Friday, November 15, 2013

'Round Coldwater Lake

There is no place more fascinating to hike than the area around Mt. St. Helens.  The 1980 eruption forever changed the adjacent landscape.  There's always something unusual to discover.

Morning on Coldwater Lake

Last fall I had a fabulous hike across the north side of nearby Coldwater Lake (read about it here).  The autumn colors were superb, the scenery incredible.  I knew I had to return.  So one Sunday in mid-October, I did just that, convincing my friends Young and John to join me.

Amazing fall color reflections

This time I wanted to traverse the entire lakeshore.  I'd studied maps, and discovered a series of trails that would get you around the whole thing. 

We began in a thick forest

My friends and I set out on a foggy autumn morning.  Climbing towards Mt. St. Helens, we broke out of the clouds into lovely bright sunshine.  Making a quick potty stop at the Coldwater Lake boat dock, Young and walked down to check out the lake.  Oh was it ever pretty!  The trees along the north shore were in full fall regalia, reflecting perfectly on the lake's calm waters.  Photo ops began early that day.


Then we drove to the nearby South Coldwater Trailhead.  This was to be the starting point for today's journey.

The higher we climbed, the better the views

Our trail began in a thick forest.  Although many trees were bare, a few still sported bright yellow leaves.  My friends and I climbed steadily, gaining elevation fast, until we found ourselves on top of the south ridge overlooking Coldwater Lake.

One of the many amazing lake overlooks

The ridge itself was bare, scoured of trees from the 1980 eruption.  When Mt. St. Helens blew its top, hot gases and debris flew northward, obliterating everything in its path.  The summit slumped and slid into the Toutle River valley, damming Coldwater Creek, which created the beautiful lake we were hiking around today.

Logging equipment damaged by the eruption

Topping out in elevation, our trail now meandered across the south ridge above Coldwater Lake.  The lack of tall vegetation provided long-distance views of the nearby denuded mountains.

The hillsides are still littered with blown over trees

Then my buddies and I came upon a rusting hulk of machinery, half buried in the soil.  It was some type of logging equipment.  Prior to the eruption, companies had been harvesting trees in the adjacent hills, and this machine apparently got caught in the blast.  The twisted metal, and cab buried up to the steering wheel were eerie sights to behold.

Weathered tree stumps

Continuing our trek across the ridge, the lake views just kept getting better.  Young and I stopped frequently to capture some great scene that caught our eye.  Poor John.  With all our stops, he was probably thinking we'd never finish this trail!

More buried logging equipment

We passed by another piece of logging equipment, mangled and buried.  Another somber reminder of the devastation from that fateful day.

Fabulous vistas!

Heading towards the lake's east side, it was fun to stop and see how our perspectives kept changing.  Coldwater Lake is a long, skinny body of water, four miles in length.  The surrounding hills rise up steeply from its shores.  It's east end is anchored by a wall of mountains, Minnie Peak, Coldwater Peak, Mt. Margaret, and Mt. Whittier

Huckleberry bushes turn a variety of colors

Towards to the east end, we came upon some great areas of fall color.  Huckleberry bushes had established themselves nicely on the barren slopes, and were turning a variety of fall shades.  Against stark gray stumps of the fallen trees, they created a stunning scene.

Upended bulldozer at "tractor junction"

Approaching the point where three trails met, my hiking book referred to it as "tractor junction."  Passing by an upended bulldozer covered in vegetation made me realize why.

Obligatory trailsign photo

Our ridge run now finished, it was time to descend down to Coldwater Lake's eastern inlet and connect with the Lakes Trail.

Big stump photo op

But not before a group photo atop a huge old stump (see how well we color coordinated!)

The peaks at the east end of Coldwater Lake

Our path descended into dense, brushy woods.  It was a crude muddy trail, sometimes nearly disappearing in the tall vegetation (apparently this trail doesn't get much use).   Whoever was unlucky enough to be in the lead had the pleasure of walking into numerous spiderwebs strung across our path.  (Eewwwww.....especially when they hit your face!)  Young and I took turns being the "web-breaker," swinging our trekking poles in front of us, hoping to catch them all.

Hangin' out on the bridge (photo by Young)

It was steep, brushy, muddy descent for a long two miles.  Way past lunchtime, my friends and I promised each other we'd stop for a refueling break at the bottom.  There was a scenic wooden footbridge crossing the lake's inlet that made a nice stopping point.  This was my turnaround from last year's hike, when I explored the trail along the northern shore.

Toad supermodel

Finally the bridge came into view.  A most welcome sight!  Young, John and I found a nice lunch spot atop a huge rocky cliff overlooking the bridge.  When you're walking all morning, peanut butter and jelly bagels taste fabulous.

Picture-perfect reflections at the east end

Our bellies full and happy, Young and I started out along the Lakes trail, which would follow Coldwater Lake's northern shore.  The same trail I'd hiked last year, I was now on familiar ground.  We trekked by the marshy eastern end, complete with a huge beaver dam.  Then Young spied a large toad sitting smack dab in the middle of our trail.  Excited, we pulled out the cameras, and began clicking, getting closer and closer to our new amphibious friend.  The toad never flinched once, even when we were nearly on top of him.  It was like he was used to being photographed (maybe we'd found a toad supermodel!)

Return trail on the opposite shore

Our photo session finished, Young had to nudge the toad off of the trail.  We didn't want him to be stepped on by another hiker.  Our journey then continued, around the east end, until we could look back and see the adjacent mountains reflecting in the lake.  Another fine photo op!

