Mt St Helens, with it’s unique sideways explosion exposes the crater on the North side and the observatory built opposite to that provides an excellent view. Wildflower season gave another reason to visit and given the sunny forecast on Saturday, we planned the outing. Sai, Divya and I drove to Johnson Ridge Observatory in the late afternoon. I felt the drive very refreshing since it was the first time I took that road and the barren surroundings exposed more of the nature. We could see the majestic mountain en-route. I had climbed it late winter during which it was covered in snow most of the places, but in the midst of the summer, snow had melted exposing the rocky surface. We reached the observatory at 5 and went in to see a short movie. I don’t want to spoil the surprise here, all I can tell is to go and watch that 17 minute short movie. We then took the Boundary trail for a short hike.
Trail being in the north side of the mountain, gave uninterrupted views of the mountain, crater and the barren surroundings to the south and many peaks in the north. Wildflowers were in full bloom and we saw multiple flowers in varied shapes and colors. I was excited to the capture them especially with the mighty mountain behind.
The observatory and the trail gave many photo opportunities and I did not shy having couple photos.
We hiked for around 2 miles and reached a spot from where we could see the blue Spirit lake. Since it was getting late, we decided to return but I made a mental note to come back to explore more of the region. I thoroughly enjoyed the pleasant hike. We also caught a breathtaking view of the sunset while returning to the interstate.
It was a relaxing evening amidst the nature with the giant and the lilies.
Descending from an active volcano which last erupted in 1980 and watching people emerging from the sea of clouds with pointy Mt Hood in the backdrop was a surreal experience.
I expected a blue bird day on the mountain but what I experienced was completely different. I had been long waiting to climb Mt St Helens and the recent snow and forecast tempted me to sign up for the hike. Mt St Helens last erupted in 1980 and it’s considered as the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in recorded U.S. history. Very interesting part is the caldera which is on the side of the mountain because the volcano erupted sideways instead of the usual top. I had never gotten close to the mountain before and I was excited. Since the trailhead is 4 hours away from Seattle, we chose to camp and then hike early in the morning. So I started from Seattle with 2 other hikers at 3 PM and reached the trailhead around 7 PM. We were at Marble Mountain Snow Park before dark and other hikers had already put up camp fire in the parking lot. We decided to just lay our tents on the parking spots and start the hike by 4 AM. I broke a tiny part of my tent while pitching but managed to set it up for the night. It was not too cold and we had nice time in front of fire having our dinner. I slept ok for the night and this was the first night away from my wife since marriage.
I got ready promptly by 4 AM. With micro-spikes and headlights, we started our hike in the dark at 4:30 AM. We took the Warm flows route which starts from the southern side of the mountain. The first 2.8 miles was quite gradual with most of it in the forest and then the real ascent started. It was interesting to see multiple headlights ahead of us on the mountain and the daylight breaking out slowly. It was very steep from then on and the last 2 miles gained 4000 feet. I started counting steps and kept patience during the slog. It got quite windy at some places and the cold caught on with my toes. I kept hiking without much worry since I had a vague idea of my threshold. Looking at the cloud cover all over, my hopes of seeing the caldera dwindled and I just wanted to reach the rim for the sake of completion. I had counted around 6800 steps in the last 2 miles and it was an arduous ascent with few false summits. Juggling around with my layers, filling my stomach occasionally I reached the rim after 5 hours. Fortunately, it started getting warm and the clouds were getting cleared. I saw the majestic rim initially and could see almost the entire caldera before leaving. We spent at-least an hour on the summit eating, exploring and enjoying the time. I had carried GoPro, but unfortunately it gave up on me and I had to rely on my phone for all captures. I kept scanning the caldera in the North and the escaping fumes were visible which was interesting to watch. In the south, the pointy Mt Hood was visible over the sea of clouds and it was a view to behold.
We started the descent and we saw many hikers making their way up, in-fact too many actually. There were lot of skiers and snowboarders too. I stuck to micro-spikes for the entire hike and it was adventurous descending on steep slopes with ice axe on one hand. There was a thick cloud layer below us and the view of people coming out of it looked quite surreal. We went into the whiteout soon and glissaded few times to help with our descent. The last part of steep section was particularly frustrating since the snow had turned into slush and I kept dancing all around. The final stretch in the forest was ok and it was around 2 PM by the time we had reached trailhead. It took a slight toll on me since it was a long hard hike after a big break but I loved it nonetheless. I was happy that I could finally see the caldera from close and maybe hike during summer, the next time.
Road conditions: Good, no snow on road. Trailhead: Marble Mountain Snow park. Snow permit required for Winter. Trail: Well marked in the forest and quite straightforward on the mountain. Gear: I carried crampons but made the entire hike with just the micro-spikes.