Thursday, September 3, 2015

Tail End of the Bloom

Mt. St. Helens is such a fascinating place.  Even 35 years after the mountain blew it's top, forever altering the landscape, recovery is just beginning.  Where else can you witness a drastically devastated area slowly returning to life?

MSH in the morning

A huge recovery indicator is the fabulous summer wildflower show that brightens the mountain's bleak plains every summer.  One of my favorite summer wildflower hikes, the Boundary Trail from Johnston Ridge Observatory to Harry's Ridge never fails to impress.  (Long time blog followers have no doubt seen a post or two about this ramble.)  Usually peak bloom occurs mid to late July.  But 2015 has been anything but a normal year.

Dry, dusty paintbrush

This summer, I begin to hear wildflower reports from MSH as early as mid June.  By the time my foot had healed enough to hike, nearly half of July had passed by.  If I wanted to catch the bloom, I needed to get my tail up the mountain pronto!

Curious chipmunk

So one Sunday morning in mid-July, I rose insanely early and withstood the long, 2-hour drive to MSH.  Blazing hot temperatures were predicted that day, and knowing this hike had little shade, I needed to take advantage of the cool morning.  Lack of crowds at that early hour would also be a plus.

Approaching Devils Elbow

Setting out from the trailhead, I realized I'd come just in time.  Most of the remaining Indian Paintbrush blooms were dry and dusty, and looked very much on their way out.  I was only able to locate a few scraggly plants of penstemon sporting flowers.  And the lupine, although more plentiful than the other varieties, were smaller in size and quantity.

Lupine in the morning light

At least I wasn't totally skunked.  There were still a few hardy blooms hanging around.  Enough to photograph anyway.

Crater close-up

I followed the dusty trail, marveling at the blue morning skies, and lovely early light on MSH's crater.  But the lack of snow on top was truly heartbreaking.  Another casualty of this unusual hot, dry summer.

MSH selfie

About two miles in, the trail follows a narrow peninsula that juts out over the blast area.  Nicknamed "Devils Elbow" a slender paths snakes across it's steep slope.  Traversing this ridge, the valley is a long ways down.  Not for the faint of heart!

Lupine lined trail

But I've hiked this trail many times, and the narrow tread doesn't bother me.  The views of MSH and the barren plains below are some of my favorites.

A glimpse of Spirit Lake

At the peninsula's furthest point, the mountain filled the skyline.  It looked close enough to reach out and touch.  Perfect place for photo ops!

Barren land

Nowhere is the eruption's damage more apparent.  When the mountain blew, this is the direction the debris cloud traveled, leveling everything it its path.  Wrinkled land directly below MSH is now scarred by many deep gullies, forever reminders of that fateful day.  And although vegetation is returning into these barren plains and valleys, it will be several decades before lush forests again cover the land. 

My trail markers

I was tempted to take the trail all the way to Harry's Ridge.  The scenery always beckons me to go just a little bit farther.  But I knew the longer I extended my hike, the more miles I'd have to travel for my return trip, and the later in the day I'd be hiking.  I had no desire to be out in the midday heat. 

Beauty amidst the devestation

So I turned around and headed back across Devils Elbow, stopping to capture a few more panoramic shots of the scoured Toutle River Valley.

A bee in mid-flight

I revisited my favorite lupine patch, and even caught a bee in mid-flight.  (Can you see him in this photo?)

Color spots

A typical Boundary trail scene.  Wood posts stuck in the ground that give hikers a visual guide to follow.  Small patches of orange and purple provide bright color spots in an otherwise dull landscape.

Last of the penstemon

But up close, the few blooming wildflowers stole the show.  One of the very few penstemon flowers I was able to find.  Usually so plentiful, in other years I've seen them carpet the hillsides purple.

Windy, dusty trail

Much of the return trail is slightly uphill, which isn't a lot of fun when you're tired and the day is beginning to heat up rapidly.  (And did I mention the lack of shade?)

Lovely yellow blooms

Traveling back towards my car, I was amazed by the number of people who were just beginning their hikes.  And many of them didn't appear to be carrying any water.

My fave MSH image

I reached the parking lot just after 10 am.  By then, the sun's rays were beating down, and temps were already in the 90s.  Although it was difficult to get up so early that morning, I was now thankful to be done.

Coldwater Lake pano (click to enlarge)

I ended my day with a quick visit to Coldwater Lake, a short distance down the road.  The mountain reflections on its calm waters were nothing short of fantastic.  Click on this image for a better view.

