Category Archives: Mt. St. Helens

Cinnamon Ridge – 7/20/2019

It had been a couple of years since our hikes had taken us to the Mt. St. Helens area. We didn’t want to go a third year without making a visit so we picked the 14.1 mile Cinnamon Ridge Loop Hike described here in the Oregon Hikers field guide. A shorter loop was also described in Matt Reeder’s “Off the Beaten Trail” guidebook.

We started at the Kalama Horse Camp Trailhead and consulted the signboard map to confirm our route. (We had a paper map, a downloaded pdf track, and our GPS with us, but you can never consult too many maps.)
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We set off on the Toutle Trail just to the right of the signboard.
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After a short descent the trail crossed an unnamed creek. Ripe berries were everywhere.
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Two tenths of a mile from the trailhead we came to a junction with the Cinnamon Ridge Trail, our return route. We stayed left on the Toutle Trail.
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A short distance later we stayed right at a junction with the Kalama Ski Trail.
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Beyond this junction the trail approached the Kalama River as it passed through the forest.
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Yet another junction followed about three quarters of a mile later just after climbing away from the river via a switchback. Again we stuck to the Toutle Trail.
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The trail was now a good distance above the river avoiding a series of slides.
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Just over 2 miles from the trailhead we arrived at the third and final junction signed for the Kalama Ski Trail where we also stuck to the Toutle Trail.
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There had been plenty of ripe huckleberries and lots of pinesap but not too many flowers. There were a few lousewort and twin flowers though along this section of trail.
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At the 2.5 mile mark we came to a Forest Service Road.
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Reeder’s shorter/easier loop utilizes this road which he lists as FR 8122 (our maps showed it as 8022). He also has you hike in the opposite direction so we would have been coming down the road to this junction then returning to the horse camp the way we’d come on this hike. Since we were doing the longer loop we crossed over the road and continued on the Toutle Trail which was once again closer to the Kalama River.
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Along this stretch we noticed a few really large mushrooms.
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Approximately 1.2 mile from the road crossing we crossed a second road bed where the trail hopped to the opposite side of the river.
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A good sized frog jumped off the trail in front of us here.
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As we neared McBride Lake (now more of a wetland) we obtained our first glimpses of Mt. St. Helens.
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IMG_3706Mt. St. Helens beyond the remnants of McBride Lake.

We averted disaster when a rough skinned newt charged Heather but it was only a bluff.
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The trail climbed through a nice forest as it passed McBride Lake on its way to Red Rock Pass.
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IMG_3722Cars parked at Red Rock Pass

We didn’t go all the way down to Red Rock Pass as the Cinnamon Trail headed uphill at an unsigned junction about 100 yards above the trailhead.
IMG_3723Cinnamon Trail on the left and Toutle Trail on the right from the unsigned junction.

While the Toutle Trail had gained almost 1200′ in the 5.7 miles from the trailhead to the Cinnamon Trail junction the Cinnamon Trail gained nearly 700′ in less than a mile. Although the climb was never particularly steep it provided a good workout. It also provided some nice views of Mt. St. Helens and our first (and best) look at Mt. Adams.
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Things leveled out a bit after gaining the ridge where the trail passed through a variety of scenery.
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IMG_3749Fungus on a stump.

After a little of two and a half miles on the Cinnamon Trail we came to a small meadow with a view south to Mt. Hood.
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Just beyond the meadow the trail reached a saddle with a view NW to Goat Mountain.
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The trail continued to follow the ridge west and then south as it passed around a butte.
IMG_3770The butte ahead (we didn’t want to have to climb that.)

IMG_3774Trail wrapping around the south side of the butte.

On the far side of the butte we arrived at another saddle.
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IMG_3780Mt. St. Helens from the saddle.

The trail stuck to the north side of the ridge for a bit allowing for some good views of Mt. St. Helens and another Mt. Adams sighting.
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IMG_3783Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams

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At the 4.5 mile mark of the Cinnamon Trail we arrived at the first of three successive road crossings (all of the same road).
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Approximately a quarter mile from the third road crossing the trail began to descend through a small meadow with a few cat’s ear lilies.
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Soon we were dropping down along a narrow ridge where we were able to see the top of Mt. Rainier beyond Coldwater Peak.
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The sun was glinting off of the equipment on top of Coldwater Peak (post).
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The trail continued to descend crossing over another old roadbed before reaching FR 8022 (or FR 8122 per Reeder) 6.2 miles from Red Rock Pass.
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IMG_3825old road crossing.

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IMG_3830Dropping to FR 8022(8122).

We crossed this road onto an old roadbed which we followed for four tenths of a mile.
IMG_3831Goat Mountain from the roadbed.

IMG_3835Goat Mountain and Mt. St. Helens

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IMG_3842Rock slide along the roadbed.

Shortly after passing through the rock slide the roadbed ended and we were back on a trail.
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The trail descended for another mile and a half eventually coming back within earshot of the Kalama River but not close enough to provide many views until we arrived at a footbridge across it.
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From the bridge it was just 100 yards to the end of our loop and .2 miles from the trailhead. The 14.1 miles combined with nearly 3000′ of elevation gain make this a challenging hike. Despite the difficulty and lack of any real big WOW moments it was a really enjoyable hike. There were plenty of positives; the ripe berries, the river, mountain views, a little wildlife (including some grouse which as always gave us a start when they flew off.), a few wildflowers, and some nice forests to keep us entertained the entire way. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Cinnamon Ridge

Throwback Thursday – Odds and Ends

With this Throwback Thursday post we will have covered all the trails that we hiked prior to starting this blog and have not been part of a subsequent hike that was featured here. We are combining several hikes in one for a couple of reasons. The remaining hikes were all relatively short, some we have few if any pictures, and one was done on the same day that we did another hike that we did again after we started the blog.

Many of our earliest hikes were centered around Bend, OR and were part of vacations prior to 2010 when we first started to be serious about hiking. These were hikes of opportunity more than conscious efforts to go on a hike.

One such was the 3 mile loop around Suttle Lake. We were staying at one of the cabins at the Suttle Lake Resort and decided to take the trail around the lake. The level hike offered views of the lake and of bald eagles and osprey as they soared over the lake watching for fish. On that hike we didn’t even carry a camera.

Another camera-less but worthwhile hike was the Lava River Cave. This mile long lava tube south of Bend is a great stop for kids and adults and can easily be combined with a visit to nearby Lava Lands or the High Desert Museum.

