Saturday, October 17, 2020

Autumn Surprises at MSH

This is the year for Mt St Helens area hikes.  It's no secret I love the trails around this mountain.  The scenery is mind-blowing, the devastation sobering, the recovery amazing, and there's no lack of wildflowers, critters and beautiful views.  

Morning reflections on Coldwater Lake

Although hiking the Boundary Trail from Johnston Ridge Observatory during wildflower season is normally an early summer ritual, this year for some reason I didn't make it up for the bloom.  So, in mid-September I decided to see what autumn looked like on one of my favorite summer trails.

Ripple capture


When visiting MSH's north side, I always make a stop at nearby Coldwater Lake because the restroom there is open 24/7 and has running water.  And while I'm at it, I always walk down to check out the lakeshore, because the early morning views never disappoint.  Today although thick clouds obscured nearby mountains, they made for some awesome reflections on the lake's surface.


Clouds engulfing Mt St Helens

Then it was a short 9 mile uphill drive to Johnston Ridge Observatory, the parking area and beginning of today's hike.  This year due to COVID, the visitor center was closed.  But in past years I've always arrived well before it's 10 am opening, so it didn't seem any different.

Clouds lingering over the hills

I set off along the Boundary Trail.  Normally this path is surrounded by wildflowers, but by mid-September they were long gone.  The nearby mountains (including MSH) were shrouded by clouds.  With not much to see (or photograph) I put my head down and marched through the first two miles in record time.

Golden grasses

Today's hike was hard - first I had trouble getting excited to wake up early and drive 2+ hours.  Then the cloud-obscuring lack of views bummed me out.  And as I walked I began ruminating on several things - the recent horrible wildfires, reliving my COVID fears (I'm forever worried about my family members contracting this awful virus), and issues at work.  I drug along, a black cloud of emotion darkening my enjoyment.

Wide open views


Finally I topped out on a wide saddle overlooking Spirit Lake.  The ridge below Coldwater Peak loomed above me.  I had another 700 feet of climbing ahead.  Fighting a gloomy attitude that screamed "turn back" I gripped my trekking poles and turned uphill.


Still a few straggler wildflowers


Ascending the ridge a remarkable thing happened.   Fall colors began to pop out - golden grasses, yellow leaves, red huckleberry bushes.  And the oppressive cloud cover began to lift.

MSH behind the clouds

True to form, over the next two miles progress was slow.  I was too busy taking out my camera every other step to document yet another lovely autumn scene.

St Helens Lake

When I finally topped the ridge overlooking St Helens Lake, I gasped in happiness.  The lake was ringed with an absolute beautiful kaleidoscope of fall finery.


Coldwater Peak in the clouds

I thought nothing could top the summer wildflowers.  However, this display of fall color might have nudged into first place!

Close up of floating logs

The Boundary Trail meandered around St Helens Lake and I followed it the full distance until it dipped down and began to veer away towards the Mt Margaret Backcountry.  Although I'd considered hiking this trail further, a grumbling tummy had me deciding it was lunchtime.  Seeing a nice vantage just off the trail, I perched on a downed log and enjoyed my PB&J sandwich.

St Helens Lake surrounded by fall hues


After a nice break, I decided I'd hiked far enough and began to retrace my steps back along St Helens Lake.  By now the clouds had lifted enough to let intermittent sunlight shine over the landscape.  This made for a whole new view of the scenery I'd just passed.

Wide-angle lake view


Backlit by the sun, huckleberry bushes glowed a fiery red.  Puffy clouds reflected on the lake's surface.  And the water itself shone in bright blue hues.

Lovely red huckleberry bushes


I think it took longer for me to hike around St Helens Lake the second time!

More colorful slopes

Not much else for me to write, so instead I'll go quiet and let you all enjoy the rest of the lovely images.

Lush meadow

Cloud reflections on the lake

Colorful wild strawberry leaves

Spirit Lake

Huge ripe huckleberries!

Another stunning view of Spirit Lake

Colorful slope

Trees starting to grow back

Loved the puffy clouds!

I had no idea fall colors would be so wonderful along a trail I've only ever hiked for summertime flowers.  A September trek along the Boundary Trail might become a new tradition.

MSH trying to hide

I returned to the trailhead thoroughly rejuvenated by the autumn finery, my bad mood evaporated into thin air.  Nothing like a hike through outstanding scenery to banish the blues!


  1. You have a wonderful skill with that camera. Fantastic photos.

  2. ...those lakes are big wows!

  3. Such gorgeous photos, Linda! I am happy to see the regrowth of Mt St Helens. It gives me hope for the future.
    Colorado is experiencing its largest wildfire right now, coming dangerously close to many towns like Fort Collins and Estes park and Rocky Mountain National Park. it has been burning two months in a very mountainous terrain that firefighters have a hard time accessing. We have not had any rain in over a month and none is in the forecast. It is very depressing, along with all the covid concerns that are ongoing. I share your worry about that!
    Nature is very healing however, for both body and soul. I always enjoy your beautiful photos from your challenging hikes!

  4. Hello,
    What a wonderful hike, the views are beautiful. I think the clouds add to the scene. The views of the lakes and mountains are just gorgeous. Love the fall colors and plants. Great collection of photos. Take care, enjoy your day!
    Have a great day week ahead!

  5. I was quite sad that your trek commenced with you feeling the blues, especially as the beauty of Coldwater Lake, in your initial images, totally blew me away. Thankfully you found sensational autumn colours and left rejuvenated. For me, another spectacular visit to Mt St Helens.

  6. Immersion in Mother Nature's bounty never fails to alleviate the blues! Gorgeous shots. I bet you wish you lived closer to this area.

  7. I think "worry" has descended on us all - I know I found the past 4 weeks particularly difficult with just crap happening. You did exactly what you needed to. It is interesting how those of us that are camera people have a hard time going if we don't feel it will be "stunning" BUT it sure makes us look harder which you did! Take care my friend.

  8. Thank you for the tour. I feel much the same about covid and it puts a sad cloud over my day but like you fighting through it were can find rainbows. Thanks for brightening my day.

  9. I enjoyed all your Fall photos! Such a pretty hike! Your timing was really good for great color!

  10. Linda, the ripple photo is **exquisite**. I can't stop looking at it and daydreaming. Do you sell prints?

    1. I'm happy you like my photo! However, I'm not currently set up to sell prints.


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