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The North Fork Toutle River valley, west of Mt. St. Helens, obscured in the clouds.

Earlier this month, my two dear friends Norman and Rodel invited me to spend the day with them. The plan was to drive up to Mt. St. Helens. That day the partly cloudy sky was slowly clearing as we made the trip, and we had fingers crossed for a mountain view when we got there. Sadly, the clouds remained clustered around the peak of Mt. St. Helens. We had a great day together, and the views were gorgeous (as you can see above), but we never did get to see the mountain.

Their idea stayed in my head. Sunday morning I had to run an errand, and as I was driving I looked from a hilltop near my home and saw crystal clear in front of me: Mt. Rainier, 80 miles distant as the crow flies, indicating that the air was very clear. I immediately looked East and saw Mt. St. Helens (38 miles) bold and clear, rising on the horizon. I made a decision right there to head back to the volcano, on this brilliantly sunny day.

I stopped first at the Visitor’s Center, because there is a 3/4 mile trail that’s supposed to be lovely, and has a view of Mt. St. Helens. I asked an employee where to find the trail, and she asked which trail, and before I knew it she had convinced me to skip the one at the visitor’s center and to instead drive another hour down the road to the Hummocks Trailhead.

Hoffstadt Creek Bridge is 370 feet (113 m) high and 600 feet (183 m) long.

On the way I stopped for a bridge overlook. There are four similar bridges that span deep mountain canyons on the way to the mountain, with fascinating and eye-catching architecture. I like the look of the curved bridges better, but this straight one gives you an idea of what they look like.

Do not adjust your set, this is a perfectly focused photograph of Noble Firs.

Something that always baffles me is the eye-crossing effect of looking at the forests of Noble Fir planted by the Weyerhaeuser Company. These trees are the same age and look like exact duplicates of themselves for acres upon acres. Your eyes get confused trying to make sense of what you’re seeing. A Ranger I met at the Johnston Ridge Observatory a couple years ago called them Lego Trees, and that’s apt.

The road to the Johnston Ridge Observatory is closed for winter. But the road is open as far as the Hummocks Trailhead. It’s a clear trailhead with ample parking. On this sunny weekend day, half the spaces were filled. It makes me happy that so many people want to get outside and do things in November. During the winter I’m more inclined to curl up with my laptop and a blanket. Maybe I’m projecting, but I am so proud of myself when I do something ambitious in winter weather, that I am proud of all those other people too!

Sign at the beginning of the trail.

With the sun low in the sky, I faced directly into it. That was annoying, but it also made exaggerated shadows that added interest to the scene.

I arrived at 2:45 pm and moved quickly down the trail, aware that sunset is 4:30. It felt comfortably warm at about 52 degrees, but as soon as the sun set it would drop quickly to freezing. I did not want to be caught out wandering the valley after sunset.

The trail was well-worn and easy to follow, and lovely. It travels through the famous Mt. St. Helens hummocks. These hummocks are big chunks of the former peak of the mountain that were blown off the top and side during the eruption in 1980. The whole valley surrounding Mt. St. Helens is filled with these mini-mountains, and scientists have tracked each one back to where its original location once was on the long-lost pointed peak. Why on earth they would do that is beyond me, but bully for them for completing such a daunting task.

Trail wends over and through hummocks, west of Mt. St. Helens.

For the layperson, what may be most relevant about these hummocks is that they are remnants of a volcanic blast, they form today a most interesting landscape, and that there is a trail allowing us to get a nice close look at them and even to walk on top of them.

There were also stunning views of Mt. St. Helens from multiple locations.

These hummocks are still eroding, because of the Toutle River there. This leaves the face exposed and bare, instead of grass- or tree-covered.

Hummock hills are noticeable to the left, with the volcano on the horizon. You can see here that the blast in 1980 was not directly up, but to the side. In this photo, the left side is missing, leaving a U-shaped volcanic cone.

With the valley filled with hundreds of tiny mountains, it follows that a bunch of new tiny lakes were formed.

Portions of the trail are forested. Here the trail follows a creek.

I recall the volcanic eruption from my childhood, and the aerial images of barren moonscape left in all directions for miles. Thus it is delightful for me to stand in a forest, beside a creek, and know that this has all formed since that devastating day. The size of the trees may not seem impressive at first, considering that it has been 38 years. But it’s not that the trees were cut and the forests were free to begin re-forming the next day. Today’s forests had to recover from this:

Photograph two days after the May 1980 eruption. Photo by Jack Smith / AP

My path was through fields, streams, and forests. There were ducks on the ponds. It’s a healthy land and in a quick glance does not reveal that the old forest floor is buried beneath many feet of volcanic ash, and all this beauty before me sprung out from that poor beginning. Nature keeps me in awe.

Information sign at the shores of Coldwater Lake.

I completed the Hummocks Trail loop with plenty of sunshine left, so I went to explore nearby Coldwater Lake.

The trail at Coldwater Lake is wheelchair accessible, a trail feature I often notice. I think possibly I’m making a list in my mind of trails I will still be able to visit when my future self needs a wheelchair. Hiking a nature trail is one of my greatest joys in life, and I’m reassured that if my legs ever stop working, I’ll still be able to hit some trails.

The sun was very low and that made all my photos warm with light despite the quickening chill in the waning day.

Massive logs from the volcanic blowdown in 1980 remain for us to ponder.

The paved trail turns into wide boardwalks suitable for wheelchairs.

