Sunday, August 6, 2017

Mt. St. Helens in Bloom

I have a new trail friend!

MSH surrounded by purple and orange!

For several months I've enjoyed chatting with Catherine, a woman who works out at my gym.  Discovering she also liked to hike, I invited her to join me on my yearly wildflower trek to Mt. St. Helens.

Catherine admires the wildflowers

Those of you who've followed my blog for awhile know I don't miss the summer wildflower bloom near this famous volcano.  By late June, the bleak plains surrounding the mountain's truncated north flank erupt in a brilliant riot of color.


So one summer's day in late June Catherine and I headed to Johnston Ridge on Mt. St. Helen's north side.  Our day's destination - the Boundary Trail to Coldwater Peak.

Flowers nearly cover an old log

I love showing people my favorite wildflower hikes, and Catherine was pumped to explore this "new to her" trail.

Devils Elbow Trail was closed  :(

As usual, the flower show began right from the trailhead.  We hadn't taken five steps when the cameras came out.  Lovely purple penstemon blooms carpeted the surrounding slopes, punctuated by small patches of orange Indian paintbrush.

Lupine added to the colors

Poor Catherine got her first "hiking with Linda" lesson - photo breaks happen early and often.  But there was much to capture in those first two miles.

We even found a few avalanche lilies

Happily, Catherine was a good sport, and reveled in the beauty every time I paused to capture an image.

St Helens Lake

The trail between the parking lot and Devil's Elbow was a continuous carpet of purple and orange.  Mt St. Helens herself rose over one heavily flowered slope.  Sadly when we reached Devil's Elbow, I discovered the trail around this prominent ridge had been closed due to erosion issues.  What a disappointment!  The closest and best views of Mt. St. Helens can be found at the end of this ridge.

Just us and the mountain!

But we are rule-followers, so Catherine and I grudgingly took the new alternate trail up and over the ridge.  Nowhere close to as spectacular as the original, we instead trudged up a dusty barren plain, and switchbacked steeply down the other side.  There weren't even many flowers!

Amazing views of Spirit Lake

But on the ridge's opposite side we reconnected with the main trail and wandered through a brushy valley full of more wildflowers and a large number trees that were starting to grow quite tall.  It's nice to see this area, devastated in the 1980 blast, recovering so well.

So many great photo ops!

Then my trail buddy and I climbed out of the valley and started our ascent to Harry's Saddle.  Although the massive carpets of wildflowers weren't present here, we did find a few pockets of avalanche lilies hiding under the bushes.

Crossing a snowfield

Arriving on top of Harry's Saddle, Catherine oohed and aah-ed over the glorious views of Spirit Lake, Mt. Adams, and Mt St. Helens.  Although a mighty fine sight, I reminded her that even better panoramas awaited.

This slope was ablaze with flowers

So up we climbed!  The Boundary trail then zig-zagged upwards to the top of another ridge.  One of my favorite parts of this hike, the views kept getting better the higher we rose.

Mt Adams towering over Spirit Lake

Catherine and I crossed one small snowfield, which was quite fun.  Morning sun had melted the snow enough that it wasn't icy and we had an easy time kicking steps through.

Nice views along this trail

On top of the ridge was my favorite view of all - far below in a craggy bowl nestled in the mountains sat deep blue St. Helens Lake.  A perfectly round water body, it was lined with silver snags - trees blown over by the long-ago eruption.

Catherine scouts our route ahead

Not much farther to the scenic rock arch and Coldwater Peak.  But soon after reaching the ridgetop, Catherine and I were stopped by a steep snowfield blocking our trail.  Although we thought about kicking steps through, the snow was at a very steep angle.  One slip and you'd slide for a long ways down, likely hitting rocks and trees along the way.  Catherine and I decided we weren't willing to take that risk.  There appeared to be a couple footpaths bypassing the snow through brushy undergrowth, but bushwacking looked like way too much work. 

MSH fills the entire sky

So we decided this would be the day's turn-around  point.  Catherine and I found a panoramic spot overlooking St. Helens Lake and all the mountains, and settled in for a nice, long lunch break.

Follow the flowers

You couldn't ask for a better day - clear skies, moderate temperatures, and no bugs!  It was wonderful to sit back, enjoy our snacks, and take in the amazing views all around.  This is why I love hiking.

Back past the purple plains

One of the things I love about this trail is the return trip is almost better.  Descending down the ridge with Spirit Lake front and center provides such dramatic views.  And afternoon light is always fantastic on the flower fields and Mt. St. Helen's crater.

Orange paintbrush was plentiful near the trailhead

Even though the final two miles are slightly uphill (enough that you notice it!) and we were getting tired, I couldn't resist a few more images of the enormous paintbrush bloom against the mountain's crater. 

