Archive for the ‘Mount St. Helens’ Tag

Wordless Wednesday: Moonrise at St. Helens   7 comments

Dusk Moon

Carefree at Coldwater Lake   18 comments

A nature trail at Mount St. Helens' Coldwater Lake uses an elevated boardwalk to give visitors a great view.  There is also a hiking trail along one lake shore.

A nature trail at Mount St. Helens’ Coldwater Lake uses an elevated boardwalk to give visitors a great view. There is also a hiking trail along one lake shore.

Summer is going by as quick as it can, and carefree moments are precious now.  Last weekend on the way back from the Olympic Peninsula I made one of my patented “left turns” (why is always a left?) and on a whim headed up to Mount St. Helens.  The weather promised some nice light and I wanted to get some good shots of the mountain.  The following morning was beautifully misty, sunset was gorgeous, and the flowers were surprisingly still blooming fresh.  But the moment I will take from the trip was one that happened without a camera around my neck.

Coldwater Lake at Mount St. Helens, Washington.

Coldwater Lake at Mount St. Helens, Washington.

After hiking up near the crater mouth, I headed back down to Coldwater Lake.  This is a beautiful big lake that was formed during the famous eruption in 1980.  The massive landslide that triggered the eruption (that in turn destroyed much of the forest in these parts) also dammed Coldwater Creek.  And just like that nature’s fury left a jewel in its wake.  When I arrived after the hot, dry hike, I immediately thought SWIM!  I was in such a hurry that I left the camera behind and jogged partway up the sunny shore, looking for a likely spot.  I found a perfect spot where a large tree, weathered silver and smooth, lay partway out into the lake, forming a sort of natural dock.  These massive old-growth trees lay all about the area, testament to the eruption’s power.

The outlet of Coldwater Lake winds its beautiful way through the now-vegetated landslide debris from the 1980 eruption.

Some of the many logs scattered along the shores of Coldwater Lake, remnants of the once dense forest of tall evergreens that grew here before the 1980 eruption.

I couldn’t believe how perfect the water was when I dove in.  It was by no means warm, but it wasn’t too cold either.  Refreshing!  After the swim I just lay on the big log staring up into the sky.  All I could hear was a nearby kingfisher and without trying the clouds started making recognizable shapes.  How many summer days during childhood did I do this?  And why have I not done much of it since?  The sun dried me and I dozed in and out.  All my cares melted away.

The outlet of Coldwater Lake winds its beautiful way through the now-vegetated landslide debris from the 1980 eruption.

The outlet of Coldwater Lake winds its beautiful way through the now-vegetated landslide debris from the 1980 eruption.

After the swim I was ready to shoot some pictures.  I think the summery hour or so I had just spent made the picture-taking that much better.  I was refreshed and calm, the perfect way to be when doing anything, especially something creative.  It’s a reminder that those carefree summer moments (whether they are in summer or not) have a very useful purpose.  Without them we cannot do our best work.  To everyone out there, before summer ends: put your devices away, have nothing in your pockets, and just go be a kid again for awhile.  Have no real purpose.  Let the summer breezes and sounds clear your mind.  Be carefree for once.  You will thank yourself later, believe me.

For sunset I went to a nearby viewpoint that shows the huge area of landslide debris from the 1980 eruption that filled the North Fork Toutle River Valley.  This created Coldwater Lake, which is just out of view to the left.

For sunset I went to a nearby viewpoint that shows the huge area of landslide debris from the 1980 eruption that filled the North Fork Toutle River Valley. This created Coldwater Lake, which is just out of view to the left.

To the Summit of Mount St. Helens!   6 comments

The view of Mount St. Helens' lava dome from the summit along the south rim of the crater.

The view of Mount St. Helens’ lava dome from the summit along the south rim of the crater.

Last week a friend and I climbed Mount St. Helens, the famous volcano in Washington state.  I have up to this point only skied it, hiking up on my skis and then doing the moderate and fun descent.  I would have done it this way again, but with my ribs still healing, I didn’t want to take the chance of a re-injury.  So I just hiked it while my friend hiked up carrying his AT skis.  His wife came along, but she was only into a hike, so didn’t summit with us.

Mount St. Helens' steep crater wall is dangerous to stand at the edge of when you climb it, so stay back from that edge!

Mount St. Helens’ steep crater wall is dangerous to stand at the edge of when you climb it, so stay back from that edge!