A family plays at the waterside in the reflection of Mt. St. Helens.

The boardwalk spans over the lake.

Some kayakers were returning to shore after a foray into the lake.

On my way home I stopped at the Castle Lake Overlook and spotted not only the snowy tip top of Mt. Adams, but also Mt. Rainier! The moon became visible, and an excited little boy yelled “Daddy! The sun is rising and the moon is rising AT THE SAME TIME!” He may not have had the semantics right, but his Daddy understood exactly what he was saying.

Moon over the tip of Mt. Adams (can you see it above the lake?) and Mt. St. Helens.

The view from the overlook. Again, the tip of Mt. Adams peeks into view.

Golden sunlight strikes the remaining leaves, as well as the snowy mountain.

On my way home along Washington Highway 504, I spotted a good view of Mt. Adams and pulled over to get this better shot for you.

 

Mt. Hood rises above Mirror Lake

Mt. Hood rises above Mirror Lake

In December I hiked to Mirror Lake and Tom Dick and Harry Mountain for the first time. Though the whole region was sunny that day, there was a little microclimate engulfing our local volcano, Mt. Hood. Snow actually fell during the hike. At the summit of the mountain, I was told that it is typically one of the best views around. Instead of vistas, I entertained myself with close-range snow and fog shots as the weak sunlight made half-hearted attempts to break through and did not succeed. You can read that blog post here if you like.

I went back last week. And this time I found what I had been promised: incredible views!

Looking across the lake up to the summit of Tom Dick and Harry Mountain, my next destination.

Looking across the lake up to the summit of Tom Dick and Harry Mountain, my next destination.

Trying to capture the iceberg blue in the shadows, but it doesn't show up.

Trying to capture the iceberg blue in the shadows, but it doesn’t show up.

The snow at this point was easy to walk through.

The snow at this point was easy to walk through.

First I had to get there. While the trail was clear in December, this time it was snow-covered from beginning to end. The popularity of this particular trail helped me, since I was able to follow tracks all the way to the summit. My timing was excellent because of the old snow and the weather. I wore only my regular hiking boots that I’ve been wearing for a decade, but the snow was frozen enough that I was able to walk along the top of it.  The day was warm enough that the top inch of snow was soft, so I got some traction, and most of the time I wasn’t in danger of sliding down the mountain on the frozen snow. (did you notice how I used the word ‘most?’)

I walked all around the lovely Mirror Lake. I was glad I decided to hit the lake first and catch some sun. By the time I left the mountain, it was deep in shadow due to our short winter days.

Only a few inches deep at the trailhead, the snow on the trail above the lake was at least two feet deep, possibly three feet deep as it reached Tom Dick and Harry mountain. Others before me had used snow shoes, and I saw ski tracks beside the trail as well.

As I neared the summit, the trail was hard to find because wind had swept away most of the tracks. But I could see the rocks at the top, dry in the sunshine and calling me up. The snow was not as hard there, possibly because of the warmth of the day. My boots punched through and I sank above my knees every third step. Hiking in snow is a fabulous workout! I highly recommend it. You work your legs and your butt, you gulp in that fresh mountain air, your pay-off is an amazing view, and your cool down is to head back down the trail again.

After a last gasping (like I said: it’s a workout) push through the snow, I made it to the top!

The glorious sun had baked the rocks dry at the top.

The glorious sun had baked the rocks dry at the top.

The south side of Mt. Hood rises above Mirror Lake.

The south side of Mt. Hood rises above Mirror Lake.

I expected to see Mt. Hood, and there it was, right in front of me and gloriously snow-covered. The bright blue of that much snow is a sight that always stirs me. Reminiscent of the first blue glaciers I ever saw, the summer when I was 16 and went to live with my Aunt and Uncle in Soldotna, Alaska. Despite the fact that I’ve learned to expect that kind of blue, it is still a wonderful sight.

What I did not expect to see was a whole string of volcanoes. Mt. Jefferson to the south, and Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams. And since this day was spectacular for miles and miles, I could clearly see Mt. Rainier from all the way up in Seattle! That is a view of FIVE volcanoes from one spot. I think it’s my record.

I had no one to share my enthusiasm with, since it was a Wednesday afternoon and the trail was empty. But I had cell reception on top of Tom Dick and Harry, so I sent a few selfies to Tara and to my friends at work.

I had not hiked far. In the bottom left, you can see the curve of the highway. That spot is just a few feet from where I parked the Jeep.

I had not hiked far. In the bottom left, you can see the curve of the highway. That spot is just a few feet from where I parked the Jeep.

Here's the money shot! Click the image so you can see them all, left to right: Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood. (Picture me jumping up and down with glee)

Here’s the money shot! Click the image so you can see them all, left to right: Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood. (Picture me jumping up and down with glee)

I included a shot of this ridgeline in the December post. It looks different this time, with all the sunshine!

I included a shot of this ridgeline in the December post. Different this time, with all the sunshine!

Mt. Jefferson to the south, beyond hazy azure hills.

Mt. Jefferson to the south, beyond hazy indigo hills.

I passed the lake on the way back down, and caught the evening light.

I passed the lake on the way back down, and caught the evening light.

One last look back up at the mountain where I had stood in the sunshine. Then it was time to go Into The Woods, and head back to the Jeep.

One last look back up at the mountain where I had stood in the sunshine. Then it was time to go Into The Woods, and head back to the Jeep.

One of my many guises

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