Jake vs. the Volcano

August 11, 2007.
Boundary Trail to Harry’s Ridge out and back, about 8 miles and 1000′ ele. gain

No visit to the Northwest is complete without checking out some of the local volcanoes so I decided to take my brother on a hike exploring the north side of Mt. St. Helens. I’d never been out to this side of the mountain before so I was excited to get an early start on this gorgeous summer day.

We began at the Johnston Ridge Observatory, where a viewing platform provides an in-your-face look at the crater. We oohed and aahed as we continued along the paved Eruption trail that zigzagged through some carefully placed blast paraphernalia. The birds were singing and the wildflowers were putting on a lovely show. At the end of this silly tourist pathway we emerged on to a more interesting, dusty path that took us to dramatic, cliffy edges and wrapped around piles of ash and scree. Each twist and turn brought more colorful flowers, more stunning mountain views, and other surprises. Early on my brother spotted a sizeable herd of elk that quickly scattered upon realizing we were there. Our presence several miles away was enough to spook them!

The trail bounced up and down, traversed fields, entered canyons and finally ended up on a lovely ridgeline. Grass rippled in the cooling breeze that passed over the ridge. To our left, the sun reflected brightly off Spirit Lake and its cache of fallen timber. Mt. Adams peeked out above a layer of white clouds and even Mt. Hood made an appearance over the flanks of St. Helens. We walked along the ridge until we reached a spot where some old, rusty equipment was parked. Here, we busted out the 7-11 sandwiches we’d acquired earlier today and ate lunch under the careful eye of a hungry chipmunk.

Spirit Lake, Mt. Hood, and Mt. Adams were all laid out before us. Needless to say, Mt. St. Helens had a grand presence as well. It felt like paradise. The Funyuns only added to the joy I experienced on the hill today.

All good things must come to an end, including sandwiches made with white bread and American cheese, so we picked up and retreated along the ridge. Jake was bursting with energy and we barely stopped talking for a minute as we followed our route back to the car. The air felt hotter now, and we were glad we toughed out an early start. As we approached the Observatory, we began to spy tourists on the trail. Again, we really lucked out in seeing hardly anyone–tourists sleep in.

I was dismayed to learn that the food cart was not open for business so there would be no greasy treat to hold me over during the drive home. But this was an excellent hike that only spurred more interest in exploring the dramatic habitat surrounding the blast zone.

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