Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Circling Coldwater Lake

What makes me happy?  Long time blog followers will know the answer right away.  A day on one of my favorite hiking trails, accompanied by good friends, always brings a smile to my face.

Fall color reflections

Such was the case in mid-October.  Trying to fit in all my favorite hikes that month, I wasn't about to miss a trip around Coldwater Lake.  Visiting first in 2012 and again last year, hiking Coldwater Lake has become an annual fall tradition.

This unique lake, located directly north of Mt. St. Helens, was formed during the 1980 eruption when the mountain's north side slumped into the Toutle River.  Rock and sediment from the blast dammed the river, creating this beautiful, four-mile-long body of water.

Blue skies to begin our hike

I recruited hiking buddies John and Steve to join me for my yearly circumnavigation.  Neither had ever done this hike before.  There's not many trails they haven't set foot on, so I was pleased to show them around for a change.

We started from the boat dock parking lot at the lake's west end.  After a mile of road walking (unlike last year I decided to get the boring part out of the way first) my companions and I arrived at the South Coldwater trailhead.

Tiny toad

From here we climbed steeply for a mile or so before topping out on the ridge directly south of the lake.  Although most of our ascent had been in dense woods, once upon the ridgetop, we emerged onto a barren, windy plain.  When St. Helens blew, this ridge took a direct hit, stripping away the trees and obliterating all vegetation.

Logging equipment destroyed by the blast

Vegetation wasn't the only casualty.  A logging company had been harvesting trees here, and when the mountain blew, their equipment was buried in ash.  Since that fateful day in May 1980, these vehicles have remained frozen in time, slowly rusting away.

John is fascinated

One of the many highlights on this trail, John and Steve were fascinated by the destruction wrought upon these large pieces of machinery.  The force of the blast was enough to twist metal.  Ash and sediment totally covered the lower portions.  Can you spot the top of a tire in the above photograph?

Rusting dozer

A very sobering reminder of the power this volcanic eruption wrought.

Wide open views

Continuing past the ruined logging camp, I followed John and Steve across the wide-open ridge.  Views were grand - we could see rumpled Minnie Peak to the east, and directly below Coldwater Lake sparkled in the intermittent sunshine.

Coldwater Lake far below

A unseasonably warm autumn had delayed the fall leaf show, and I was a bit disappointed by the lack of color.  There were spots of orange, and some red here and there, but nothing like last year's stellar display.

This ridge was cleared by the1980 eruption

Our trail followed the top of Coldwater Lake's south ridge.  My friends and I passed by ghostly gray trunks of long-dead trees lying across the slopes.  These trees, flattened by St. Helens mighty blast were stark reminders of the destruction that day.

Cute 'shrooms

But my buddies also spotted happy things.  Like these cute little mushrooms sprouting up from the forest floor.

Upended dozer

The South Coldwater Trail traversed the ridge length until it met up with two other trails at "Tractor Junction," this intersection so named from the discovery of another piece of upended logging equipment (it appeared to be a bulldozer) destroyed in the 1980 eruption.

Heading towards Minnie Peak

From Tractor Junction, the guys and I followed a 2-mile connector that would take us to the Lakes Trail.  This trail started out fairly mellow, meandering through a field of colored huckleberry bushes.

Last of the foxgloves

And past the last of the summer flowers.  I was quite surprised to discover these foxgloves still blooming in mid-October.

Close up view of Minnie Peak

But once past the clearing, our trail dived into thick woods, and rocketed steeply down the ridge.  Losing all that elevation we'd gained, this connector would take us to the path that followed the lake's north shore.

Fall colors hidden in the gullies

Every once and awhile the trees would part just enough to give us teasing glimpses of Minnie Peak's scenic slopes.  Minnie Peak and the adjacent hills were decked out in some of the best fall colors I'd seen so far.  With downed trees looking like tiny toothpicks, and brightly-hued bushes tucked into it's gullies, Minnie Peak made a great photo subject.

At the lake's east end

From last year's hike, I knew we were getting close to our next junction once we crossed the bridge over lovely Coldwater Creek.  Almost down to lake level, my friends decided some rocks overlooking the creek would make a great lunch spot.  And it did!

Lunch break

After ingesting the hiker lunch essentials - PB & J, apple slices, hot tea, and....cookies (but of course!), I felt ready to tackle the long trek back along Coldwater Lake's northern shore.

Looking back towards Minnie Peak

As we packed up and walked away from our stellar lunch spot, I bid Minne Peak and her fabulous surrounding hills a fond goodbye.

John shares his hat with the sign

And here was our final trail junction!  From this point, only five miles back to the car.

Technicolor leaves

The vegetation on the lake's north side was a mix of tall grasses and scrubby deciduous trees.  The trees weren't the biggest, but they were nicely dressed in bright fall colors.

Steve looks for elk

My friends and I passed by the lake's swampy eastern side, spotting a huge beaver lodge.  Then, the waters became clearer, and the bank more firm.  The farther we traveled, the wider and deeper Coldwater Lake became.

Crossing the gravel delta

John, Steve and I navigated through an rocky alluvial fan, the remnants of an old landslide.  Two years ago I'd spotted a herd of elk here, but today our wildlife sightings consisted of only a few birds.

