Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Glorious Day at MSH

Are you ready to hear about hike-o-rama day two?  Well, hang onto your hats, and join me as I journey to an amazing place.....

A bumper crop of penstemon!

Mt. St. Helens!  One of my all-time favorite hikes is the Boundary Trail from the Johnston Ridge Observatory to Coldwater Peak.  And the perfect time to go there is mid to late July when wildflowers cover the barren ground.

Super-foggy morning at MSH

I recruited my friend Katie to join me for this latest grand adventure.  After staying up way too late on July 4th, I made her get up at the crack of dawn.  The forecast predicted sunny skies, but driving the road up to MSH, we hit thick fog.  It stayed with us all the way up to Johnston Ridge.  Forget about viewing the mountain - we could barely see across the parking lot!

Follow the posts

But we'd driven all this way to hike, and I wasn't giving up easy.  Katie and I shouldered our packs and started out in the misty chill.

Flowers brighten the devestation

Although the weather was a disappointment, the Boundary Tail was anything but.  We'd hit the peak bloom for penstemon and paintbrush.  Right from the beginning, the sandy path was lined with bright purple and orange wildflowers. 

Cheerful paintbrush blooms

With thick fog blocking our views, it was nice to have something beautiful to gaze upon as we trekked along the trail.

Seeing our way through the fog

It's a 5.5 mile journey to the base of Coldwater Peak.  My plan was to reach the base of this mountain, and if time allowed, climb to the top.  Our trail would take us across a desolate rocky plain, strewn with debris from the 1980 blast.  This area, on the north side of MSH, bore the brunt of the eruption.  When the mountain blew, hot gases and debris from MSH's summit scoured the land.

Blue sky teaser

For the first three miles, Katie and I picked our way through the dense fog.  Although the weather wasn't what we expected, it did give an unexpected bonus.  The fog kept temperatures cool which made for very pleasant hiking.  With little shade (the eruption leveled the forests for miles) this trail is notorious for being hot and dusty.

Approaching Harry's Saddle

But as we climbed towards Harry's Saddle, the fog began to part, and I glimpsed some blue sky peeking through.

Looking ahead to our next climb

From Harry's Saddle, one gets the first view of log-jammed Spirit Lake.  And, joy of joys, by the time Katie and I arrived, things had cleared enough so we could actually see it!

Hiking amidst ancient decapitated trees

But more climbing lay ahead.  About 700 feet of climbing in roughly a mile.  As we ascended the ridge above Harry's Saddle, our trail was again enveloped in the cloudy mist.

Spirt Lake peeps through the fog

The ridge was littered with bleached stumps of long-dead trees, all decapitated by the eruption.  The fog gave everything a ghostly atmosphere.

A ghostly world

At the top of the ridge, Katie and I were treated to a lovely view of round, ultra-blue St. Helens Lake.  Then we followed the trail down a steep slope and through a unique rock arch.

The fog lifted for views of St. Helens Lake

By now, we'd been hiking way past noon and my tummy was protesting.  Although our initial goal had been summiting Coldwater Peak for lunch, both Katie and I were ready for a break.  We found a nice spot not far from the arch and happily dug out some nourishment.

Approaching the rock arch

Oh, it was a perfect lunch spot.  We had a front-row view of aquamarine St. Helens Lake.  The skies cleared, and the adjacent mountains showed themselves.  And - best of all - a small band of hummingbirds darted between trees, providing great entertainment. 

Our trail went through the arch

Our break finished, I realized it was getting late, and we needed to be heading back.  No Coldwater Peak this time - climbing it would have to wait for another day.  Seeing that the summit was still socked in, we decided it wouldn't have been worth the slog anyway.

Glorious views of Spirit Lake and Harry's Ridge

So back down the Boundary Trail Katie and I went.  And with the fog lifting, we were treated to jaw-dropping views of Spirit Lake and the surrounding terrain.  Seeing the miles of denuded hillsides really puts into perspective the magnitude of MSH's 1980 eruption.

Heading back to Harry's Saddle

Coming down the ridge to Harry's Saddle is my most favorite part of the trail.  The views are incredible.  I took dozens of photos, stopping every few feet to capture the scenery from yet another vantage. 

MSH hid behind the clouds all day

But although the fog lifted enough to see the surrounding scenery, MSH remained hidden under the clouds.  I guess she was feeling shy that day.  This photo was the best view we had of her.