In 2007, while in Bend on vacation in July, we hiked up Pilot Butte. A mile long trail in the middle of town leads up to the top of the 4148′ summit which offers view on a clear day north to Mt. Adams in Washington.
Mountain locator on Pilot Butte

It was a bit hazy during this visit but the snowy peaks of the Cascades from Mt. Bachelor to the Three Sisters were still visible.
Mt. Bachelor, Tumalo Mt., Ball Butte, Broken Top, and the Three Sisters

On that same trip we took a stroll along the Deschutes River Trail from the Mt. Bachelor Village upriver to a footbridge and returned on a loop via Reed Market Road.
Deschutes River

Geese on the Deschutes River

Scarlet gilia

Deer along the Deschutes River Trail in Bend, OR

Deschutes River

Grand Collomia

The hikes weren’t all in Central Oregon. On 7/27/2009 we completed the 1.8 mile round trip to Henline Falls from the Henline Falls Trailhead. The trail is approximately 45 minutes east of Salem and features an old mine shaft near the waterfall.
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Abandoned mine shaft

Abandonded mine shaft

We also started up the nearby Henline Mountain Trail (trailhead) that day but were not in decent enough shape to make it very far.

The final short hike along Lava Canyon near Mt. St. Helens was done after our first hike to Ape Canyon on 9/17/2012. We went back to Ape Canyon in 2015 (post) but that time we did Ape Cave for the other hike.

After finishing our Ape Canyon hike in 2012 we walked from the Ape Canyon Trailhead .25 miles to the Lava Canyon Trailhead.
Trail map near Lava Canyon

A .4 mile trail leads down to the start of a short half mile loop.
Lava Canyon Trail sign

We stayed left at the start of the loop staying on the west side of the Muddy River. A footbridge led across the river above Lava Canyon Falls which was below the trail but mostly obscured.
Lava Canyon Trail sign at the start of the loop

Lava Canyon Falls

Just .2 miles from the first bridge the loop crosses the river on a suspension bridge.
Suspension Bridge over Lava Canyon

Suspension Bridge over Lava Canyon

Upstream from the suspension bridge the Muddy River careens down Triple Falls.
Triple Falls

A .3 mile trail returns to the footbridge along the river along the eastern bank.
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Muddy River

Upper Lava Canyon Falls

Henline Falls, Henline Mountain, and Lava Canyon are all in our future plans and reliving these and all our other Throwback Thursday hikes has been a lot of fun. Even though the information is dated hopefully they have provided some additional ideas for places to visit here in the Pacific Northwest. As always check with the managing agencies for current trail conditions before heading out. Happy Trails!

Mount Margaret Backcountry – Obscurity Lake to South Coldwater Trailhead

Waking up to a third tent at Obscurity Camp wasn’t our only surprise in the morning. I awoke at 4:30am to find nearly clear skies above the lake save for one small finger of cloud creeping over the ridge behind Obscurity Lake. We were getting an extra early start due to the forecast of possible  Thunderstorms after 11am.  The clear sky was encouraging, but it wasn’t long before clouds began creeping into the basin from all sides.
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By the time we were on our way we were hiking through fog.
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It was a fairly steep climb out of the Obscurity Lake Basin but as we neared the saddle between Obscurity and Panhandle Lakes beautiful blue skies appeared through the fog giving us some hope for views.
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There were some views if we looked up but when we crested the saddle it was evident that the view of Panhandle Lake would not be clear.
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Down we went back into even thicker fog. The trail crossed a couple of nice streams with marsh marigolds as it wound around the lake.
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As we neared the lake we spotted a mountain goat lounging just above the trail.
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It sized us up and kept a close eye on us as we passed by.
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We decided not to go down to the lake figuring the view couldn’t be much better than what we had along the trail.
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We continued on toward Shovel Lake. Once again the trail climbed out of a basin but instead of dropping back down toward Shovel Lake the trail passed above it along a ridge. On the far side of the lake was Mt. Whittier making this one of the most dramatic lakes in the backcountry but we never saw it.
The thickest layer of clouds lay right over Shovel Lake, but as we climbed the ridge we eventually rose above the clouds.
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We were pretty excited when we realized we could see the top of Mt. Rainier in the distance.
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The trail to Shovel Lake was near the top of the ridge which meant we would have had to descend a half mile back into the clouds to visit this lake. Once again we passed figuring it left us one more thing to come back for.
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From the Shovel Lake Trail junction though we had a great view of Mt. Adams, which appeared to be wrestling with the clouds.
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The trail continued up the ridge to a saddle where it was joined by the Whittier Ridge Trail.
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From this saddle we then began our descent toward Coldwater Lake. First up was Snow Lake.
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We had finally found a lake without clouds and as an added bonus we had a great view beyond to Coldwater Peak.
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The trail swung out around the lake and as it did so we gained a little glimpse of Mt. St. Helens as well.
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This time the trail went right by Snow Lake giving us an up close look.
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The other nice thing about Snow Lake was the climb out of the basin was short and not steep. We quickly crested the saddle above the lake and began to drop into another mass of clouds.
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From Snow Lake it was 3.4 miles to the Coldwater Trail and a footbridge over Coldwater Creek. We were passing through the cloud layer for the first part of this section so we couldn’t see much. The trail itself was brushy with thimbleberry bushes and vine maples.
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The tread was also narrow and washed out in spots but passable.
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We eventually got under the clouds and could see Coldwater Creek below us.
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We were also seeing more wildflowers again and finding ripe berries, including our first thimbleberries of the year.
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Trailing blackberry
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Thimbleberry
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Red huckleberry
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We passed a couple of small waterfalls along side streams, one on either side of the valley.
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The trail then passed above what appeared to be a nice fall along Coldwater Creek but didn’t provide much of a view.
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Just after passing the waterfall the trail entered a forested area.
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Hedgenettle
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From there to the Coldwater Trail junction the trial alternated between small meadows and woods with occasional views back to Coldwater Creek.
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Another trail crew from the Washington Trails Association was working on the Coldwater Trail on the far side of the footbridge when we arrived there. We stopped on some rocks above the bridge for a snack break and watched them as they worked.
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We were now on familiar trail, at least in theory. When we had hiked the loop around Coldwater Lake in May 2014 much of the vegetation was only beginning to produce leaves.
Coldwater Trail

