|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!
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.
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.
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!
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?)
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.