Saturday, August 20, 2011

Coldwater Peak

I have a new favorite trail at Mt. St. Helens.  Last Sunday, I hiked the Boundary Trail from the Johnston Ridge Observatory to Coldwater Peak.  The scenery was truly incredible!

Click on any photo for a larger view

Mt. St. Helens in full view

Mt. St. Helens is one of my favorite places to hike.  It is unlike any other mountain in the northwest.  The devastation of the 1980 eruption, still very much evident 31 years later, is sobering.  But it's also wonderful to see how this area has rebounded from such a cataclysmic event.  The MSH blast zone never fails to amaze me.

Floral displays lined the trail

The only drawback to visiting MSH is it's a long 2-hour drive from my home.  But I was bound and determined to pay my yearly visit.  I got out of bed early, and was on the road by 6 o'clock.

Dramatic view of MSH behind a ridge

I'd heard that the flowers were in full bloom.  Pulling into the Johnston Ridge parking lot confirmed the rumors were true!  Huge patches of lupine and paintbrush bordered the parking areas.  Things were off to a good start.

Wildflowers brightened the desolation

The weather report for last Sunday predicted cloudy skies, not favorable for mountain views. As I drove up the long winding road to the mountain, clouds hung low in the sky, and fog shrouded the adjacent hills.  But as I climbed the final steep pitch into the parking lot, the sky overhead cleared, and I was treated to a cloud-free view of Mt. St. Helens.

Orange paintbrush was everywhere

I began my adventure to trails lined with flowers.  They really brightened the surrounding desolate moonscape. The floral decorations continued for the next three miles, until I began my climb up Harry's Ridge. 

Trail junction

I made frequent photo stops to capture different views of the decapitated volcano. I was glad I did.  After the first hour, clouds began to gather around MSH's summit.  By the time I arrived at Harry's Saddle, the entire mountain was obscured in whiteness.

This butterfly posed for me

Last year I'd hiked to Harry's Ridge on a brutally hot day. I wanted to continue on to Coldwater Peak, but the heat did me in and I turned back. Today's weather was the exact opposite of last year's - cool and partly cloudy. Perfect for hiking!

Decapitated trees are reminders of the eruption

Today was my day to finally explore the Boundary Trail beyond Harry's Ridge.  This was a trail I'd wanted to hike for several years.  From Harry's Saddle, the path climbed steeply up the side of a hill littered with bleached stumps of trees sheared off by the blast.  An eerie reminder of that fateful day.

View back towards MSH - the sky is clouding up

As I gained elevation, the views of Spirit Lake got better and better.  The sky was mostly clouded over by then, so there were no mountain views.  On a clear day I'm sure there's a wonderful panorama of peaks visible from here. 

Beautiful St. Helens Lake

On top of the ridge was a breathtaking sight - deep blue St. Helens Lake ringed by mountains. I could see Coldwater Peak, my day's destination off to the NW side of the lake.

The rock arch

The trail dipped down a steep incline, and through a cool rock arch.  What an interesting rock formation it was!

Gorgeous paintbrush

Around the arch, flowers began to appear again.  The adjacent hillside was ablaze with paintbrush and other colorful blooms.

View through the arch

And the view through the arch couldn't be beat.  I'll bet it's even better on a clear day.

Coldwater Peak

On the top of the ridge right before the arch, I got my first close up of Coldwater peak.  Boy that mountain looked high!  Wispy clouds were beginning to encircle the very top.  I decided I'd better not dawdle too much, or things would be socked in once I reached the summit.

Beautiful lupine and St. Helens Lake

On the other side of the arch, I emerged into a lush green alpine meadow with tons of blooming lupine.  St. Helens Lake's lovely blue waters provided the perfect backdrop.  It was truly a beautiful place.  My goal of reaching Coldwater peak before the advancing clouds was forgotten as I filled my camera's memory card.

The lupine was thick here

I continued through the meadow until it intersected with the trail up to Coldwater Peak. Then began the trek up to the top of the mountain.

View from my lunch spot

I was getting tired and hungry and wasn't thrilled about another steep climb.  It was way past lunchtime, and my stomach let me know it.  The top of the peak was clouding over fast.  I was losing my enthusiasm for tagging the summit. 

Two lake view - St. Helens and Spirit Lake

I made it about 2/3 of the way to the top and spied a beautiful view point overlooking the lake. I decided then and there I'd gone far enough and made this my lunch spot.

Pano view from the lunch spot

The views were grand indeed. Not only did I have a nice overview of St Helens Lake, I also got views of Spirit Lake just beyond the surrounding hills. If the sky hadn't been cloudy, I think Mt. Adams would've shared the spotlight. Tons of flowers were blooming along the slopes, adding color to the scene.

Spirit Lake views from the return trail

I could've stayed here all day, soaking in the scenery.  But it was already mid-afternoon, and I had a long hike back and even longer drive home.  Reluctantly I packed up and bid my lunch spot goodbye.

Introducing......Spirit Lake!

The light was really nice on the way back. It lit up Spirit Lake turning its waters a gleaming blue. Lots of good photo ops on the return trip too!

Flower fields

Even though clouds obscured MSH in the afternoon, there was lots of other incredible scenery to take in.  I can't get over the desolation that is still present the closer you get to the crater.  It's like the eruption baked everything and rendered the soil sterile.  But slowly life is returning.  Green plants are tucked into ravines.  Flowers rise out of the sandy soil.  Butterflies soar above. Chipmunks skitter through the vegetation.

Back at the trailhead

Hiking this trail will definitely become an annual tradition.  I was amazed by the beauty of the terrain beyond Harry's Ridge.  I'd love to see this area on a clear day.  I'm sure it's even more incredible!  And next time I'll make it all the way up Coldwater Peak.

Total stats:  12 miles round trip, 2000' elevation gain.

Yep, it was a great day!

1 comment:

  1. Simply gorgeous. That rock arch is super cool. The color contrast between the paintbrush and lupine and barren soil is so arrestingly beautiful. I remember when the volcano erupted. My dad was living in Portland at the time.


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