Remember in a previous post how I'd hiked up Ape Canyon, under Mt St Helens' summit, walked across the Plains of Abraham and got views of a lovely flower-filled butte, but it was just a bit too far for a day hike? Well a few weeks later, I went back and hiked to this area via a different trail from the north. That hike is what this post is all about. (Be prepared for lots of photos!)
|Morning light on Mt St Helens|
I love hiking from the Windy Ridge (northeast) side of Mt St Helens. However, reaching this trailhead requires a 3-hour (one way) drive from Portland, the last hour over windy Forest Service roads in poor condition. But my desire to see the flower fields before the wildflowers wilted away was further fueled by photos from a friend that had hiked the same area, and not only did she see loads of flowers, she also encountered mountain goats!
|Our first leg was on an old road|
Luckily my hubby decided to accompany me on this latest hiking adventure, so I had company for the long drive. We left early one mid-July morning and the drive was fairly uneventful except for when I hit a hidden pothole going a bit too fast (oops!). Hubby got excited and made me pull over so he could check my car's underside to make sure I didn't punch a hole in anything. (Spoiler - my car was fine, but boy did I drive like a granny after that!)
|Loved the wispy clouds above MSH|
Finally after a looonnng journey, we arrived at the Windy Ridge Trailhead parking area. Naturally after being in the car for three hours, the first thing I did was sprint for the bathroom, only to be foiled by a filthy restroom completely out of toilet paper. Good thing I keep a surplus of Starbucks napkins in my car!
|Loowit Trail junction|
After taking care of restroom needs, putting on hiking boots and resetting my gps I was ready to go. Hubby and located the start of our trek - an abandoned road. We'd follow this road for nearly two miles before joining the Loowit Trail proper.
|Spirit Lake and a bazillion paintbrush flowers|
The weather was perfect - blue skies and pleasant temperatures. The road gave fantastic views of MSH's truncated north side. You could see right into the crater, and I spotted the lava dome that's been building inside since the 1980 eruption. From this angle the mountain kind of looked like a large melted cake.
|Looking into the crater - notice the lava dome in the center|
Not only were the mountain views immediate so was the wildflower show. Flowers lined the sides of the abandoned road, and my camera was out well before the half mile mark.
|Rockfall from the west crater wall|
|Dramatic views crossing a dry creek|
The views into the volcano crater were amazing! The closer we got the more the landscape changed. The west crater wall still had a small amount of snow on top, but it appeared to be rapidly melting in the rising temperatures. We even witnessed a large rockslide off the west crater wall.
|Loowit falls from a distance|
|We watched the goats for quite some time|
I could've watched the goats all day, but we had a waterfall to see and many more miles to cover. So hubby and I continued along the trail until we reached the designated overlook for Loowit Falls. We took a quick snack break, and I snapped a few photos. Then, refreshed, we retracted our steps back along the Loowit trail.
|Loowit Falls at our turn-around point|
The second part of our loop necessitated a return on the same portion of the Loowit Trail we'd just covered. After a mile and a half, however, we turned and headed towards Windy Pass.
|Heading to Windy Pass|
|One last look at Spirit Lake|
|Quick break on Windy Pass|
|Fantastic Mt Adams view on the other side of Windy Pass|
|Looking back towards Windy Pass|
|Stepping aside for trail runners |
|Lupine was thick here!|
|Heading across the Plains of Abraham|
|Wildflowers in every gully|
Orange Indian paintbrush filled the slopes. It was everywhere! Any forward progress I had made stopped right there.
|Then we entered the paintbrush zone|
|Fields of orange Indian paintbrush everywhere!|
|A very colorful gully|
Not only paintbrush, many gullies were filled with pink and yellow monkeyflowers.
|Flowers and Mt Adams|
But with scenery like this how could anyone hurry through it?
|Then came the yellow zone|
|Our trail snakes across the ridgetop|
|Looking back at MSH|
|We had to navigate a series of steep log stairs|
|Looking towards our path back to the car|
But hubby and I managed to get down the endless sets of log stairs. At one of the flat spots, hubby spotted a toad resting in the rocky soil. Our second wildlife sighting of the day! With no water nearby, it seemed like an unusual place for a toad to live.
|Surprised to see a toad in this dry environment|
|More flower-filled slopes|
|Final leg back on the road|
A path that wandered close to the MSH crater, a secret waterfall inside, mountain goats, climbing over a pass with fantastic views, flower fields below, and an amazing wildflower-lined trail. This hike had it all! Another great day exploring one of my favorite places.