Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mt. St. Helens - Harry's Ridge

I am behind on my blogging!  I visited Mt. St. Helens three weekends ago.  Even though this is a late post, it was such a wonderful hike, I wanted to include a recap in my blog.

I'd heard glowing reports about the Boundary Trail near Mt. St. Helens, and wanted to see it for myself.  I finally chose a weekend that promised clear weather and decided to make the trip.

Trail sign to Harry's Ridge

I invited my friend Debbie to join me.  I introduced her to hiking two years ago, and she was an enthusiastic partner.  But last year knee surgery forced her to take the summer off.  This year, healed and strong again, she was ready to accompany me on my adventures.  It was great to hike with Debbie again - I'd missed her companionship last year.

Mt. St. Helens devastation

It's a 2-hour drive to Mt. St. Helens from my house.  Hot weather was forecast for the day, so we got an early start.  We arrived at the Johnston Ridge Visitor Center about 9 am, and it was still a little cool.  But that didn't last for long!

My plan was to hike the Boundary Trail east from Johnston Ridge.  I wanted to hike the trail all the way to Coldwater Peak, a round-trip distance of over 12 miles and an elevation gain of 2000 feet.  But the forecasted heat and the fact that I'd done a long training run the day before made me reconsider my goal.  I decided instead to aim for Harry's Ridge - an 8 mile round trip with only 1000' of elevation gain.

The paintbrush flowers were out!

From the very beginning, the trail was a delight.  Tons of orange paintbrush flowers greeted us from the trailhead, and lined the sides of the trail as we started out.  Mt. St. Helens rose from the barren plain and gave great views off my right shoulder.  The mountain was so close, it felt as if I could reach out and touch it.

Debbie poses for a photo with the mountain

There were plenty of opportunities to photograph the mountain - and I took advantage of them all! 

My turn for a photo on the trail

The devastation is still very evident, even 30 years later.  The Boundary Trail is located north of Mt. St. Helens, the side that took the brunt of the eruption.  When Mt. St. Helens blew back in 1980, an earthquake triggered a landslide on the north side of the mountain.  Tons of rock and soil slid away.  The loss of this rock and soil weakened a volcano already under pressure and the north side of the mountain gave way in a gigantic blast.  This blast obliterated everything in its path, and left only large lava boulders.

Paintbrush flower garden in the shadow of the mountain

But it's amazing how nature heals itself.  Across the barren plains, the flowers were blooming full-force. Bushes and small trees were growing.  We crossed a tiny creeklet with abundant plant life.  There was enough vegetation to provide us with some shade.  We spied animal tracks in the dusty soil.

Lupine blooms along the trail

Because we'd started our hike so early, there were hardly any people on the trail.  It was nice to have the place to ourselves.

Lupine extravaganza

And if the paintbrush wasn't pretty enough, further into the hike, we hit the lupine. Fields of lupine!  Huge numerous patches of lupine!  We must've hit prime blooming time.

Patchwork quilt of purple flowers

We saw so much lupine, it filled a small valley, creating a purple patchwork quilt on the ground.

Debbie enjoys the view from the bridge

We crossed a bridge that overlooked the lupine fields.  Debbie and I paused to take in the view.  Magnificent!

Spirit Lake and Mt. Adams

Shortly after the bridge, we reached the trail junction to Harry's Ridge.  Then the climbing began!  Debbie and I trudged up the dusty trail.  It was getting close to noon, and the sun was hot on our backs.  There was no shade to be had anywhere.

Spirit Lake close-up

But we were soon rewarded with views of Mt. Adams and Spirit Lake.

Panoramic view from Harry's Ridge

The lake was so close I couldn't fit it all in my camera's viewfinder.  So I took three photos and stitched together this panoramic shot.  It was a wonderful view to have while we rested on top and ate our lunch.

Leftover scientific equipment litters Harry's Ridge

The top of the ridge isn't as pretty.  It is littered with old scientific equipment.  It doesn't appear any of it has been used for quite awhile.

Mt. Adams overlooks Spirit Lake

Harry's Ridge is named for Harry Truman, an crotchety old man who owned a lodge on Spirit Lake.  He lived alone with his cats.  When the mountain threatend to erupt and evacuations were ordered, he refused to leave his home.  The authorities came to take him to safety, but Harry just sat down on the steps of his home and said, "If this mountain is going to blow up, I'm going to sit here and let it take me. I have lived in this house all my life, and I am not going to live anywhere else".  And that is what happened.  Harry and his cats perished in the 1980 eruption, buried under tons of debris.

Close up view of the crater and lava dome

From Harry's Ridge not only were there great views of Spirit Lake and Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens was also a star attraction.  It seemed the mountain was the closest of all, dominating the view south.  Zooming in with my camera lens, I could clearly see the lava dome still building in the crater's center.

Gotta get a photo with the mountain!

By the time we finished our lunch, the day had heated up significantly.  I could feel the sun's rays burning the back of my neck.  Not wanting to suffer a sunburn later, I tied a bandanna on top of my head so that it hung down to my shoulders and protected my neck and ears.  I told Debbie this was my "Lawrence of Arabia" look.  My neck actually felt cooler because the bandanna provided shade.

Trail marker in the lupine patch

Now that the heat of the day had caught up to us, we didn't dawdle on our return trip.  We hiked down the ridge, past the lupine fields, around the viewpoints, and past the paintbrush gardens.  The rest of the world had woke up, and we met lots of hikers heading out on the trail.  They were in for a hot, dry afternoon.  Debbie and I were glad we'd started so early.

Cute trail side wildlife

We were almost back to the car when we spotted another hiker tempting a chipmunk with some wild strawberries.  The little guy posed long enough for me to get this shot before he scampered off into the bushes.

Debbie and I reached the car, hot, dusty, and thirsty.  We paid the concessionaire in the parking lot $3.75 each for a bottle of ice cold diet coke.  And it tasted mighty good!

What a great day.  I got to catch up with an old friend, see a wonderful wildflower display, and visit an amazing mountain that is recovering from a cataclysmic natural disaster.  Mt. St. Helens is one of my favorite places to hike. I'll come back for more soon!

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