|Wassa checks out the Hoffstadt Bridge along the|
blast zone for Mount St. Helens. The forest on the other
side had been completely wiped out by the Mount St.
Helens eruption, but it's growing back here!
Finally, we agreed on a time and a place, and ultimately we decided to visit one of the most famous mountains of the Pacific Northwest: Mount St. Helens. For those of you who sleep under a rock, Mount St. Helens is the volcano that erupted so spectacularly back on May 18, 1980, wiping out hundreds of square miles of forest and reducing the top of the mountain by 1,300 feet. Prior to the eruption, the peak was the 5th highest in the state. After the eruption, it doesn't even break the top 20. This mountain is a geological wonder!
I had done some hiking on the south side of the mountain before, but you couldn't really see into the crater from that direction and was well outside of the blast zone. Considering it was only a few hour drive away, it's remarkable I haven't explored the area in more detail. I intended to change that with this trip. This trip, I decided, would take us completely around the mountain mostly following the 28-mile-or-so Loowit Trail.
|Mount St. Helens, lurking in the clouds|
We woke the next morning to a beautiful view of Mount St. Helens. We saw it a bit the evening before, mired in clouds and partly obscured, but during the night the clouds mostly left leaving an absolutely stunning view directly into the crater. Wow.
|Sunset from our waywide camp.|
|Sunrise over Mount St. Helens|
|I'm ready to hike around the Great Mountain.|
But I didn't see Ron. I continued backtracking, following the trail for ten minutes until I reached the junction. A giant sign marked it, pointing the direction I needed to go. And I couldn't help but think, "How the hell did I miss this junction?!" I'd hiked about 10 minutes in the wrong direction, and 10 minutes back, which I figured put me about 20 minutes behind Ron at this point. Probably close to a mile. Crap. He probably still thought I was in front and was hoofing it as fast as he could trying to catch up to me.
|This is the trail junction that I somehow,|
inexplicably, failed to notice.
|Ron takes off a layer of clothes to|
beat the heat--would this be the
last photo I ever took of him?
Spirit Lake fascinated me. The waters of the lake sloshed 800 feet up the hillside, and lahars and pyroclastic flows filled in the old lakebed raising the surface level of the lake by over 200 feet. Most geologic processes move so slowly, it's hard to see any changes within a lifetime.
|This is a closeup of the crater's still-growing dome. You can see steam rising off of it,|
which just fascinates me. =) Hiking within the crater is not allowed for safety reasons.
|Spirit Lake, filled with logs that once made up a thick forest around it.|
|I don't know who did this,|
but I really enjoyed admiring their
Certainly he'd realize I wouldn't go beyond that junction, considering we hadn't even agreed on which direction we'd go. Right? I hoped so.
What rotten luck, I thought, to miss the very first trail junction of the entire hike. We hadn't even been hiking together for an hour yet. He wasn't familiar with how I think or my patterns. He might think I'm some super-human freak that hikes a million miles per hour and would leave him in the dust at a critical trail junction. I'm not and I wouldn't, but he didn't know that yet.
|Can you see the frog in this photo?|
|There he is! It's a great camo job! If these things weren't moving around so actively,|
I probably wouldn't have noticed them at all. I was all but chasing this frog!
I crossed over a small hill, from which I could see a herd of Elk nearby. Majestic creatures, they are, but I didn't stop to admire them. I needed to catch up with Ron.
|Wassa helps build a cairn to mark the way.|
When I got closer, he asked, "How did you get behind me?!"
And I told him I just missed that first trail junction. There was no excuse for it. I couldn't even explain how I missed such an obvious junction. We caught up a bit. He was worried that I was some super-human hiker and would be upset that I was slowing him down. Ha! I'm the one slowing us down. So far, at least....
|You really have to see it to believe it....|
|Gotta fix that train!|
|The elk are captivated with the hiker in the wedding dress. Most of the elk we saw tended|
to walk away from us. These elk kept getting closer and closer to the trail....
|Ron took this photo of the elk and captioned their conversation. =)|
|The steep drop itself didn't worry me as much|
as the all of the loose boulders that could
rain down upon us if we knocked any of them
We crashed down the mountain, finally arriving where the trail runs right over a near vertical cliff. It looked passable. Sketchy, but passable. The drop itself didn't look particularly dangerous, but there was a large boulder embedded in the sandy soil which concerned me. If that boulder shifted when one of us were under it, it would likely be a fatal flow. I decided to scout downstream a bit to see if there might be a safer alternative, but after five or ten minutes of walking, I found nothing better. Way downstream, perhaps two miles away, it looked like the canyon flattened out and there would likely be a better place to cross, but we didn't want to walk several miles out of our way to avoid this particular challenge. Nope, we'd cross here....
|Ron examines the route down to the South Fork of the Toutle River.|
Would he make it? Would we survive the most treacherous part
of the entire hike? Tune in next time to find out! =)