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Mt. St. Helens

April 2008: A quick trip on the north slope of Mt. St. Helens

Sunrise over the Turquoise Mountain
It was the start of a warm windy spring day on the northern fringe of Mt. St. Helens. The low sunlight accented the many ripples and ridges - nearly all of which were created by chunks of the mountain tossed out from the 1980 eruption.
No Messanger Bird in Sight
These high wispy cirrus clouds gave some indication of the high winds aloft. The tree in the forground was torn apart by much stronger winds - sculpted by the 1980 blast.
Came up Through the Valley
The winter snows were just begining to recede, revealing an autumn landscape flash-frozen by winter. Soon, green shoots will poke through the matted plants, and the land will once again be alive.
Both Sides at a Time
A lot of the forest in this area had been logged prior to the 1980 eruption. These few in the foreground managed to escape the chainsaw, but were pulverised by the volcano.
Through the Cold Steady Wind
As the sun rose in the sky, the wind picked up. Specks of pumice were lifted like sandpaper grit - smashing into the few obstacles on the surface sparse landscape. There was little chance to escape the constant bombardment.

February 2006: A winter trip to the Mt. St. Helens backcountry

Blast Effect
The evidence of the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption is still as vivid as ever. Here, a mountainside of trees lays toppled high above Coldwater Creek, 9 miles from the Mt. St. Helens crater.
Logging equipment rests half-buried in volcanic debris, undisturbed since that fateful day nearly 26 years ago. The area nearby had been clearcut soon before the eruption. I'm not sure if anyone died at this location during the eruption, but if anyone did witness the eruption from this vantage, it was likely the last thing they saw. The idea that I was possibly walking by someone's grave was not lost.
A few brief rays of evening sun illuminate the surroundings in the backcountry north of Mt. St. Helens. The entire area is a research zone, where scientists can measure the rate of recovery from the 1980 blast. Visitors must stay on the marked trails, or where the trails are covered by snow, stay on the snowpack.
Mt. St. Helens Panorama
This is a composite panorama view of Mt. St. Helens in the early evening, lit by a full moon. The new lava dome (formed just in the past 1.5 years) is visible as the dark bump high in the crater of the volcano.
The Cauldron
This telephoto view of the crater show more detail of the lava dome. The glowing molten rock isn't visible to the naked eye from this distance. This photo is an exposure taken over a period of about 4 minutes.
Evening Lights
Here a wide "fisheye" view shows the patterns formed by the clouds. The moon is at the upper-left of the frame behind some thin clouds. The orange-colored patch of sky is illuminated mostly by the city lights of the Portland-Vancouver area, and partially by remnants of the setting sun.
Heat Release
Here, the hot lava dome steams the cool morning air.
Coldwater Lake
Coldwater Lake was formed when debris from the eruption of Mt. St. Helens dammed Coldwater Creek. A trail leads along the lake shore and into the backcountry area seen beyond the lake here.

April 2004: A climb of Mt. St. Helens

Mt. St. Helens Morning
The standard route to the summit of Mt. St. Helens is up the south side of the mountain, seen here in the early morning. In summer, the standard route follows Monitor Ridge, but access to that trailhead can be closed by snowpack. So in the winter months, the route begins a bit lower on the mountain, and follows a series of ridges further to the east called the "worm flows".
Starting the Route
The route gains about 6000 ft elevation in 6 miles from the trailhead to the summit. Many people take advantage of the snow to ski or snowboard back down. I just sat down and glissaded (slid) most of the way. But, I did have to walk the last couple miles, as the lower slopes just aren't steep enough to glissade.
Nice Day for a Climb!
Mt. St. Helens is a popular climb, especially when the weather is good. From mid-May to mid-November, the number of climbers is limited to 100 per day. The number isn't regulated in winter, but you do need to get a permit from a local store from April 1st to May 15th.
The summit rim of Mt. St. Helens can get heavily corniced (a cornice is a drift of unstable snow that can form on the leeward sides of ridges). The north side of the rim is a steep cliff that drops a thousand feet into the crater formed by the 1980 eruption. Climbers have to take care stay a safe distance from the edge.
North from the Rim
It is possible to peek a couple views to the north however. Here, Spirit Lake can be seen in the foreground, with Mt. Rainier in the distance.

September 2003: A hike of the Loowit Trail, around Mt. St. Helens

Water from Fire
The Loowit Trail encircles Mt. St. Helens, traversing a diverse landscape of forest, lava, and huge plains of pumice. This is a view of the north face of the mountain, from the middle of the area that was devastated during the 1980 eruption.
New Stream
This is a view of another stream flowing from inside the crater north toward the Toutle River. The geography of this entire area was completely re-shaped by the 1980 eruption. Much of the steep hillsides are very unstable, it's common to hear and see large boulders tumbling down the slopes.
Looking north from the blast zone shows the gigantic scope of eruption. Virtually everything in view was obliterated in 1980, and much of it will take decades to recover.
Entering the Blast Zone
Along the east side of the mountain, the destruction is not quite as complete. Standing dead trees are a monument to the 1980 blast.
Autumn Fog
The trail mostly stays in the range of 4000ft to 5000ft. I started at June Lake on the south side of the mountain and traveled counter-clockwise. I camped along the South Fork Toutle river on the mountain's west side, then finished the trail the next morning. The trail is 28 miles long, plus it's at least a 1.5 mile hike to get to the Loowit Trail from the nearest trailhead. That makes the trip 31 miles... The tread is often over broken lava fields and across slopes of loose ash, making it feel a bit longer.
Along the Loowit Trail
The Loowit Trail was a rewarding experience - sometimes easy, sometimes challenging, and always interesting. I look forward to returning in different seasons to see more faces of this complex mountain landscape.

July 2003: A visit to the Windy Ridge area, northeast of Mt. St. Helens

Windy Ridge View
The Windy Ridge Lookout is at the end of the road that heads to the mountain from the northeast side. A trail leads a couple miles from the end of the road to this spot, and connects to the trail system around the mountain. Yes, the wisps of clouds near the top of the mountain are caused by the heat of the volcano.
Spirit Lake
When Mt. St. Helens most recently erupted in 1980, Spirit Lake was inundated with fallen trees and volcanic debris. The fallen forest still floats on the surface of the lake.
Floating Forest
There's only one trail that leads to the lake's shore. It's about a 1 mile walk from the road along Windy Ridge.
It was fascinating to see the wind blow the logs across the lake. While we were there, the logs moved across half the surface of the lake. The pattern is ever-shifting and re-forming.
False Bugbane
Flowers (these are False Bugbane) were just coming into bloom along the trail to Mt. Margaret, due north of the Mountain. Mt. Margaret was directly in the path of the 1980 blast.
The land is slowly healing its scars, but it will take dozens of additional years to completely recover to the pre-1980 state.

Where is it?

Mt. St. Helens is located in southwest Washington State, just to the west of the Cascade Crest. Roads access the blast zone from the west (Johnston Ridge / Toutle River) and the east (Windy Ridge), but the roads do not meet. Another road leads to the area south of the mountain.

Before you go...
There are numerous regulations regarding backcountry travel in the National Volcanic Monument. Some areas (such as the Mt. Margaret/Backcountry area) require a special permit to camp, you need a special permit to climb the mountain, and you can't camp at all in an area just north of the crater. Plus, there are many areas where off-trail travel is prohibited. Also, you'll need a NW forest pass to park at any of the trailheads. Note: As of early 2006, much of the area immediately north of the mountain is closed due to the recent volcanic activity. Check with the forest service for the latest closures or conditions.

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