This year's calendar shot

On the way home, we made a quick bathroom stop at nearby Coldwater Lake, where I noticed the wildflowers were especially thick by the entrance sign.  With the mountain providing a backdrop, it was one worthy scene this photographer had to capture.  A fitting way to end such a marvelous day!

Roadside flower garden

Spectacular wildflowers, scenic vistas, and a new hiking buddy.  Just another stellar day in the beautiful Pacific Northwest!

Sharing with:  Through My Lens


  1. What a glorious burst of colour, Linda! And the views are gorgeous!

  2. Amazing views. I feel like I have tracked with you.

  3. Wow - just beautiful. I'm always amazed at the snow still remaining this late in the year.

  4. ...I was there a couple years after the eruption and I didn't look a thing like this!

  5. Just unbelievable wildflower profusion for an eastern flatlander! A lot of elevation gain in your descriptions too! Hope the new hiking buddy means more hikes to blog about!

  6. WOW! What an incredible day on the trail. MSH is stunning with her skirts of flowers! How wonderful to have a new hiking buddy!

  7. Muy bellas escenas... Buen trabajo este que nos presentas
    Un saludo

  8. Loved your hike. Spirit Lake is returning nicely. I remember when it was totally log jammed. The wildflowers this year have been great.. love all you found, and captured. Was up there a few days ago.. not as many, but still so lovely.
    Great post, Linda.. always enjoyable (and fun)!

  9. Hello Linda, what an awesome hike. The views of the mountain tops are lovely. Gorgeous captures of the wildflowers. I like the views of the Spirit Lake, awesome series of photos. Happy Monday, enjoy your day and new week!

  10. Gorgeous pictures indeed. I love the MSH postcard very much. And congratulations on finding another hiking companion. :-)

  11. Wow! Mt.St.Helens looks like a paradise! Both the mountain and the lake are super beautiful. There are many wild flowers. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Wow! Beautiful area and great photos

  13. Looks like a good year for flowers up there. I didn't make it up this year, too bad. (Love that view across to Mt. Adams!)

  14. Thank you for the lovely summery views! The wildflowers are awesome:)

  15. Oh my gosh! What I would give to be able to hike again...there's so much beauty in this Pacific NW! You shared some amazing photos of a STUNNING place! WOW!

  16. Deja vu! As you can imagine, I loved reading this post. I'm also enjoying August on your calendar - MSH! What a glorious day you had with Catherine. Such a shame the Devil's Elbow was closed, but if there was a washout I wouldn't want to be attempting it. Was the detour the reason you passed Lake St Helens or was that on your itinerary? You took me to MSH on the 7 June last year and there wasn't a patch of snow to be seen anywhere. Obviously the reason so little colour on Harry's Ridge, but elsewhere the colours are spectacular. I look forward to your return next year.

    1. Hi Helen - St. Helens Lake was on our itinerary. It's on the ridge above Harry's Ridge and Spirit Lake. (You may remember me pointing out the ridge when we did our hike) That's where we encountered the snowfields too. And last year we had an abnormally warm and dry spring, so the flowers bloomed early and the snow was gone by early June.

      Glad to jog your memory of a great hike! :)

  17. Fantastic! I have yet to see this famous mountain - the one time I was in the area it was fogged in.

  18. estupendas imágenes...un saludo desde Murcia....

  19. Fabulous images Of the wild flowers and mountain tracks

  20. It was still breathtaking even with part of the trail closed! I stop and snap photos constantly while hiking as well. Glad you found a new hiking partner! So much better with friends!!

  21. It really does look like that area is recovering well for the MSH blast--I remember that event so well in the news and all the devastation afterward. I am amazed by the large crater left behind by the volcano blast--it is very picturesque. The wild flowers are amazing! Are penstemon considered noxious weeds there, as they are here? They are so pretty but not indigenous to our area so therefore the weed designation. I'm glad you found another hiking buddy and hope you will be able to go on many more hikes with Catherine.

  22. That hike was well worth the effort to see those stunning views. You have shown MSH many times but that is the first I have seen of the crater from that angle. You are so lucky having places like that to walk

  23. I was there on July 17th and we just walked around the "trail is closed sign" at devils elbow. The trail was fine. And you're right about the view at the end. Stunning.

  24. Those wildflowers look absolutely amazing!! What a great hike!

  25. Ohh wow!! The wildflowers are just incredible. How amazing nature is.

  26. Gorgeous! Because of out-of-town family the first couple of weeks of August, I missed my annual pilgrimage to St. Helens, and I missed the best of the flowers. Next year!

  27. Fabulous hike and photos to match. I love the isolated volcanic peaks you have over there

  28. Going back and reading all the blog posts of yours that I've missed, and holy cow I've missed a lot! This hike made me want to comment though, what a stunning trail.


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