Looking back to where we'd been

The hour was running late, and John reminded us girls he didn't want to be stuck on the trail after dark.  It was time to turn on the afterburner.  With still nearly four miles to go, our photography sessions became less frequent.  But with many trees sporting lovely colors, I still managed to find time for a couple quick stops along the way.

Golden ferns

Near the lake's western shore was a boat dock.  Although Coldwater Lake is a large body of water, only non-motorized boats are allowed.  We glimpsed a few fisherman bobbing in their float tubes in the blue water.  About a mile from the dock, Mt. St. Helens began to peep out over the southern ridge.  Who can pass up a photo op such as this?

MSH makes an appearance over the ridge

With a sigh of relief, my friends and I came upon the boat dock parking area.  Yahoo - there were bathrooms here (when you've been trekking in the woods, always a welcome sight!)  But our trip was not over yet.  We'd parked in the South Coldwater Trailhead, which was another 1.3 miles down the road.  After a quick potty break, Young, John and I shouldered our packs for the final leg of our journey.

Snow-capped Mt. St. Helens

After hiking in the woods, it's a big bummer to be walking down the side of a paved road.  But we managed to cover the distance.  John's pickup sitting in the parking lot was a welcome sight indeed.

John had a surprise for me.  In the back of his truck was a cooler containing two growlers of beer.  He also pulled out a huge bag of Kettle chips.  We sat in the parking lot, enjoying cold beer and salty potato chips.  There is nothing that tastes better after a long hike.  A perfect end to an awesome day!

Stats:  12 miles and 2000 feet elevation gain.  Coldwater Lake is a beautiful place to visit, especially in the fall.  I think this hike will become an annual tradition.

Sharing with:  Weekend Reflections and the 52 Photos Project  and Weekly Top Shot.


  1. Another fantastic post, Linda. I so enjoyed your excursion.
    I've walked only parts of the trail but would love to walk it all (messed up back prevents me).
    Thank you so much for all the wonderful photos and commentary. This place is very special to me.

  2. awesome hike. i love your shadows. the frog or was it a toad. i can't recall. amazing views!! thanks, for sharing. my post is about hiking in Glacier. not sure i can pick a fav. ( :

  3. Linda I am overwhelmed by the beauty you captured on this hike - an awesome day, awesome photography and your words as always, make us feel we are on trail with you! Thank you.

  4. Beautiful lake--so incredibly blue! I would love to see photos of this area before the eruption happened.
    Did you see the lovely forecast for your favorite mountain this weekend? :)
    PS: Cool toad!

  5. What an interesting place to explore. There's lots of fantastic scenery and interesting things along the trail. Linda you did a great job in photography the hike.

  6. Great pic's and a beautiful landscape. I like it.

  7. Thanks for letting me tag along with you because that's what if feels like. I love the photo of the reflections in the lake and your shadows beside it.

  8. Just beautiful! Love the huckleberry and ferns -- they are so colorful!

  9. Taking this bowl of fresh air in your compagnie in such a dreamy set is so pleasant ! Thanks for the sharing !

  10. Great shots of a beautiful place ~ Wow! ~ thanks, carol, xxx

  11. What a hike, isn't it interesting that there are still so many scars left from nearly 30 years ago...

  12. Thank you for coming by sharing your creative photography on the Weekly Top Shot, #109!

  13. What a beautiful hike. The day we were at Mt. St. Helens, it was very cloudy and overcast and we couldn't see the mountain. I would love go back again sometime!

  14. Beautiful captures! It's amazing what beauty has come from such devastation. It must have been a wonderful day.

  15. A fascinating journey and great images you've shared with us today. What is a "growler" of beer?

  16. Linda,
    I am sure I said this on your other hiking post, but I would LOVE to go an a hike like this. The beauty of nature, autumn colors, the great outdoors and photo opportunities. WOW!

    This set of pictures is awesome. I love the autumn colors and reflections. The weathered tree stumps, Huckleberry bush and toad pictures are right up my alley.

    Thank You for sharing your magnificent adventure with us.

  17. This is really fascinating! I never thought about how much the eruption had changed the landscape. It is still beautiful though and you got some awesome photos!

  18. Oh My God.. its like heaven there. The pictures are beautiful dear Linda, just splendid! I felt like I was hiking along with you. Thanks for the virtual tour :) Have a good week ahead.

  19. Sobering shots of the destruction indeed. But what an epic hike you had.

  20. Great hiking trail. I guess it would be eerie to come upon the old logging equipment. But they rusty bits are fabulous for photographers.

  21. Fabulous! My fav's were the first photo and the one of the upended dozer.

    A cold beer and chips sound fab.

  22. As always such glorious photos and fun details from your hike...

  23. Thank you for taking me along your hike. The views are breathtaking as are the images!

  24. Wow! Stunning beautiful! I like the second photo very much. I have no words how to express your beautiful photo series in this post. Thanks for sharing.

  25. Breathtaking views-gorgeous hike-and yes your outfits were perfect:)

  26. Linda, these are gorgeous. Makes me feel as though I took this walk with you!

  27. Beautiful photos of a beautiful place ! Great photographer!:)
    have a nice day!

  28. Beautiful. Discovered your blog through Laura's blog, and I'm glad I did. Following now! :D

    Mersad Donko Photography

  29. Linda, are you kidding me? These are so gorgeous! Thank you for sharing to On My Way. I truly enjoyed these. xo


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