In early June I had the pleasure of meeting Helen from Walking With Friends Down Under.
|The flower show began right away|
Helen traveled all the way from Brisbane, Australia just to see my little corner of the world (well, she happened to be visiting her son who lives in Banff, Alberta and decided to add a side trip to Oregon while she was "nearby"). Having followed her blog for a few years, I was thrilled to meet my Australian blogging pal.
|Indian paintbrush dotted the hillsides|
Like me, Helen's an avid hiker. A regular reader of a few Pacific NW blogs, she already had a list of places on her "must visit" list. One of them happened to be Mt. St. Helens. One of my favorite spots, I was more than happy to show her around.
|Vibrant orange paintbrush|
Helen arrived in Portland in the middle of a beastly heat wave. Temps the day before had reached into the 100s (or 38 degrees C for my Aussie friend). Thankfully the day we'd chosen to visit MSH wasn't predicted to be quite that hot - however the weatherman still forecasted sunny, warm weather.
|Then came the purple penstemon...|
Despite the toasty temps, Helen chose a great time to see the famous volcano - 1. the hot weather guaranteed clear blue skies, so we'd see the mountain for sure (no hiding behind clouds, as it sometimes does in the spring), and - 2. our warmer-than-normal spring meant the wildflowers were blooming early.
|It's a banner year for penstemon too!|
I picked Helen up at her motel bright and early. We filled the long two-hour drive with great conversation. Before I knew it, we were catching our first glimpse of MSH's truncated top.
After a quick potty break at Coldwater Lake, we arrived at Johnston Ridge Visitor Center. The flower show began right away. Before we even started hiking, Helen and I were whipping out our cameras to get some shots from the parking lot.
|Heading out onto Devils Elbow|
We began our trek on the Boundary Trail. Wildflowers were abundant from the very start, with vivid orange Indian Paintbrush and lovely purple penstemon decorating the surrounding plain. I'd never seen so much paintbrush and penstemon blooming - and so early in the season! Needless to say, between the wildflowers and killer volcano views, our first mile wasn't very speedy.
|The narrow path across Devils Elbow|
But Helen and I found our groove, and soon we were approaching the infamous "Devil's Elbow" - a portion of the Boundary Trail that traverses the side of a steep cliff out to the tip of a pennisula. The trail is narrow with a bit of exposure. But Helen, not fazed in the least, marched right across.
|Best viewpoint yet!|
Our reward for traversing this perilous path? Amazing in-your-face views of St Helens herself!
We gazed at MSH's ravaged north side. When the mountain exploded back in 1980, the blast traveled across the plains where we now stood, leveling everything in its path. Although small plants and shrubs have since reestablished, larger trees have been slow to take root. The area immediately north of the mountain still resembles a barren wasteland.
|Great view of the blast zone|
After soaking in the views and memorializing with countless photos, Helen and I continued our journey across a desolate plain sprinkled with colorful spots of flowers.
|Flowers brighten the wasteland|
Our goal for today was Harry's Ridge, site of a former lodge owned by a crotchety old man named Harry Truman. Back in 1980, although an eruption was imminent, Harry refused to evacuate, and died in the blast.
|Sheared off trees from the eruption|
As we climbed up the base of Harry's Ridge, Helen and I passed by weathered stumps of old trees, sheared off by the blast's tremendous force. A sobering example of this natural disaster's enormity.
|First view of Spirit Lake|
Reaching the base of Harry's Ridge my friend and I peered over the edge for a jaw-dropping view of Spirit Lake. White-topped Mt. Adams anchored the skyline, and Helen gazed in awe. As many times as I've seen this sight, it still thrills me too.
|Climbing Harry's Ridge|
Then it was a hot, dusty trek along Harry's Ridge to its terminus and another wonderful view of MSH.
|Panorama included Spirit Lake and Mt. Adams|
A perfect lunch spot! Helen and I spread out our food and enjoyed a well-earned break while taking in the 180 degree panorama of sights. Not only Mt St Helens, we had a killer view of Spirit Lake, Mt. Adams, and even a ghostly Mt Hood on the far horizon.
|And up close and personal MSH views|
We chatted with a friendly couple from Montreal, and the man was nice enough to snap a few photos.
|Heading back down Harry's Ridge|
Bellies now full, it was time to retrace our steps to the Visitor's Center. Back down Harry's Ridge, again taking in the marvelous views of Spirit Lake, Coldwater Peak, and the surrounding Mt. Margaret backcountry.
|MSH is always in view|
Then across the plains of flowers and low bushes, with MSH anchoring our view.
|Our last look at Spirit Lake|
We made a brief stop at the tip of Devil's Elbow Peninsula, for one final glimpse of Spirit Lake and Mt. Adams.
|Helen bids Mt. Adams goodbye|
It was here Helen bid Mt. Adams goodbye.
|Dark purple lupine|
Then back across the sketchy trail along Devil's Elbow and it's steep slope, where I discovered this patch of deep purple lupine just begging to be photographed.
|How to capture this marvelous field of paintbrush?|
When wildflowers are in bloom, I never mind hiking the Boundary Trail twice. Helen and I passed by vast fields of paintbrush and penstemon. How does one capture such beauty?
|Back past the purple carpet|
Although by now we were both hot and tired, neither one of us could resist a few last photo stops. The flowers were so amazing, I wanted to be sure not to miss a thing!
|Penstemon as far as the eye can see|
As we neared the visitor center, the crowds thickened until the last half mile we were passing hordes of people. Having had most of the trail to ourselves, it was hard to adjust to all this humanity.
|My calendar shot|
As wonderful as this hike had been, I was still very happy when my car came into view. I'd placed two water bottles in a cooler - and the cold water tasted heavenly after such a hot trek. We took a quick trip through the visitor center, but time was getting late, and we both needed to get back to Portland. However, I had so much fun hanging out with Helen, I wished the day wouldn't have to end.
|Enjoyed the journey, Helen!|
So nice to meet and share a hike with one of my blogging buddies! As we parted ways, I promised Helen I'd save my pennies for a future visit down south. It's my turn to hike one of her favorite trails!
Stats: 8.5 miles round trip (about 14 km) and 1000 feet (300 meters) elevation gain.
Read Helen's recap of our day here.