Here the trail perched on a steep slope

As we wound down the trail a second time, it was fun to see the vantage points that were covered by the morning's fog.  Katie remarked it was like hiking a totally different trail.

The flowers were even better second time around

Every time I hike in the MSH area, I'm encouraged by the amount of recovery I see.  Lots of green covers the ground now.  Along with the lovely July wildflower displays, bushes are getting bigger and trees higher.  Katie and I noticed some of the trees are taller than us now.  We wondered aloud how many years it will take for the blast zone to fully recover.

Lovely penstemon

After crossing a steep slope, we entered back into the flower zone.  And it was just as marvelous on the return trip.  There were so many penstemon blooms, it created a purple carpet across the barren plain.  Absolutely lovely!

Mother Nature's purple carpet

As Katie and I traveled nearer to the trailhead and visitor center, we began to encounter more and more people.  MSH is a popular destination and being a holiday weekend, things were hopping.  But most people don't venture very far beyond the visitor center.  Too bad - as you can see, they're missing a lot!

Beauty returns among the devestation

We reached the car, tired but satisfied.  Although the weather wasn't perfect, the day couldn't have been more so.  Loads of flowers, stunning scenery, and a good workout. 

Can our smiles be any wider?

Final stats for the day:  10 miles round-trip, approx. 1500 feet elevation gain.  A memory card full of wonderful scenic photos.  Huge smiles on our faces.  And time well spent in a truly amazing place.

Linking to:  52 Photos Project, Gallery 14 "Down Below," and Weekly Top Shot.


  1. Gorgeous wildflowers Linda...it has been 'forever' (the early 1980's) since I've been up that way.
    Thanks for sharing--reading this was an enjoyable start to my morning:)

  2. Oh my!! Wow!!
    Absolute beauty, everywhere.
    I really like the effect of the fog in the photos, too.. but those flowers! And the views of the lakes below! Just wonderful.
    Thanks for sharing this place.. I'm making note of it on my "places to go in life" list.

  3. "Huge smiles on our faces. And time well spent in a truly amazing place." and so beautifully shared for all to enjoy. Definitely a WOW day!

  4. What a marvelous hike with so many gorgeous photos!
    Must have been a great adventure!

  5. What an amazing hike - I'd love to see Mount St. Helens one day.

  6. What a beautiful hike! The flowers are beautiful and colorful - and wow, amazing scenery! It looks like you had a great day!

  7. That's always the way - a crowd round the visitors' centre, then very few people once you have to walk any distance.
    What incredible shots of life returning to this landscape. I've read about it in National Geographic, but it's better have your personal reactions through your blog.
    And the flowers! Here am I, looking at ordering penstemons for my garden from a specialist nursery.

  8. Amazing views and such an interesting post Linda -- I've often wondered how that area looks and now I know! Thank you.

  9. Fantastic views. Even tho the fog hampered some of it, in other photos it actually enhanced the photo. I think the fog pics were my favorites.

  10. You two ladies had great hike. With your photos and narrative you made feel as though I was there.

  11. What an absolutely incredible wak. I was just showing my husband ...he's not normally interested in anything like this ..and he was gobsmacked!! the ghostly stumps of the trees...the incredible views. How I would love to walk that trail!! As for the walk through the rock as well...I just can't tell you how much I have enjoyed this. Thank you. Joan

  12. breath taking beauty...thanks for sharing.

  13. Looks like an amazing place to hike. Some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen.

  14. Linda ...this was fantabulous !! My kind of hike. LOVED it. You have such a truly adventurous soul. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Very pretty!
    Thanks for taking us along!
    Lea's Menagerie

  16. Oh my gosh, what a beautiful place to hike! Your photos are gorgeous! I love the purple flowers..purple is my favorite color.

  17. Nice series- I like the contrast of the destroyed tress and all the beautiful flowers.

  18. You are not going to believe this but I have never been on a "real" hike. We just don't have hiking areas around here. You make me want to go hiking so bad with those beautiful photos of yours. At least I can live vicariously through you....thanks for sharing....:)))

  19. What gorgeous views! I love the foggy morning shots.

  20. The views from this hike are stunning! Great shots, Linda. We visited Mount Saint Helens a decade ago on a whim. Unfortunately, it was only a driving tour, and I didn't even have a camera (before I had a camera phone). We always said we'd make it back to explore more, but we didn't. I really enjoy these posts from MSH letting me know what I missed (and giving me reason to return). Thanks, Linda!


Don't be shy! Please leave a comment.