It was a gorgeous day, perfect really.  The temperatures were not too cool and not too warm.  And so we didn’t sweat gallons, nor did the snow soften up too much for great skiing.  If it were any cooler though, crampons would have been required.  As it was we only hit one icy patch, which was easily handled by kicking steps.  I did have my ice axe, and that helped near the top.

Crater View II

Mount Rainier pokes above the clouds, as viewed from the summit of Mount St. Helens.

My friend had a great run down while I glissaded.  It has been awhile since I’ve done any glissading, (sliding down a snowfield to descend a mountain).  It is normally done on your butt, but it can also be accomplished on your feet, on your belly (penguin style!) or use your imagination.  A pair of slick rain pants will allow you to glissade shallower (and safer) slopes.  I alternated between a butt and foot glissade.

Mount St. Helens looms above my friend as he shoulders the skis after his descent.

Mount St. Helens looms above my friend as he shoulders the skis after his descent.

Glissade safety tips:  When glissading, it’s important to see where you are going and stay off the really steep stuff.  You want a “runout”, where the grade flattens a bit and you can slow to a stop.  If things get steep, and yet you still feel safe with a glissade, you must have an ice axe and slide on your butt, braking all the way with the axe.  You also need to be comfortable doing a self-arrest in case things get out of hand.  Safety first of course, but when you feel the need for speed and you have a good runout below you, let ‘er go!

The Big Boy, Mount Rainier, from Mount St. Helens.

The Big Boy, Mount Rainier, from Mount St. Helens.

After the climb I headed home to Portland the back way.  In other words, instead of returning west to I5 then south (boring!), I drove east on Forest Road 90, continuing as it turns into Curly Creek Road.  I slept overnight in my van along the upper Lewis River and did a couple short hikes next day in the beautiful forest here.   It was good to stretch my legs, which were sore from the climb.  Then I continued, turning right on the Wind River Road all the way into Carson.  I did stop again to do a hike along the beautiful Falls Creek Falls (see next post for that).  Then I simply traveled Hwy. 14 from Carson west to Vancouver and across the river to Portland.

Skiing Mount St. Helens.

Skiing Mount St. Helens.

Note that to climb Mount St. Helens you need to visit the MSHI website for instructions on the permitting process.  During summer a limited-entry permitting system is in place.  But I’ve always done it in Spring, where you can buy the $22 permit online, pick it up in Cougar on the way to the trailhead, and have at the mountain when it still has significant snow.  Believe me it is easier to climb it in snow, because of the loose pumice (2 steps up – 1 step down) nature of the surface in summertime.

The glissading track formed in the snow from climbers descending Mount St. Helens.  Mount Hood is visible in the distance.

The glissading track formed in the snow from climbers descending Mount St. Helens. Mount Hood is visible in the distance.

Mount St Helens – Early Season   4 comments

The Hummocks near Mount St. Helens is an area filled with remnant debris from the devastating eruption of 1980.

The Hummocks near Mount St. Helens is an area filled with remnant debris from the devastating eruption of 1980.

I visited the north side of Mount St. Helens yesterday with my uncle and my dog.  St. Helens is a sleeping volcano, by far the most active in the Cascade Range.  It erupted with extreme violence on May 18th, 1980, killing 57 people.  Now it is a National Monument managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and is in full-on recovery mode.

Since the monument is only partially open now, the snow just having recently melted off the highway, we had it to ourselves.  And what a gorgeous day to be there with only a few other lucky souls!  The mountain was glittering with rapidly melting snow, the water was pouring down through creeks and over waterfalls, and the birds and amphibians were busy with their lives on the shores of full lakes and ponds.

Beautiful Coldwater Lake at Mount St. Helens in Washington state.

Beautiful Coldwater Lake at Mount St. Helens in Washington state.

GEOLOGY

This whole area was transformed by the eruption of St Helens in 1980.  The volcano awoke on March 16th of that year with a series of small earthquakes.  A week and a half later the mountain erupted, blasting a small crater out of the snow-covered summit.  The mountain then proceeded to work up to its big blast 8 weeks later.  The north flank of the mountain slowly bulged outward as magma moved upward.