This time the trail was crowded with plants.
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The wildflowers were out in force as we drew nearer to Tractor Junction.
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A male grouse flew out of one of the meadows and landed in a nearby tree. It was the first one we’d seen in full display and was quite colorful.
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The views were much better than they had been the day before at Tractor Junction and along the 3.2 miles from there back to the trailhead. Coldwater Lake was clearly visible and Mt. St. Helens even made an appearance.
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For the second day in a row we’d escaped without dealing with any rain showers and the thunderstorms had not materialized before we’d made it back to the car. Despite the sometimes cloudy conditions it had turned out to be a really nice trip. The views we did miss out on can now be our excuse for return trip sometime in the future. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157670492933452

Mount Margaret Backcountry – South Coldwater Trailhead to Obscurity Lake

The only backpacking trip that we had planned for this year which required a permit was an overnight stay in the Mount Margaret Backcountry near Mt. St. Helens. The area is part of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, displaying the effects of the 1980 eruption. The lateral blast from the eruption shattered trees toppling thousands of acres of forest.

Camping is limited to designated sites at eight backcountry camps where the maximum group size for camping is four. Pets and pack stock are prohibited in the Mount Margaret Backcountry and fires are not allowed. We made our reservation for Obscurity Camp on March 19th, the day the permits became available.

One drawback of a permit system is not having any idea what the weather is going to be like on the days you reserve. We were looking at the chance of showers and maybe even a thunderstorm as we were hiking out, but we liked our odds and we had spent a whole $6.00 on the permit so we decided to give it a go. It was a wet drive to the South Coldwater Trailhead which is located along the Spirit Lake Highway (SR 504).
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Starting at Norway Pass would have made it a shorter hike but where is the fun in that? It also would have been a longer drive. Our plan was a lollipop route using the South Coldwater Trail 230A, Coldwater Trail 230, Boundary Trail 1, and Lakes Trail 211. We had been on some of the trails in 2013 during a May hike around Coldwater Lake, but that hike had been early enough in the season that there had been very little vegetation and almost no flowers. It was evident from the flowers at the trailhead that we’d be seeing different sights this time around.
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We were under the clouds as we set off on the trail which passed through a short section of woods before emerging into wildflower filled meadows.
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Although the clouds limited the view we were able to see back down to the South Coldwater Creek Valley where we spotted several elk.
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The trail then crossed over the ridge we were climbing providing views of Coldwater Lake.
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The wildflowers were thick along the trail, but we were starting to enter the cloud bank and quickly losing our visibility.
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The trail continued to climb along the ridge passing a couple of pieces of old machinery that is left over from the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.
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We were now in the midst (or mist) of the clouds. At least it wasn’t raining and despite the low visibility there were still plenty of flowers along the trail to see and there were a couple of snowshoe hares out having breakfast.
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The hares weren’t the only ones enjoying some snacks. A variety of ripe berries offered us a nice selection of treats.
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After 3.2 miles we arrived at Tractor Junction. Named for another piece of nearby equipment, this junction marks the end of the South Coldwater Trail at it’s intersection with the Coldwater Trail.
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We turned right at the junction and headed toward the Boundary Trail which was just over 2 miles away. After .2 miles we passed Ridge Camp, one of the designated camps in the area.
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The wildflowers were once again impressive along this trail, but the visibility was even worse. We focused on finding as many different flowers as we could.
Tiger lilies
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Lupine, paintbrush and yellow wildflowers
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Large patch of paintbrush
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Arnica
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Bugbane
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Corydalis
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Columbine
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Scouler’s bluebell
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An aster or fleabane
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Pussypaws
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Mock orange
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Bistort
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Another type of aster or fleabane
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Violets
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Orange agoseris
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Spirea
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Cat’s ear lily
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Avalanche lily
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We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the junction with the Boundary Trail overlooking St. Helens Lake. We had suddenly found a little blue sky and some better visibility.
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Coldwater Peak was to our left and seemed to be acting as a cloud break.
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While we were watching the clouds swirl around the back side of Coldwater Peak we noticed a mountain goat on the cliffs below the summit.
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We took a nice long break at the junction watching the mountain goat and the ever changing clouds. When we finally set off again we passed by Coldwater Peak in sunlight.
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We had some great views of St. Helens Lake below us as we passed the spur trail to Coldwater Peak after .4 miles.
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The trail the continued around the lake with views opening up to Spirit Lake below St. Helens Lake.
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For the next 3 plus miles the clouds came and went as the drifted over the ridge down toward Spirit Lake.
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There was more snow along this section of trail and we started seeing more flowers that bloom soon after snow melt.
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Cinquefoil
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Cusick’s speedwell
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White heather
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Avalanche lilies
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Cat’s ear lily
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We crossed our first snowfield near The Dome, which was mostly hidden by the clouds.
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It was a bit of a shame that we couldn’t see more of the surrounding area because the peaks and cliffs we could see where really neat.
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The view downhill was a little better and we got a decent look at the outlet of St. Helens Lake, a log jam on Spirit Lake, and some elk in the valley.
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We had skipped the .6 mile trail up to the summit of Coldwater Peak not wanting to make that climb with our full packs on a day when the visibility wasn’t great, but when we reached the shorter spur trail to the summit of Mt. Margaret we decided to head up. Unlike Coldwater Peak we had not been up this trail before so even if we didn’t have a view we couldn’t pass it up. The view from Mt. Margaret turned out to not be too bad. We could see Spirit Lake fairly well and the Boundary Trail below the peak. Other nearby peaks occasionally emerged from the clouds.
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We could see some spots where mountain goats had been on a nearby ledge but no goats, just a swallowtail butterfly.
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We took a nice long break and had some lunch on Mt. Margaret. As we were preparing to start hiking again we could hear people coming up the Boundary Trail, lots of people. Heather counted nearly 30 folks emerging from the trees below. We made it back to the junction with the Boundary Trail just as the first of these other hikers were arriving. The majority of them turned out to be members of the Mazamas, a nonprofit Mountaineering Education Organization based in Portland, Oregon.

