Friday, July 31, 2009

Mt. St. Helens Hike

On a hot, sunny day in mid-July, I decided to hike a trail I've wanted to visit for some time. I've wanted to hike the Loowit Trail across the Mt. St. Helens blast zone, from the Windy Ridge Viewpoint for many years. But there was always some reason why I never got there. Mother Nature played a part in this - the mountain was off-limits for a couple of years when the lava dome was building. And then last year, the road to Windy Ridge got wiped out in a winter storm. But I when I heard that the road had recently been repaired and opened, I decided I'd better get up there before something else happened.

So I got up really early, and drove the long (2 1/2 hours!) drive to Windy Ridge Viewpoint. The final 16 miles on Road 99 were amazing! The road wound around through hills that still bore the scars of the eruption. Old, weathered, downed trees littered the hillsides. Then I turned the corner, and there was the mountain, in all its glory! I parked my car in the Windy Ridge parking lot, and scrambled up a nearby butte to a glorious viewpoint of the mountain and Spirit Lake. Here's the view I had of Mt. St. Helens, the lava dome, and the adjacent barren hillside.

Here's the view I had of Spirit Lake from the Windy Ridge Viewpoint.

And yet another grand view of the Mt. St. Helens crater and Spirit Lake.

I took my camera's lens and zoomed as much as I could to capture a close-up view of the lava dome and the inside of the crater.

I began my hike on the Windy Trail. I walked for about three miles across this barren plain, until I reached the Loowit Trail. The Loowit Trail is the trail that traverses around the entire mountain. Although it was bleak and barren, there were lots of signs that the area is coming back to life. Small plants and little trees are growing. Flowers were blooming. I crossed a spring that had lots of plant life, and little frogs!

As I crossed a dry drainage, I had this view, looking up into the mountain's crater. I was thinking about that fateful day in May 1980, when the entire top of the mountain was blown in this direction. The devastation is still very evident, even 29 years later.

Here's another amazing view looking into the crater from the Loowit Trail. The lava dome is to the left. It looks like you are on the moon!

You would not expect to see a waterfall in the crater of an active volcano. But Mt. St. Helens has Loowit Falls. My hiking guidebook said there was a waterfall in the crater, but I didn't think it would be this large. Apparently the lava dome heats this water to a temperature of 96 degrees Fahrenheit. I didn't hike down into the canyon to check it out, so I'll just have to take the guidebook's word for it.

After visiting Loowit Falls, I backtracked a mile or so on the Loowit Trail, and then began to climb towards Windy Pass. As I was climbing up the side of a hill, I looked back and got a great view of lupine flowers, and Mt. Ranier.

After crossing Windy Pass, and momentarily losing the trail, I found my way (thank goodness for all of the rock cairns other hikers place!) to the Plains of Abraham. The 1980 blast turned this area into a rock-strewn plain. However, now lupine flowers are coming back quite nicely. Here's a look towards a barren hillside. The trees on this hillside were blown sideways, and looked like someone with a buzz haircut.

Here's one of my favorite views from the hike - a bright purple field of lupine against the NE corner of the mountain. It is wonderful to see beauty amidst all this devastation.

The Loowit Trail intersected with the Abraham Trail, which was my return loop. The Abraham Trail traversed the top of a ridge, with wonderful mountain views (Adams, Ranier, as well as St. Helens) and loads of wildflowers. I think the best wildflower displays were along this trail. I also hiked through what was left of the forest after the blast. Here's a close-up of some of the decapitated trees along the ridgeline. Below is a drop-dead gorgeous view of Mt. Adams and the surrounding area.

Here's a view of the lovely flower garden that was blooming along the trail. What a great way to end this hike! Total distance 11.7 miles, elevation gain 1400'.
Even though it was a long day, it was worth the drive! I hope to be back soon to hike more of the trails in this area.

1 comment:

  1. It's hard to imagine the force of that blast and how much damage it did but your images give me a better idea.

    wonderful pics.


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