Finally, on that beautiful Sunday morning, while folks were in church or tending their gardens, the bulge gave way and history’s largest recorded landslide occurred.  The volcano was essentially uncorked, and as the massive debris avalanche slid toward Spirit Lake (where Harry Truman – the old character who refused to evacuate his lakeside cabin – awaited his fate), the mountain erupted in a powerful lateral blast.  It had the force of 24 megatons, 1600 times the energy released by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.  Whole forests were mowed down and the mountain’s height reduced by 1300 feet.

The mass of rock, mud and ash cascaded down the North Fork Toutle River valley, burying the river and damming Coldwater Creek.  These types of debris avalanches typically form mounds (hummocks) where the debris comes to rest, and this is what happened here.  Erosion by streams further sculpts the landscape.  Actually, this strange hummocky terrain, which occurs in places worldwide, was a bit of a puzzle to geologists before St. Helens showed geologists how it is formed.  Beautiful Coldwater Lake, along with the adjacent hummocks and melt-water ponds with their unique ecosystem, owe their existence to the 1980 landslide and eruption.  Volcanoes destroy, but they also create.

Coldwater Creek at Mount St. Helens near its confluence with the Toutle River.

Coldwater Creek at Mount St. Helens near its confluence with the Toutle River.

We hiked partway around Coldwater Lake.  We had planned to make the 12-mile loop around this rather large lake, which was created when the debris avalanche from the 1980 eruption dammed Coldwater Creek.  But a wide, tumbling creek stopped us.  I hopped across, getting my feet wet.  Seeing my uncle hesitate, I built a very rough bridge out of logs for him to cross.  But at age 73, he has gotten very cautious.  He just doesn’t like doing anything even remotely hazardous.  And stream crossings are something he REALLY does not like on a hike.  So we turned back.

The beautiful Coldwater Lake near Mount St. Helens was formerly covered with huge trees before the devastating eruption of 1980.

The beautiful Coldwater Lake near Mount St. Helens was formerly covered with huge trees before the devastating eruption of 1980.

I was pretty disappointed.  The hike around the lake was promising to be one spectacular trek.  I’ll just have to get back up there soon to do the whole thing.  But I snapped quickly out of my funk when we found a great alternative just across the road from the lake.

Trees are reflected in one of the many ponds at Mount St. Helens' Hummocks area in Washington.

Trees are reflected in one of the many ponds at Mount St. Helens’ Hummocks area in Washington.

The Hummocks Trail is a very interesting 2.5-mile loop through strange mounds created by the 1980 debris avalanche.  At this time of year there are beautifully full ponds trapped between the hummocks, alive with frogs, toads and salamanders.  The trail also passes a couple fantastic viewpoints up the Toutle River to the hulking volcano, with its horseshoe-shaped crater and (often steaming) lava dome.  Interpretive signs along the trail teach about the eruption and formation of the hummocks.

Algae combined with bubbling oxygen from a meltwater pond at Mount St. Helens forms fascinating patterns.

Algae combined with bubbling oxygen from a meltwater pond at Mount St. Helens forms fascinating patterns.

After a late picnic at Coldwater Lake, where we did some birdwatching and general lazing about, I headed back up the Hummocks Trail to one of the ponds for sunset pictures.  We made a full day of it after all, and didn’t get back to Portland until near 11 p.m.  It had been a couple years since I had been up to St. Helens, and I am determined to not let that much time go by again.  It is just too nearby, too special and beautiful a place to neglect.

The rapidly melting foothills near Mount St. Helens in Washington are reflected in meltwater ponds.

The rapidly melting foothills near Mount St. Helens in Washington are reflected in meltwater ponds.

To get there, travel north on I5 from Portland, Oregon (or south from Seattle).  Get off the freeway at the exit for Castle Rock and travel east on Highway 504 about 45 miles to Coldwater Lake.  During the summer season, this highway is open all the way to it’s end at Johnston Ridge Observatory, 7 miles on from the lake.  Find the trail around the lake either from the boat ramp or the Science & Learning Center up on the hill above the lake.  The Hummocks Trail is directly across Hwy. 504 from the turnoff for Coldwater Lake.  This part of Mount St. Helens is open from about late April until the snow flies in November.  Johnston Ridge is open from mid-May until late October.  There is an $8 fee to use Coldwater Lake or Johnston Ridge Observatories during the summer season.

Sundown at Mount St. Helens from the beautiful Hummocks area.

Sundown at Mount St. Helens from the beautiful Hummocks area.

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