After passing through the Mazamas we crossed another nice snowfield and reached a junction with the Whittier Ridge Trail.
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The Whittier Ridge Trail was not on our to-do list on this hike. The trail is narrow and in places along exposed cliffs where the rocks had to be blasted to create a trail at all. Recent reports from members of the Oregon Hikers forum reported some snow still along the trail as well and with little visibility it wasn’t even tempting. We continued on the Boundary Trail getting our first view of some the lakes in the Mt. Margaret Backcountry.
Boot and Obscurity Lakes
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We had been gradually descending since Mt. Margaret and the visibility was getting better the lower we got.
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Along the way we spotted another mountain goat not far above the trail.
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As we got closer it crossed the trail and disappeared over the hillside leaving us with just it’s smell. (And boy did it smell)

We had been working our way around Spirit Lake and were now just to the NE of it. Mt. St. Helens lay directly behind the lake but only the lowest portions were visible. What we could see was Windy Ridge on the Mountain’s flank.
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Two miles from the Whittier Ridge Trail we arrived at the junction with the Lakes Trail at Bear Pass.
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The Lakes Trail descended from Bear Pass toward Grizzly Lake.
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A trail crew from the Washington Trails Association was busy brushing out the trail and restoring the tread along this section. They were doing some impressive work and we thanked them as we passed by.

Between Grizzly Lake and our final destination at Obscurity Lake were more wildflowers including a few we hadn’t seen yet that day.
Partridge foot and paintbrush
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Penstemon and candyflower
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Pink monkeyflower
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Blue-bells of Scotland
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Fireweed
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Bleeding heart
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As we approached Obscurity Lake a waterfall was visible along the outlet creek of the lake.
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We finally arrived at Obscurity Lake after almost 16 miles of hiking.
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We thought the hard part was over but then we went in search of the designated camp site. We found one tent pad already occupied and began looking for a second one. When I had made the reservation on the Recreation.gov website there had been 2 available permits for up to 4 people. There were several areas where tents had obviously been placed in the past but we couldn’t find any other tent pad or post marking another designated site. The hikers from the other tent said they had not been able to find a second one either so we picked what seemed like the most likely spot where there was no vegetation to trample and set up the tent.
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We hoped that we had picked the right spot and figured if we hadn’t and a ranger came along we’d just ask them where the other designated site was and move there if we had chosen poorly. Oddly enough a third tent had appeared when we awoke the next morning. I don’t know if they were possibly with the Forest Service, but if they weren’t someone was not where they should have been.

Regardless of the confusion over the camp sites the day had been pretty spectacular. The showers had never materialized and between the wildflowers, wildlife, and scattered views we did get we’d been totally entertained. The clouds just made us more eager to come back again someday in the future so we could see what we missed this time around. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157668318616563

Lewis River and Curly Creek Falls

After our vacation in Gold Beach, OR we began our next hike 300 miles away along the Lewis River in Washington’s Gifford-Pinchot National Forest. The Lewis River Trail is one of those very popular trails that we had not yet been to. We hoped an early start would help avoid the bulk of the Memorial Day Weekend crowds. We parked at the Lower Falls Recreation Area just a short distance from the first of the days waterfalls.
Trail sign at the Lower Falls Recreation Area

We walked down to a platform overlooking the Lower Falls. This was another waterfall that was much larger in person than it had looked in pictures.
Lower Falls viewing platform

Lower Lewis River Falls

We then headed down to river level to see what the falls looked like from that angle.
Lower Lewis River Falls

Lower Lewis River Falls

After getting the view from below we climbed back past the first platform and headed NE along the Lewis River Trail. A second viewpoint looked down from above the falls.
Lower Lewis River Falls

A couple of wooden staircases led down to little beaches along the river.
Stairs to the bank of the Lewis River

Lewis River

We followed the trail between the river and the Lewis River Campground then deeper into the forest toward the Middle and Upper Falls.
Trail sign along the Lewis River Trail

As we were crossing a footbridge Heather noticed something along the side creek. She said she almost mistook it for a statue because of how still it was standing but then the doe began heading back up the creek.
Deer along a small creek

Doe

As she retreated we noticed more movement in the underbrush. A pair of wobbly young fawns had been with the doe.
Fawns

After snapping a couple of quick pictures we continued on so mom could get back to her fawns.

A section of trail was closed near Middle Falls but a detour was in place using the Middle Falls Parking Area.
Trail reroute due to slides

We had been planning on taking this route anyway since it passed another waterfall along Copper Creek.
Copper Creek Falls
Copper Creek Falls

When we were back on the Lewis River Trail we followed a sign for Middle Falls.
Lewis River Trail

Middle Lewis River Falls

Middle Lewis River Falls

Middle Lewis River Falls

In addition to the waterfalls the Lewis River had some beautiful colored water due to the presence of rock shelves which created some deep green pools.
Lewis River

Lewis River

Before continuing on to Upper Falls we headed for the bridge over Copper Creek. The trail closure was posted at the bridge but below the bridge was a scenic water slide.
Slide on Copper Creek

Continuing on the Lewis River Trail we passed some large cliffs covered in green lichen.
Lichen covered rocks along the Lewis River Trail

Lewis River Trail

Another section of cliffs were of particular interest. Several trees were perched along the cliff edge with exposed roots high in the air. The rock showed clear signs of having been worn by the river which seemed to indicate that the roots of these trees had once been under the river bank, but as the river eroded the banks and deepened it’s canyon, the roots were left exposed. Given how far above the current river these trees were, we wondered how old they were.
Tree roots showing where the Lewis River once was.

Tree roots showing where the Lewis River once was.

The Upper Falls was another impressive, thundering waterfall.
Upper Lewis River Falls

Upper Lewis River Falls

Upper Lewis River Falls

We made our way out onto a gravel bar for a better view and found a few flowers as well as some elk sign.
Tall bluebells

Upper Lewis River Falls

The trail then climbed up to an upper viewpoint via a wide arc around some rock outcroppings.
Upper Lewis River Falls

Upper Lewis River Falls

Upper Lewis River Falls

Continuing on we passed a spectacular green pool before reaching Taitnapum Falls.
Lewis River

Taitnapum Falls

Taitnapum Falls

We turned around after reaching the end of the Lewis River Trail and NF Road 90. The Quartz Creek Trail continued on the far side but for us it was time to head back and get to our second hike.

