Wanderlust Wednesday: Mount St. Helens

Mount St. Helens

August 2013

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This past summer, my life was filled with college classes. Genetics, Philosophy, Literature, and African Biology consumed my brain lobes.

BUT it wasn’t all bad! During my brief 3 week pre-fall-semester-break, my parents and I went on a trip to the Pacific NW: Flying to Portland, driving through Mount St Helens and Mt Rainier, and ending up in Seattle. It was an amazing trip, one of my favorites yet!

Of all the adventures we had out there, one of my fondest memories was a hike I took with my dad.

…I guess I have an unintentional theme with my Wanderlust Wednesdays…What can I say, I have an affinity for hiking! 😀

So where was this magical hike?

Mount St. Helens!

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Similar to Half Dome, there was a lottery system to be able to climb the actual volcano. We didn’t luck out this time around, but we weren’t too disheartened because the weather was overcast and semi-rainy. But despite that, we managed to get in a really great hike! 🙂

First up, some quick background facts:

  • Mount St. Helens is about 50 miles northeast of Portland and 96 miles south of Seattle.
  • If you don’t know the history of Mount St. Helens, it’s mainly known for its catastrophic eruption on May 18, 1980. It was the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in US history. 57 were killed and the pyroclastic flows and massive debris avalanche triggered by a 5.1 earthquake destroyed 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railways, and 185 miles of highway. The eruption also reduced the elevation of the mountain’s summit from 9,677 ft. to 8,365 ft., replacing it with a 1 mile wide horseshoe-shaped crater.
  • It’s still an active volcano dun dun dunnnn

My dad and I left our hotel (WHICH WAS AWESOME) around 7am with backpacks stocked full of snacks, drinks, and toilet paper.

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We saw that most hikes began at the Johnston Ridge Observatory, so we took the winding mountain roads and headed there in our car. The journey to the Observatory was an adventure in itself! The volcano would pop in and out of the rainclouds and cast an ominous, spooky shadow over the landscape. It was amazing to witness forest damage still in the area almost 30 years after the eruption.

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We arrived around 8am to an empty parking lot. It was overcast and a bit chilly, so we were glad to have worn jackets.

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After snapping a few pictures at the Observatory and checking out the monument for those that lost their lives in the eruption, we hit the trails.

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We joked about how we could see the observatory on almost the entire hike. I was scared people could see me pee in the wilderness on the high powered telescopes! 😉

We decided to take the Windy Ridge trail, and my dad turned on his little GPS so we could track our progress.

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One of the most amazing things about this hike was the utter silence. Think of yourself in one of those padded jail cells, or a snorkeling under water– absolutely NO sound. It was the epitome of peaceful and yet, with the giant volcano looming overhead, it was kind of creepy. Occasionally, we’d hear a bird or two, but there wasn’t an abundance of fauna.

However, the hike made up for its lack of fauna with its landscape. My dad and I would be left speechless, or find ourselves constantly repeating, “WOW!!” to each other at the sheer magnitude of the volcano and the path of its destruction.

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There were fields of fallen trees, varying substrates (giant boulders, to fine grain volcano ash, to black volcanic rock, to green grass), and babbling brooks all along the path. There was only one difficult, narrow part of the path that skirted a sheer cliff face, but besides that, the hike was relatively easy.

After stopping for snacks and a chance to take some pictures at viewing points, we continued down the path to overlook Spirit Lake. This iconic lake was STILL filled with trees and debris from the initial blast. It was truly a sight to take in!

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We descended further into the valley and heard some bizarre sounds in the distance that managed to break the silence. We looked around us to see it was a big herd of elk coming up from the lake! They kept their distance, but it was neat to witness nonetheless. We were also greeted by a flock of Canadian geese coming out of the marsh grass.

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The trail led further toward the volcano, but we decided to turn around because the weather was looking worse as the hours ticked by and we didn’t want to risk lightning. I managed to snap some last minute pictures of the happy little flowers all over the Spirit Lake valley before hitting the trail, though!

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On the journey back to the Observatory, we were led by a multitude of chipmunks who accompanied us for lunch. They were stealthy little ninjas! So hard to photograph!! We ended up finishing around 1pm.

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The strange thing is, we only saw 4 other people on the trail during our entire hike. It was nice to be free from a congested path and just enjoy the silence though. Very peaceful 🙂

After enjoying the Observatory displays, we headed back to our hotel, kicking off our hiking boots in the car. And right at that moment, it started to POUR! My dad and I looked at each other and smiled, saying, “Just in time!”

In all, we hiked 10.6 miles in about 5 hours. Such a unique, almost outer-space-like hike. One that I’ll never forget!

After unloading our stuff back at the hotel, we checked out another visitor center for the volcano with my mom, and walked a neat nature path out back.

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But soon, our tummies were grumbling for some mountain food. So, for dinner, we found an AMAZING little roadside restaurant near the volcano called Patty’s Place. They had Elk burgers, chicken and dumplings, and homemade cobblers, along with and I had to get an elk burger and MAN it did not disappoint! I got the elk burger (sans bun) and it was one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. If you happen to see it while you’re up there, you HAVE to stop in. I promise, it does not disappoint! The waiters were so sweet and the down home atmosphere was extremely welcoming. They even had a neat little gift shop, an outdoor eating patio with a great view, and a fireplace!

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Truth be told, it was one of the best days ever. Spending time with my parents, breathing fresh mountain air, standing in awe of God’s nature, and eating some FINE grub–it was just incredible. I can’t wait to return one day. Thank you Mount St Helen’s for being such a lovely hostess!

VERY last

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4 Comments

  1. My favorite part about hiking is definitely the scenery! I always feel like I’m exploring new territory, even if it’s a hike I’ve done before. And now I really want to go to Mount St. Helens, it looks so cool and unlike any other hike I’ve been on!

  2. I’ve never been to Mount St. Helens, but I am SO close I NEED TO GO! This recap was awesome and your photos make me want to go out in nature RIGHT NOW! What a perfect time of year to go. That restaurant looks adorable too!

  3. Obviously I love this. As we’ve already discussed your Wanderlust Wednesday theme has me head over heels for the blog (and you 😉 )! I’ve decided that we need to re-create all trips you post about here. Mount St.Helens is amazing. How crazy that you only saw 4 other during the entire hike – but major peace and quite for you to enjoy your time that much more! Yay!

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