Glad I was able to get up to MSH for my annual visit before the flowers were all gone.  Although not as spectacular as past visits, at least I didn't totally miss this year's bloom.


  1. What fabulous nature shots!

  2. Hello Linda, beautiful scenes and lovely wildflowers. The lake scenery is gorgeous! I always enjoy going along on your hikes, especially since I get to take the easy way. Your photos are beautiful, great post. Have a happy day!

  3. Awesome photos, Linda, and good for you for getting back on the hiking trail. Nature has a miraculous way of healing itself.

  4. I admire your determination to get up as early as you did to beat the crowds and the heat. I also admire the fact that you knew when to turn around. It would be so tempting to carry on. You got some great pictures, spectacular! I remember the day Mount Saint Helen blew. We were living in Los Alamitos, California and not long afterwards the sky turned yellow with ash dropping down from the sky carried by the air currents. The unbelievable force of that explosion is mind boggling. Thanks for such a great post :)

  5. It is a fascinating area. I suspect it is just as good in winter.

  6. Captivating views, Linda, and what a darling little chipmunk! It looks as if he was posing for you. :)

  7. Gorgeous as always, Linda! Your photos are fantastic, your hiking adventures inspiring, your part of the world awesome! :)

  8. I find it hard to believe it has been 35 years since Mt St Helens erupted. I must be getting really old. Despite the devastation, there is still a certain majesty to the mountain and the surroundings. Thanks for sharing this hike.

  9. We so loved that hike last year in early July! I love watching a devastated area return to life.

    Your Coldwater panorama is beautiful.

  10. Great series, loved your hike and all the wildflowers...
    my favorite hangout.

  11. What an amazing hike and you did see some great wildflowers. That's a mountain I'd love to see but the only time I was in the area it was socked in with clouds and fog.

  12. it is an awesome terrain. its hard to imagine the power that the mountain expended that day but you can see it on the land.

  13. I hope you are not straining your healing leg. It is grest to hear how the mountain's top is recovering. It is difficult to hije in a shadeless path, that gets you tired faster. But nevertheless you found wonders again.

  14. Hi! Mt.St.Heklens are very beautiful even tough they are not covered with snow. Your wild flower photos are very beautiful too. It's nice you could watch them this year. Thanks for sharing.

  15. You found some wonderful flowers along the trail. You are so smart to start early like that. Hiking in full sun on a scorching day has done in many a hiker. I liked your description of the difference is this year compared to normal. It was anything but normal! :-)

  16. Beautiful flowers in a barren landscape.

  17. Thanks for the tour! Hard to believe it's been 35 years already.

  18. Great photos of an amazing area. The funny thing about certain events is that they seem to have happened a short while ago while others more recent and less memorable fade away into the distance. Never would have believed it was 35 years ago as I remember it vividly on TV reports.

  19. I would be wandering about, too, looking for those tell tale signs of new life. The colors you found are just awesome.

  20. Great set of shots - really like that Chipmunk!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne


  21. Passeio maravilhoso com belas fotos.
    Amei a última foto... fantástica!!!

    ✿ Bom fim de semana!
    -`✿´- Beijinhos.

  22. Such a contrast between that bleak upper mountain and the flowers!

  23. So glad you are able to show us these beautiful places. Indian paintbrush is one of my favorite wildflowers.

  24. The contrast of those vivid wildflowers and the barran mountain is wonderful. I wasn't hot at all following you on the trail.

  25. Glad you got to hike a bit near Mt St Helens. Good photos even if the flowers were sparse. You documented the year we had drought in Oregon. Cold Water Lake photo is lovely and Megan enjoyed the photo as well! Thanks for sharing your hike!

  26. I enjoyed seeing Mount St Helen's has it really been 35 years? At least you saw a few wildflowers and yes I saw the bee that is a great photo. I hope your area is getting some rain:)

  27. Awesome hike! - Loved seeing the wild flowers but I was truly impressed with the shots of the mountain itself. I've neve visited MSH but maybe someday. You've really shown it's beauty even though it's still recovering from the destruction of the blast.

  28. Was it really 35 years ago? Amazing! It's delightful to see that the area is recovering,

  29. How lovely! I've never been to Mt St Helens (maybe someday) and these make me wonder why. Gorgeous views and you did get some great wildflower shots!

  30. Amazing landscapes! It almost looks like it's from an alien planet.


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