We had seen a handful of people on our way out along the trail and wound up having each of the falls to ourselves, but on the way back it was a steady stream of people. The Recreation Area parking lot was packed as we left making us glad we had started with this hike. We drove back towards Cougar, WA on forest road 90 turning right on road 9039 at a sign for the Curly Creek Trailhead. We parked in a gravel lot just before reaching a bridge across the Lewis River. The trail was on the far side of the bridge so we crossed on foot and headed downstream to the West. A platform along the trail offered views across the Lewis River to the unique Curly Creek Falls with its pair of rock arches.
Curly Creek Falls

Curly Creek Falls

Curly Creek Falls

Just a short distance further was another viewpoint. This time for Miller Falls.
Miller Falls

Miller Falls

One of the reasons we had not done these hikes before was due to the length of the drive vs. the amount of  hike time. At 3 hours one way the 9-10 miles would cause us to spend more time in the car than on the trail. Our solution was to visit the Bolt Camp Shelter after Curly Creek and Miller Falls. To do this we returned along the trail to the road 9039 bridge, crossing the road and continuing on the Lewis River Trail.

Lewis River Trail

Lewis River Trail

This portion of the Lewis River Trail was along a calmer section of the river offering plenty of access to the river.
Lewis River

Lewis River

We stopped for a short rest along the river at the Bolt Camp Shelter before returning to the trailhead.
Bolt Camp sign

Bolt Camp Shelter along the Lewis River

When it was all said and done we’d spent 6 hours and 42 minutes on the trail which meant we hadn’t violated our rule of not spending more time driving than hiking. It was easy to see why this area is so popular, but even with all the people we had still found some solitude along the trails and at every waterfall we’d visited. We couldn’t have asked for more. Happy Trails!

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Ape Cave and Ape Canyon

We are in the midst of revisiting several trails that we first hiked in 2012. Next up after our return trip to the Table Rock Wilderness we headed to the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument for a second hike on the Ape Canyon Trail. In 2012 we had done a second short hike along Lava Canyon after finishing the Ape Canyon Trail and this time we decided to add a visit to Ape Cave to the agenda.

At 12,810 feet long Ape Cave is the longest known Lava Tube in North America. It is also one of the more popular places to visit in the monument so we decided to tackle this trail first in an attempt to beat the crowds. A staffed information booth awaits at the trailhead, but we had arrived before it opened for the day.
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A short paved trail leads to an kiosk with signboards and the lower cave entrance.
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An above ground trail leads past the lower entrance to an upper entrance (or exit).
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We decided to hike up to the upper entrance and then descend down the lava tube to it’s end 3/4miles past the lower cave entrance. The trail to the upper entrance passed through the forest before skirting a lava flow and passing some smaller lava tubes that were not part of the cave.
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The trail actually did pass over the cave three times before arriving at the site of the upper entrance. We walked passed the entrance initially following a well used path about 50 yards too far before realizing our mistake. There was no sign marking the upper entrance and the hole was much smaller than the lower entrance. It took a moment for us to spot the metal ladder barely sticking up from out of the dark hole.
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Climbing down the ladder was interesting as the first 17 steps angled downward before the ladder suddenly dropped straight down for the final 10 or 12 rungs.
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The cave extends another .1 miles or so beyond the upper entrance so we turned north and walked to the end before turning around and heading for the lower entrance.
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The cave was really neat. The rock surrounding the tube was full of colors and different textures. White portions of rock reflected our headlamps imitating rays of sunlight along the walls and ceiling.
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A third of a mile from the upper entrance the trail past under a skylight where green ferns and mosses grew on the rocks.
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The lower entrance was another 1.1 miles beyond the skylight. This section of the lava tube was a workout. Ten different rock falls required scrambling over and around piles of lava rock and a pair of lava falls, drops of around 8 feet, proved a challenge to descend. The second lava fall was particularly difficult requiring us to slowly lower ourselves down using small nubs on the cave floor as handholds. The scenery of the cave was worth the effort and we wondered if climbing up would have been easier than coming down as we had.
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It was fairly slow going but we eventually made it to the base of the staircase leading down from the lower entrance.
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We headed down the lower end of the cave which was, as the sign said, a relatively easy walk. We turned around when the cave had become small enough that we would have had to crawl to continue any further.
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We had started to run into a few more people near the end of the lower cave and on the way back to the lower entrance the number of people increased dramatically. We exited up through the lower entrance and headed for the car.
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In hindsight we should have descended through the lower entrance as it seemed like it would have been easier to ascend up through the cave and it would likely have avoided the crowds that had formed later in the morning in the lower cave.

We drove from the Ape Cave parking area to the Ape Canyon Trailhead for our second hike of the day. On our previous visit we had taken the Ape Canyon Trail to the Loowit Trail and then followed that trail to a junction with the Abraham Trail which covered a total of 12.7 miles. Our second hike that day at Lava Canyon was only 1.3 miles for a 14 mile total. This time around we had already done nearly 5 miles at Ape Cave so the plan was to stop at a spring along the Loowit Trail in the Plains of Abraham. The small parking lot at the Ape Canyon Trailhead was full so we parked along road 83 and walked to the start of the trail.
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We were on high alert as we started the trail due to warnings about local wildlife.
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The Ape Canyon Trail starts in the forest next to a lahar created by the Muddy River when the mountains 1980 eruption sent a large portion of the Shoestring Glacier down the valley. Our previous visit had been on a clear day in Mid-September where the views across the lahar to Mt. St. Helens were spectacular.
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We were not to be so lucky on this day with our Mt. St. Helens views but the temperature was pleasant and we hoped to see more flowers this time than we had previously.
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We did see more flowers along the lower section but we were a little late due to the weather we’d been having this year.
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The trail passes through an old growth forest starting at the 1.4 mile mark then climbs a series of switchbacks as it heads up a ridge toward the Loowit Trail. We passed a few viewpoints that had provided impressive views on our first visit but today we had to rely on those memories to picture the mountain.
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After 4 miles the trail enters the blast zone from the 1980 eruption. The trail spends winds a half mile through the blast zone above forested Ape Canyon.
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A narrow slot at the top of the Canyon frames the creek below and apparently Mt. Adams in the distance. I say apparently because we have not been able to confirm this on either of our visits. In 2012 the Cascade Creek Fire was burning on the slopes of Mt. Adams filling the sky with smoke and clouds were now playing the same role on this day.
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The trail ends after 4.5 miles at the Loowit Trail which circles the entire mountain.
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We turned right here heading for the Spring .8 miles away. This section of the Loowit Trail passes through the Plains of Abraham, a pumice plain with a barren looking landscape which is really fascinating. Heading NE Mt. St. Helens looms on the left across the broad plain while hills on the right reveal the force of mountains eruption. Trees lay blown down on the hillsides facing the mountain while other sides are striped away exposing various layers of rock. Other areas green with trees and other vegetation.
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Flowers are sparse but some still manage to bloom in what looks like the most improbably conditions.
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One thing that didn’t change from our previous visit was being greeted by a marmot as we crossed this section. We couldn’t help but wonder if it was the same furry little guy.
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When I had added this hike to the schedule I had hoped to find flowers near the spring where we would turn around, but with the timing being so far off this year due to the weather I wasn’t sure what we’d find. It wound up working out even though things were beginning to dry out. We spoted several different types of flowers including a nice clump of bluebell-of-Scotland.
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It was no apline wildflower meadow but considering the area it was an impressive display. What surprised us was the lack of water from the spring. Despite it being September on our previous visit a small steady stream of water was flowing down the rocks and into Ape Canyon, but this time the only water was a small pool left filling a depression in the rock.

