There are days in the Pacific Northwest where I’d live no where else. Today was one of those days. The husband and I were up and on the road by 7 am. Destination: Mount St. Helens. Hike: Harry’s Ridge. Distance: 8 miles round-trip.
The drive to the mountain was perfect. The morning was a clear 55 degrees. Once we started winding up Hwy 504 there was almost no traffic. Wait, back up: before we got to 504 we were driving through pasture land in the Toledo area (Washington, not to be confused with my home town, Toledo, Oregon). I was at the wheel and I saw a large animal in the field to our left. We got closer, he got bigger. Huge bull elk. In velvet. He was a fine, fine specimen. We figured he must be a young one as he was alone (probably got kicked out of the harem because the patriarch noticed the cows were batting their eyes at him). And both cameras, the new DSLR and the point-n-shoot, were in the trunk. When I got out to get them he startled and ran. So you will just have to take my word for it. He was amazing.
We got to the Johnston Ridge parking lot a little after 9. There were fewer than a dozen vehicles there. The observatory itself doesn’t open until 10. We loaded up and hit the trail in shirtsleeves and shorts.
Harry’s Ridge is named after Harry Truman, the 83-year-old man who refused to leave the shores of Spirit Lake in 1980, when Mount St. Helens blew. Harry moved to the area in 1926 and had been caretaker of the Mount St. Helens lodge since that time. Harry’s wife, Edna, had died just a few years before the eruption and he had closed the lodge shortly thereafter. He gained notoriety in the months leading up to the eruption because of his refusal to leave his lodge. He gave lots of interviews and they were peppered with salty language. He was a character. Harry lived in his cabin with (by his report) 16 cats. A man after my own heart. On the day of the eruption a pyroclastic flow engulfed the Spirit Lake area, destroying the lake and burying the site of his lodge under 150 feet of volcanic landslide debris. Sad…but there’s something to be said about an 83-year-old man living by his own rules to the very end.
Harry’s Ridge is a nice little rolling trail. Not much of a gain and you can see the mountain for much of the hike. You start out in moonscape. That’s the only way I know how to describe it. The husband was quietly singing “The Dark Side of the Moon,” by Pink Floyd, I kept imagining Marvin the Martian stepping out with his laser machine and threatening to blow up the earth. You get the idea.
However, even in the desolate landscape flowers had taken root. Lots of rock penstemon and paintbrush. Not sure what kind of paintbrush. In my family we call all paintbrush Indian paintbrush, but I consulted Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest and there were a bunch of different paintbrushes, none of them Indian. Huh.
What’s interesting about this area is that, obviously, ridges that faced the mountain were raked clean. However, the backside of those ridges, also blasted, are recovering. Much faster than their mountain-facing counterparts. We found ourselves winding through some pretty lush area, though lush by Mount St. Helens standards, not Mt. Rainier.
Our last mile was a little climb up to Harry’s Ridge. At that point we had seen almost no one on the trail. There’s something to be said about getting up and out relatively early in the morning. As we headed up the ridge more and more of Spirit Lake showed herself to us. It was the first time I had seen her.
Prior to the eruption Spirit Lake was a popular destination. Six camps shared her shore, including a Boy Scout camp, a Girl Scout camp and two YMCA camps. On May 18, 1980 Spirit Lake received the full impact of the lateral blast of Mount St. Helens. More than 3 billion cubic yards of mud, ash and melting snow poured into the lake. Thousands of trees were torn from surrounding hillsides and swept into the lake, creating a massive log raft still present today.
After the eruption the lake was a toxic stew, bereft of oxygen. And, yet, as early as 1983 it showed signs of life. Today frogs and other amphibians thrive in the lake, as do trout.
We stopped for lunch at the top of the ridge. Only two other hikers were present and they left shortly after we arrived. Below us, Spirit Lake in all her glory, still riddled with logs. In front of us, Mt. Adams. To our right, Mount St. Helens. Visible just to the left of St. Helens, Mt. Hood. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and a light breeze kept us from overheating. Add some sandwiches, grapes and Baked Lays and you’ve got yourself a perfect day.
We packed it in and headed back down the ridge. We watched hikers marching up our direction like a line of picnic ants…and marveled at our timing. The cool thing about everything getting knocked down is that you can see for miles. The trail rolled out like a ribbon below us, as did the road up to Johnston Ridge.
It’s been 35 years since Mount St. Helens erupted, but the evidence can still be found in the landscape. The mountain, a shell of her former self. The valley floor scattered with hummocks and debris, the flow still very evident. On the hills surrounding the area dead trees litter the landscape, all laying the same way. While it’s sobering it is amazingly beautiful. No landscape can compare to Mount St. Helens. She is a stark contrast to Mt. Rainier, but majestic in her own right.
Oh, and the new camera? I’m in love. Such beautifully crisp pictures. Later this month: an online class so I can venture from the world of “auto”.
Oh, and a new find? This:
This is a Hydro Flask. I purchased it on Amazon after reading about it in the most recent edition of Washington Trail Association’s magazine. I chose not to carry it because it is hefty…3+ lbs when filled with water and ice. We left it in the car while we hiked. When we returned the ice had melted but the water was still cold. Definitely a keeper. Always nice to have cold water when you come off the trail.
Holy crap…I just previewed. I love my new camera!!!!