Minnie Peak fills the sky

The north side trail is a pretty one, hugging the lakeshore and giving visitors killer views at each turn.  Since the lake doesn't allow motorized boats, the only watercraft we spotted were a few kayakers.  Hmmm......maybe next year I should explore by boat?

Mt. St. Helens makes a brief appearance

By the time we'd reached the lake's halfway point, I was tired and ready to be done.  Unfortunate, because the last portion of this trail is spectacular.  But in our eagerness to be finished, my companions and I rushed through the final miles, only stopping to photograph the truly jaw-dropping scenes.  The best one occurred just a half mile from the parking lot.  Mt. St. Helens, hidden behind clouds all day, finally decided to show a bit of herself.  A photo-worthy moment if there ever was one.

Looking back at where we'd traveled

Then, the boat dock and parking lot came into view.  A sight for sore eyes (and feet!)  The late afternoon light illuminated Coldwater Lake's surface, turning it a brilliant shade of blue.  I walked out on the dock for one final photo op, and caught a couple of fisherman in kayaks, enjoying this fine day.

Although the fall colors were lacking, the outstanding scenery, nice weather, and great companions more than made up for it.  Besides, any day on the trail is a good one.  Time spent hiking always makes me happy.

Stats:  12 miles, 2000 feet elevation gain.

Sharing with:  52 Photos Project  and Our World Tuesday and Weekend Reflections.


  1. Another great hike, Linda. That gravel field looks like hard walking. So many wonderful photos - love the little toad, the mushrooms, and the soaring landscapes. Hope your foot is healing well.

  2. Linda, absolutely gorgeous! Your last photo made me gasp, especially. Wow! And the toad is adorable!!! :)

  3. Awesome, I often wondered what it was like round Mount St helens now. Amazing what it did to the dozers

  4. Was that really in 1980? Glad to see that the vegetation is making a steady recovery even if the heavy machinery is not. Some wonderful pictures. Hope you too are making a steady recovery.

  5. I like it when you post a series of photos as it is possible to imagine being there with you. The scenery is outstanding but a stark reminder of the force of nature.

  6. Really enjoyed this hike; you always find such spectacular trails to explore! Hope your own recovery is going well.

  7. Nice to see you still have some color- love the little frog.

  8. Wow - what magnificent scenery!

  9. Beautiful sights from these trails... will have to walk it next summer. We've visited the lake many times, even had a picnic lunch there a few times, but have never hiked there. Looks like kayaking the lake would be fun, too. Wonder if they stock this lake with trout? Your foot must be doing well; looks like some rugged terrain. Congrats!

  10. What an amazing hike - the destroyed equipment shows the power of the eruption.

  11. Beautiful shots! Love that little toad ~ Walking and being with nature is such a gift!

    artmusedog and carol
    Happy Weekend to you

  12. Spectacular images as always, Linda. I love your photo skills, and I always look forward to what you're going to share! What an amazing place; such gorgeous scenery. And that tiny toad? So sweet!

  13. Wow, another beautiful hike.. The scenery is gorgeous.. I love the lake and the mountains.. Lovely shot of the flowers.. Great post and images.. Have a happy weekend ahead!

  14. some more great images you've shared. sure love it when i can go hiking with ya'll.

    gorgeous scenery.

  15. Really enjoyed this hike especially the tiny little frog and the foxglove. Beautiful color and something I'm not accustomed to seeing on a trail.

  16. I love it that you not only photograph lovely views but you also take photos of the flora and rusty remains along the way!

  17. Thanks for sharing this scenic hike. That little toad is awesome!

  18. Such a beautiful place ... great photos of a great trip!

  19. Wonderful scenery and it must have been a great hike. Love the little frog. Have a lovely reflection.

  20. This is a part of the world I hope to get back to one day - see you on the trail maybe?

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  21. I feel like that I’m seeing your happy smiles, Linda, during and after the completion of that mountain climbing. The grand, beautiful landscape, though with some somber reminders, is awesome. Man-made things don’t come back on its own but nature resurrects. I wonder if there’s no chances of another major eruption? In Japan, Mount Ontake erupted on September 27, 2014, killing 57 people who climbed to enjoy the beginning of autumn foliage.


  22. Hi! Mt.Helens and the lake photos are very beautiful. I could find the tire top in your photo. I felt the eruption was very big. I enjoyed many things in your post especially the foxgloves flowers. Thanks for sharing.

  23. LOVED that little toad you found--adorable! I can't believe there were foxgloves blooming that late in autumn--wow! Beautiful hubby has been wanting to go back there for a long time. Last time we were there was decades ago.
    Blessings, Aimee

  24. What a beautiful area! I love the tiny toad and the foxglove.

  25. The things you find! I'd be fascinated by the old machinery, too. Love the toad and the autumn colors.

  26. Looks like a fun hike and beautiful landscapes. The cookies in the next post look delicious and like it was fun making them.

  27. I can see why you enjoy this area. The lake is gorgeous. What awesome views and seeing the old abandoned logging equipment was quite fascinating. I really enjoyed your hike photos.

  28. I thoroughly enjoyed my virtual hike to Coldwater Lake.

  29. At what elevation did you find the wildflowers in October? I'm surprised they're still out that late in the year. After a summer of walking around on erupted volcanoes, I still can't wrap my head around their power. Wow. Gorgeous photos, as always. :)

  30. Beautiful hike! That Foxglove was beautiful! Cool temperatures bring out the best colors :)


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