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Spring fed stream

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2015
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After resting a bit, and starting to get chilly due to a nice breeze and cooling our sweat, we headed back down. The clouds had only lifted a little as we passed the lower viewpoints and small pockets of blue sky teased us from above the mountain.
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It had been a long but interesting day of hiking. It was also our first visit of the year to one of the major Cascade mountains and it had been a good reminder of just how much we enjoyed our hikes on them. Happy Trails!

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Mt. St. Helens Rim

We kicked off our September hiking with the steep rocky climb to the rim of Mt. St. Helens. After missing out on climbing permits last year (The passes are limited to 100 per day from April 1st through October.) we had scooped up this years permits as soon as they went on sale in February. We were fortunate to have wound up picking a day with a forecast for clear skies and mild temperatures.

After picking up our permits and signing the climbers register at the Lone Fir Resort in Cougar, WA we drove up to the Climbers Bivouac and got ready to climb. The first 2 miles of trail climbed gradually through a forest. There were just a few flowers and a couple of berries left here and there. We had blue skies above us but the sky was hazy to the East and South hiding Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams from view.
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At the 2 mile mark we crossed over the Loowit Trail and continued up the mountain.
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Going up

The trail quickly emerged from the trees and headed for the lava flow on Monitor Ridge.
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Posts indicated the general path to follow up the lava, but it was nearly impossible to tell where the optimal route was. It seemed like no matter where we were a better looking route was just to the left or right.
Following the posts up Monitor Ridge
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We picked our way up and over the rocks as best as we could passing the first monitor (yes there are actually monitors on monitor ridge) and gaining ever better views of Goat Mountain just to the SE of Mt. St. Helens.
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Just under 2 miles from the Loowit Trail we found the second monitor. Used for monitoring any swelling of the mountain we used it as proof that we were actually getting somewhere.
The 2nd of the two monitors
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From the second monitor there was one final pile of lava rocks before a final stretch of loose rock and ash.
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Final stretch up to the rim of Mt. St. Helens

The sky above the rim was a clear blue and we had hopes that maybe the view North would be clearer than the rest of the horizon, but from the rim the view in that direction looked like the others.
Mt. St. Helens Rim 2

There was one big difference, the view down into the crater was unobstructed and Spirit Lake lay beyond with its flotilla of logs.
Lava dome in the crater of Mt. St. Helens
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More of the crater
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We sat on the rim for awhile catching our breath and resting our legs. The steam rising from the lava dome coupled with the nearly constant sound of rocks falling down into the crater gave us plenty of entertainment.
Somewhere out there is Mt. Rainier
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Once we had sufficiently recovered we began our descent.
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Going down was just as difficult as climbing up. We slowly made our way back down though and wound up back in the trees. The final 2 miles seemed to fly by compared to how long it took to come down the lava flow and we were soon leaving the volcanic monument.
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Back at the car we had one final look at the rim we had been on just a few hours earlier. It had been an interesting hike, arguably the most difficult we’ve done, but worth the effort.
Mt. St. Helens from the parking lot

Happy Trail!

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June Lake

One of the things that makes for a good hike is variety. We have often commented on how much variety can be packed into just several miles of hiking. The terrain, vegetation, wildlife and views can vary drastically in a relatively short distance. That was the case on our most recent hike in the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

We had toyed with the idea of making this an overnight trip but the uncertainty of suitable water sources gave us pause so we amended our plans to make a day hike out of it. We stuck with our original plan to start at the June Lake trail head and headed up to the Loowit Trail from there. Originally we planed on turning right on the Loowit and heading over to the Plains of Abraham to find a camp spot and then explore further on down to Loowit Falls, but that would be too far for a day hike so instead we decided to go left and check out Dryer Creek Meadows.

It was a cloudy morning as we set off on the June Lake Trail. From the trail head it was a mere 1.3 miles to June Lake on a nice wide trail that gently climbed through a forest with plenty of ripe berries to snack on.
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We were surrounded by fog when we arrived at June Lake which made it difficult to get a good view of the 40′ waterfall that falls on the far shore of the lake.
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While exploring the small lakes shore we spotted a couple of frogs in the muddy water.
Frogs at June Lake

The best view of the falls came from a side trail at the north end of the lake shortly after a switchback. The reflection of the falls created the illusion of water both falling and rising to the surface of the lake.
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About a quarter mile from the side trail we arrived at the junction with the Loowit Trail which circles the entire mountain on a 29.5 mile loop. We turned right and quickly emerged from the forest and began crossing the first of three lava flows that make up the “Worm Flows”. Unlike some of the other lava fields we have hiked over there was no visible trail in many places, just a series of posts and rock cairns to aim for.
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It meant a lot of rock hopping and scouting for the best looking route to the next marker. While we were working on making our way over the lava the clouds began to give way and we were treated to a clear view of Mt. St. Helens.
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Mt. St. Helens

After crossing the Worm Flows the trail began descending into Swift Creeks canyon where we would find Chocolate Falls. On our way down a colorful western tanager posed for some pictures.
Western Tanager
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Before reaching swift creek we passed through a small pocket of vegetation.
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We were happy to find water flowing over Chocolate Falls as Swift Creek often dries up overnight and doesn’t begin flowing again until after 11AM on some days.
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We took a snack break at the falls and while we were relaxing we were joined by what I think was the same western tanager who decided it was time for a bath.
Western Tanager
Western Tanager

We continued on the Loowit Trail from Swift Creek and began a steep climb that passed through forest and meadows. We also were treated to a great view of Mt. Adams and a descent view of Mt. Hood looming above the clouds.
Mt. Adams
Mt. Adams
Mt. Hood
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Meadow filled with nuttall’s linanthus
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Mt. Adams from one of the meadows
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Passing through a meadow
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Mt. Hood from the meadow
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Mountain heather and a blue copper butterfly
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Two miles from Chocolate Falls we crossed the Ptarmigan Trail which climbs up Monitor Ridge to the Rim of Mt. St. Helens.
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We have a date with that trail later this year.

