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