Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mount St Helens Up Close and Personal

I love mountains. They are striking and stately, majestic even, towering over us all. You can't help but admire them, their rugged beauty, ancient history, one of nature's most impressive feats. But they can be volatile too. Mount St Helens (MSH) has enticed me for years, she's gorgeous and dangerous all at once. Of course she had to go on our Summer in Washington itinerary!

The Johnston Ridge Observatory is the visitor center at the end of Spirit Lake Highway (hwy 504), the Western entrance to Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument. From the Observatory, we hiked to Harry's Ridge, an 8 mile RT journey through the blast zone of the May 1980 eruption. Harry was a long time resident of Spirit Lake in the shadow of Mount St Helens, he couldn't bear to leave when she erupted and remains there with his beloved mountain in spirit today.

This was an amazing trail and we hit it at the perfect time of were exploding all over the hillsides, it was sunny and 75 degrees, very few people on the trail...I think we'll have to call this a Favorite!

About halfway up the 50+ mile road to the Mountain we had a great view of the Toutle River flood plain.
This river was the primary flow zone for landslide and eruption debris after the 1980 eruption.
The river runs gray with sediment which continues to flow in abundance from the Mountain
and will likely do so for many years.

Just a quarter mile into the trail we are entranced by the flowers and the views.

Did I mention the flowers?

To the North were mountains denuded of trees in the 1980 blast, about 10 miles from MSH.

The trail hugs Johnston Ridge and draws us nearer to the heart of the blast zone.
Hans is a small figure on the trail.

This is a look back at Johnston Ridge, the visitor center is practically invisible atop the ridge.
This ridge took the brunt of the blast and channeled the landslide debris to the West,
down the Toutle River flood plain.

We are right there, face to face, with this incredible, living mountain.
It's impossible not to be bowled over by the obvious force and destructive nature of the
landslide and eruption 34 years earlier.

The trail continued around Johnston Ridge and into a small valley full of hummocks,
large deposits of rocks and debris left behind as the initial landslide moved through.

Lupine are very hardy and were the first flowers to come back to the devastated landscape just a year after the blast.

Rising out of the valley we were treated to incredible views of Spirit Lake and Mt Adams, 45 miles away.
Thousands of tree trunks from the 1980 blast float upon Spirit Lake.

Before us, the end of our trail enticed us toward a full frontal view of Mount St Helens.

We shared Harry's Ridge with a seismic monitoring station, and no one else!

Here's a little closer look.
It's amazing to think she went from 9,667 feet and cone shaped to 8,365 feet in just 10 minutes on May 18, 1980.
A 5.1 magnitude earthquake triggered the largest recorded debris landslide ever. The resulting loss of external "skin" allowed internal pressure to blast forth from the North side of the mountain in a pyroclastic flow that flattened everything for 230 square miles.

The bulge in the center of the crater is evolving.
Activity over the last 34 years has replaced 7% of the lost mountain.

Steam issues from a gaping crater.

Steam billows from the top edges periodically.

Ash was deposited up to 150 feet deep in the blast zone. the Toutle River carves a new canyon through the ash.

Look at those grins!


  1. Incredible eruption…the devastation was massive.
    thanks for reminding us of our place in this world :)
    Box Canyon Mark

    1. It's amazing to see how everything is coming back in 3.5 decades. Such a fascinating place to explore.

  2. We will remember this trail for when we get there in early August.

  3. Wow, what a tour! You really need to see Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho....not the same, but magnificent in a different way.

    1. Nan, Yes Craters of the Moon is incredible as well. We checked it out in 2012, while we were staying in Idaho.

  4. Thanks for the hike, you were very fortunate to have such a nice day..

  5. Wow! Awesome hike into such gorgeous country. Looks like you picked the perfect time of year for it, catching all those flowers in bloom. Thanks for sharing! We'll put this on our list of places to visit in the near future.

    1. I don't think the timing could have been any is worth the trip!

  6. Perfection! You did arrive at the best of time and both of you are in shorts too! Beautiful and magnificient captures. And love those Lupines!
    It was May when we were there and it was pretty cold still and snow on the ground.

    1. Heck, I was happy it wasn't any hotter! We're expecting temps in the 90's this weekend!

  7. So glad you had a perfect day:) This is such an amazing place. We were in awe by the story. Now we need to go back and hike that trail! Thanks for sharing the beautiful photos! Love that great couple at the end:)

    1. You guys would absolutely love this hike! I know there are many other trails at the park, but this one seemed to have the best views of the devastation, and recovery.

      Ahhh, thanks!

  8. Wow, what a place! I'm surprised that the blast zone is still so evident after 3 decades, but if the wildflowers are any evidence, it's going to be an incredibly lush valley again someday! Loved the close up shots of the mountain too-- like looking right into the mouth of the planet! Amazing!

  9. Now that's a hike! I am in total awe just looking at your pictures. We do hope to be there next summer...our list is growing! Thank you Lisa! And yes, the flowers are beautiful!

  10. We are well into the full heat of summer with many of the flowers come and gone so it's delightful to "walk" a trail in full bloom! We always speculate on what eruptions and erosion and movement caused the landscape we are traveling. It's fascinating to have such a recent event in an area that is accessible. We look forward to getting up there, but for now your post was the next best thing! Thanks for all the great details :-).

  11. You definitely timed it right for the wildflowers. I love hiking amongst the flowers -- we were enthralled by the undulating carpets of wildflowers a couple of summers ago on Mount Rainier (and the fantastic hiking). Mount St Helens is now on our list. Gorgeous shot of Spirit Lake!

  12. Perfect all around, the day, the place, the flowers. Definitely on our list and I may even block off 7/11 as the date to try to be there and hike this exact hike. Your pictures are almost surreal they are so gorgeous.