We crossed the trail and shortly came to the edge of another lava flow. A doe was making her way up toward Monitor Ridge showing off her superior rock hopping skills.
Doe
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This crossing was .9 miles of post to post travel.
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From this section we had a great view of Mt. St. Helens, Monitor Ridge, and the Green Knob.
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After navigating the lava flow we were once again in a forest. This one was drier and the trees more sparse than the previous sections we’d passed through. Cicadas chirped loudly from the pine trees and scattered flowers dotted the sandy landscape.
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The trail then began alternating between trees and meadows.
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As we came around a corner I noticed something peering out of a tree further up along the trail.
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A bull elk emerged and gave us a quick look before heading downhill deeper into the trees.
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Elk

We turned around at the dry Dryers Creek and retraced our steps back toward Chocolate Falls.
Mt. St. Helens from the dry bed of Dryers Creek
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Mt. Adams had been hidden by clouds while Mt. Hood had nearly fully emerged from them.
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There was evidence of the increased afternoon snow melt when we arrived back at Chocolate Falls.
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Chocolate Falls
We took our shoes and socks off and soaked our feet for a bit in the creek before setting off from the falls. When we did get going we left the Loowit Trail and turned right along Swift Creek on the Swift Ski Trail.
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Chocolate Falls and Mt. St. Helens

It was an easy trail to follow and we quickly descended .5 miles to the Pika Ski Trail which we took and headed back toward June Lake.
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The Pika Trail was easy to follow for the first few tenths of a mile plus it was lined with ripe blueberries, huckleberries, and a few strawberries.
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The easy trail didn’t last long though as we still had to cross part of the Worm Flows to return to June Lake. The crossing here was the most difficult of the day as there was no sign of any trail at all and the few orange poles ended halfway across the lava flow.
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Luckily from the final pole June Lake was visible on the other side of the flow.
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We headed for the lake and eventually made it down to the sandy bed of a dry creek which we climbed out of and returned to the June Lake Trail. The lake was clear now so we stopped to get some unobstructed photos of the waterfall and lake before beginning the final leg of our hike.
June Lake

We took our time on the final 1.3 miles partly due to being tired from all the rock hopping and partly because we were picking berries as we went. The hike had totaled 13.4 miles and in that distance we’d passed two waterfalls, a lake, several creeks (dry and flowing), through several sections of forest, multiple meadows, and over four different lava flows. We’d seen an elk, a deer, chipmunks, golden-mantled squirrels, frogs, and various birds. We sampled at least 6 different kinds of berries, saw a variety of wildflowers, and had views of three cascade volcanoes. It had been worth the effort. Happy Trails!

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Coldwater Lake & The Hummocks

We ended our “Creek Week” vacation by changing things up a bit and heading to the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument hoping to see some snowy mountains. Our creek theme wasn’t totally abandoned though. Our destination was Coldwater Lake which was formed during the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption when Coldwater Creek was blocked by debris from the mountain. The creek still flows into and out of the lake on it’s way to the North Fork Toutle River.

The slide that created Coldwater Lake also created the Hummocks which are piles of rock, ash, and other debris that was washed down and deposited along the Toutle River. A 2.5 mile trail loops through these mounds and that was where we decided to start our hike. Our plan was to hit that popular trail first before it got crowded then walk back along the shoulder of Highway 504 for a quarter mile to the entrance to Coldwater Lake and once there either do an 8.8mi out and back to a footbridge over Coldwater Creek or continue over the bridge on a longer loop up and around the lake. We decided to wait until we got closer to the bridge before choosing which option we would take.

It was quite foggy when we arrived at the trailhead for the Hummocks loop making it pretty clear that we wouldn’t be seeing Mt. St. Helens for awhile at least.
The Hummocks trailhead

The scenery along the trail deserved our attention anyway with many ponds and streams nestled between the various mounds.
Ducklings on one of the ponds
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As we were making our way through the strange landscape we spotted some elk on one of the Hummocks a short distance away.
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They didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned with us. There were also numerous ducks, geese, and other birds enjoying the ponds and marshes along the trail.
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The trail also passes a nice viewpoint above the North Fork Toutle River where Mt. St. Helens would be visible on a clear day. We settled for the river and another group of elk grazing on the far bank.
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Shortly after leaving the viewpoint we were passing through a wooded area when I noticed an elk around 30′ away standing in the trees. Before I could get the camera up it disappeared but that had been the closest we’d come to an elk yet.

The clouds were beginning to clear up when we made it back to the parking lot and set off along the highway toward the Coldwater Lake entrance. We passed over Coldwater Creek on it’s way from the lake down into the Toutle Valley and then crossed the road and headed down to the lake.
Coldwater Creek

The view across the lake was spectacular from the trailhead. Minnie Peak lay ahead with a dusting of snow and a misty covering of clouds.
Coldwater Lake
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A little island was a popular spot for geese and ducks. I am sure they were there for the views.
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As we traveled along the north shore of the lake the views both ahead and behind kept getting better. The clouds were lifting revealing more and more snow covered peaks.
Coldwater Lake
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A few flowers were ahead of schedule giving us a taste of what will be coming in the next few weeks.
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Scouler's Cordaylis

I had my eyes on Minnie Peak waiting for the last cloud to finally let go. It was a stubborn one though and just wouldn’t quite disappear.

