Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Hike Blogging: Mount St. Helens, Gifford Pinchot National Forest

My son and I did this hike on July 14, 2004.

As part of a wonderful father-son road trip during the summer of 2004, my son and I went to Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument and climbed the volcano. At 8,365 feet above sea level, it's not very high but it is steep and the timberline is at about 4,500 feet, so you're hiking out in the open for three miles or so. Overall, you climb 5,000 feet in about 5 miles.

This is a view of the crater from the aptly-named Windy Ridge observatory. All the area around it has only young trees; everything else was flattened during the eruption. The blast area extends about 10 miles out.

Here is Captain Holly, rested and ready at the trailhead. The climbing route on Monitor Ridge can be seen on the side of the mountain straight above my head.

The trail starts out in the timber and for the first few miles you can't see the mountain in front of you. It's not that steep until you get to the timberline, then it starts getting much more difficult.

After you get past the timberline, there's not really a maintained trail. The route is marked with wooden posts and it snakes among large andesite boulders that were thrown down during the main eruption in 1980. Closer to the top it's all rhyolite gravel; you sink in about 3-4 inches with every step. By the time we got to the top we were exhausted.

The view on top is wonderful. In the Cascades, the really tall mountains are all volcanoes that are separated from each other, so when you get on top you can see for miles and miles in every direction. When we started the hike, we could see Mount Hood in Oregon, some 50 miles to the south. This one is looking down into the crater at the lava dome that has been pushed up over the past 20 years.

Here is a view of Mount Adams, an extinct volcano some 30 miles away.

Even if you can't climb Mount St. Helens, you can visit the Johnson Ridge Observatory and Visitor Center. It has some great displays and a wonderful view of the crater.

In July the ground is carpeted with wildflowers. I mean everywhere: If there's not trees growing, there are wildflowers. Very beautiful.

Overall, it was a wonderful trip. I would love to do it again someday, but I realize that my son will never be 14 again and this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I'm glad I took it.



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