt. St. Helens from the parking lot

Happy Trail!

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Hiking Mt. St. Helens Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Johnston Ridge Observatory & Coldwater Peak

We took advantage of a day off recently and headed up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory at Mt. St. Helens. This was the farthest north we have traveled for a hike and would be the first time we would be able to see the collapsed side of the volcano. We were a bit disappointed when we arrived and realized that the winds had shifted and were blowing from the south east causing a hazy sky due to smoke from a wildfire near The Dalles Oregon. We parked in the observatory parking lot and surveyed our hike’s destination, Coldwater Peak.

Coldwater Peak from the parking lot.
Coldwater Peak from the parking lot.

The observatory was not open yet (It opens at 10:00am) but we walked around the paved loop trail there before setting off on the boundary trail. Good views of Mt. St. Helens were plentiful despite the blue haze from the smoke.
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I had us all on the lookout for elk down in the valley below and it wasn’t long before we spotted a small group.
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It appeared to be a small heard of about 15 elk but as we worked our way along the trail and got a better view of the valley below we saw the rest of the heard.
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As we rounded a ridge end we got our first view of Spirit Lake and it’s floating trees. Mt. Adams was visible through the haze further to the east.
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The trail then dipped slightly to a jct with the Truman Trail and continued on behind Harry’s Ridge. Here there was a decent variety of flowers that were growing in the mud and ash that had spilled over the ridge here during the 1980 eruption.
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We also began to find berries :). Here were mostly thimble and huckleberries but we even found a few ripe salmon berries.

Thimble & huckleberries
Thimble & huckleberries

Later we would add strawberries to the menu.

Just after we had reached the Harry’s Ridge trail we spotted another half dozen elk running up a game trail below us. The trail was now gaining elevation providing better views of Spirit Lake and distant Mt. Adams.
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When the trail crested we had a nice view of St. Helens Lake below. The trail then drops down in order to pass through a rock arch before continuing above the west side of the lake.

The rock arch that the trail passes through and St. Helens Lake
The rock arch that the trail passes through and St. Helens Lake

Near the north end of St. Helens Lake was the sign for the Coldwater Peak Trail which we turned up to begin our climb. We were so busy looking for berries (which we had all been snacking on as we hiked) that we somehow walked right off the trail at a switchback. It took a moment but I finally spotted it across the hillside going up so we headed cross country until we intersected it. Back on the trail we continued our climb up amid an increasing number of flowers (and plenty of berries).
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The views from the summit were good despite the persistent haze which had now completely hidden Mt. Adams.

Mt. St. Helens from Coldwater Peak
Mt. St. Helens from Coldwater Peak

 

Johnston Ridge Observatory from Coldwater Peak
Johnston Ridge Observatory from Coldwater Peak

 

Mt. Rainier from Coldwater Peak
Mt. Rainier from Coldwater Peak

We couldn’t get to the highest point on the rocks of Coldwater Peak though. We found that we were greatly outnumbered on the summit by flying ants!

Flying ants filling the sky and covering the rocks on Coldwater Peak
Flying ants filling the sky and covering the rocks on Coldwater Peak

They were sticking to the west side of the peak and as long as we remained a few feet from that edge they left us alone so we were able to eat in peace.

We headed back down the trail and tried to figure out where we had lost it on the way up but we never did figure that mystery out. The smoke had gotten worse and it could now be faintly smelled in the air. We ate more berries on the way back and stopped to watch the elk heard again before dropping our packs off at the car and heading to the now open observatory to pay for the passes that we were supposed to have in order to hike in the area. Since we were there we took a tour around the small but interesting observatory before getting in the car and daring Portland’s rush hour traffic. Happy Trails

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