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The trail crosses several small streams before reaching what was a very nice waterfall on this day. Rock Gully Falls, as it’s called in Sullivan’s book, was swollen with melt water making it a damp crossing since there is no bridge.
Rock Gully Falls
The crossing
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We spotted several more elk above us on the hillside as we rounded a small peninsula shortly after passing the falls. It was amazing watching them quickly traverse the steep hillside.
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Can you spot them here?
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The next marker along the trail was a fan of rocks that had been part of a slide into the lake.
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Near the end of Coldwater Lake we came to a shallow pool of water that was, at least at one time, home to a beaver. We didn’t see one but we did see plenty of ducks and geese here.
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Evidence of Beaver work
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The cloud had finally left Minnie Peak revealing the craggy mountain top by the time we reached the trail junction just above the bridge over Coldwater Creek.
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Coldwater Creek came raging down the valley putting on an impressive show.
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We had decided to do the full loop as it appeared that snow would not be an issue and loops are generally more fun than retracing your steps so we crossed the bridge and began to climb the ridge on the south side of Coldwater Lake. The views behind us as we climbed just kept getting better.
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The rock fan
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It was a stiff climb but the views eased the pain some. As the trail began to become more gradual, we could see the Coldwater Visitor Center far off in the distance on the opposite hillside.
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Down in the little valley Heather spotted more elk moving in the trees.
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Just a short while later she spotted another elk heading our way. It stopped in a little bowl below us to check us out.
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Nique correctly identified it as a young bull as it began to come toward us again.
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He then veered slightly away from us and crossed the trail a ways ahead and disappeared behind a small rise. I kept looking up the hillside to see if I could see where he was heading.
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Just moments after taking the above picture he popped his head up over the rise and looked right down at us. As I fumbled with the camera he jumped down onto the trail no more than 10 yards in front of us and sped off back the way he had come originally. By the time I got a picture he was quite a ways down the into the bowl.
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That had gotten my heart racing as I wasn’t sure if he had decided to turn aggressive. I had been expecting him to run away from us not at us. After the excitement we continued on to tractor junction where a trail leads up to Coldwater Peak. The junction is named for the piece of logging equipment that was laid to rest there by the eruption.
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We had finally found a little snow in this area but not much was left.
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After curving around the trail came to a great open viewpoint.
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We could see Rock Gully Falls and the North Coldwater Lake trail really well.
Rock Gully Falls

We had heard a lot of croaking on the Hummocks trail but hadn’t seen any frogs or toads there or along the lake, but now at almost 3500′ Nique spotted one.
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Coldwater Peak became visible as we made our way back toward the west end of the lake. It was interesting to see this side of it after having hiked up it last year.
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Just as the trail began to descend we came to more logging equipment that didn’t survive the eruption.
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From here we could also see the Hummocks parking lot and our car.
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We still had a ways to go.

Our last elk sighting was a big one. As we were coming down, the largest herd we’d seen was scrambling to stay ahead of us and dropping down over the hillside.
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What a sight 🙂
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We made it down to the South Trailhead and began our road walk back to our car. Mt. St. Helens finally decided to make an appearance at this point.
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When we got back to the car I dropped off my pack and jogged down the Hummocks Trail to the first good viewpoint to get my volcano pictures.
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Now that’s the way to end a hike – Happy Trails indeed! 🙂

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Johnston Ridge Observatory & Coldwater Peak

We took advantage of a day off recently and headed up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory at Mt. St. Helens. This was the farthest north we have traveled for a hike and would be the first time we would be able to see the collapsed side of the volcano. We were a bit disappointed when we arrived and realized that the winds had shifted and were blowing from the south east causing a hazy sky due to smoke from a wildfire near The Dalles Oregon. We parked in the observatory parking lot and surveyed our hike’s destination, Coldwater Peak.

Coldwater Peak from the parking lot.
Coldwater Peak from the parking lot.

The observatory was not open yet (It opens at 10:00am) but we walked around the paved loop trail there before setting off on the boundary trail. Good views of Mt. St. Helens were plentiful despite the blue haze from the smoke.
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I had us all on the lookout for elk down in the valley below and it wasn’t long before we spotted a small group.
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It appeared to be a small heard of about 15 elk but as we worked our way along the trail and got a better view of the valley below we saw the rest of the heard.
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As we rounded a ridge end we got our first view of Spirit Lake and it’s floating trees. Mt. Adams was visible through the haze further to the east.
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The trail then dipped slightly to a jct with the Truman Trail and continued on behind Harry’s Ridge. Here there was a decent variety of flowers that were growing in the mud and ash that had spilled over the ridge here during the 1980 eruption.
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We also began to find berries :). Here were mostly thimble and huckleberries but we even found a few ripe salmon berries.

Thimble & huckleberries
Thimble & huckleberries

Later we would add strawberries to the menu.

Just after we had reached the Harry’s Ridge trail we spotted another half dozen elk running up a game trail below us. The trail was now gaining elevation providing better views of Spirit Lake and distant Mt. Adams.
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When the trail crested we had a nice view of St. Helens Lake below. The trail then drops down in order to pass through a rock arch before continuing above the west side of the lake.

The rock arch that the trail passes through and St. Helens Lake
The rock arch that the trail passes through and St. Helens Lake

Near the north end of St. Helens Lake was the sign for the Coldwater Peak Trail which we turned up to begin our climb. We were so busy looking for berries (which we had all been snacking on as we hiked) that we somehow walked right off the trail at a switchback. It took a moment but I finally spotted it across the hillside going up so we headed cross country until we intersected it. Back on the trail we continued our climb up amid an increasing number of flowers (and plenty of berries).
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The views from the summit were good despite the persistent haze which had now completely hidden Mt. Adams.

Mt. St. Helens from Coldwater Peak
Mt. St. Helens from Coldwater Peak

 

Johnston Ridge Observatory from Coldwater Peak
Johnston Ridge Observatory from Coldwater Peak

 

Mt. Rainier from Coldwater Peak
Mt. Rainier from Coldwater Peak

We couldn’t get to the highest point on the rocks of Coldwater Peak though. We found that we were greatly outnumbered on the summit by flying ants!

Flying ants filling the sky and covering the rocks on Coldwater Peak
Flying ants filling the sky and covering the rocks on Coldwater Peak

They were sticking to the west side of the peak and as long as we remained a few feet from that edge they left us alone so we were able to eat in peace.

We headed back down the trail and tried to figure out where we had lost it on the way up but we never did figure that mystery out. The smoke had gotten worse and it could now be faintly smelled in the air. We ate more berries on the way back and stopped to watch the elk heard again before dropping our packs off at the car and heading to the now open observatory to pay for the passes that we were supposed to have in order to hike in the area. Since we were there we took a tour around the small but interesting observatory before getting in the car and daring Portland’s rush hour traffic. Happy Trails

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