Tag Archives: Mt. St. Helens

Seeing the North Rim of St. Helens – Hiking the boundary trail to Coldwater Peak

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Saturday, 15-Aug-2020

 

This has been a strange year.

Yep.  Profound, that one, isn’t it?  Super unique, no one else has said that about 2020, I’ll bet.

 

While it’s not the most creative statement, it’s still really true for me – I’ve finally started stretching my legs and exploring Oregon again, seeing my home through new lenses, in a new light, and from new vantage points.  I’d run out of ideas for nearby hikes, but thankfully Laurel had a suggestion for us – The Northern side of Mt. St. Helens, hiking out to Coldwater peak…

 

Vital Statistics:

Length – 11.9 miles

Starting elevation – 4,180ft

Elevation gain – 2,785ft

Trail type – out and back

 

It was a bit longer than I’d normally do on my own, but we decided to go for it anyways – The weather in Portland was slated to be extremely hot (above 100 degrees), so any escape from the city would be preferable to staying in town.  We figured that 4,100ft would be enough to bring out some cooler weather to complement the excellent views of St. Helens that we’d be sure to find.

Well, we did find the views.

The heat… we also found that.

Turns out, 4,100ft isn’t actually that high.  Sure, it was cooler… but “cooler” is relative.  When we parked and put the top up on the car, it was solidly into the high 80s.  And on a trail with no shade, as the sun was rising… well, we definitely made it convincingly into the 90s while on the hike.

 

It was worth every second of it, though.  Even the ending part, where I was slowly melting into my boots, and Laurel was nearly dragging me back to the car.  I mean, it wasn’t really that bad, but I was definitely pretty tired and quite toasted by the time we made it back to the car.  The top stayed up for the drive home, if that wasn’t obvious.  Easier to crank the air conditioner.

The hike itself?  It was beautiful!  Excellent views of the North side of St. Helens, beautiful lakes, and a generally pleasant trail the entire way.  Not much shade, of course… but that’s what happens when a massive volcanic eruption decimates the entire landscape.

For those not in the know – The North side of St. Helens is where the majority of the eruption damage occurred.  The exact chain of events (as I learned) was that an earthquake triggered a massive landslide, exposing the core of the volcano, which then erupted into a series of pyroclastic flows.  Where we were hiking was the boundary of the closed-off zone, which is protected for study of wildlife renewal after cataclysmic events.  It’s really cool, and quite humbling to see just how extensive the damage was… and how well the landscape is healing itself.

 

Anyways, that’s a bit of a meandering way of saying that the hiking was beautiful, the company was great, and views were excellent, and the geologic factoids were very interesting.  There was even a cool natural arch, with some fun bouldering lines on it!  Ironically, better rock climbing than we’d found the previous weekend out at Larch Mountain… but let’s stick with the positive, hmm?  The rock quality was great, there was some shade, a good breeze… man, it was good times.

Still meandering… I think that’s about it.  The drive from Portland wasn’t bad, we had good music, and even stopped to get enchiladas and a marionberry shake on the way home.  Good times indeed!

Winter Camping on Mt. St. Helens

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Thursday and Friday, 07 & 08-Dec, 2017

 

It’s been a while since I’ve gone backpacking.

Busy work, not knowing much about trails in the Northwest, and a broken leg kind of contributed to that… but still.  No excuses.

 

It’s also been a while since I’ve attempted a summit out here… see the previously mentioned reasons.

 

It’s been way too long.  Sarah agreed.  Ollie agreed.  I think.  She might have just been hungry.  Either way, the three of us all agreed, packed up our gear, and took a drive out to Mount Saint Helens.

We had been talking about hiking up St. Helens for a while at this point, but never had the chance to do it; Not only is the mountain very committing (12 miles, with 5700+ ft of elevation gain), but we also have to contend with snow conditions, since the main route is prone to avalanche in some conditions.

 

 

 

 

We prepped the day before, packing and coordinating tons of gear between Sarah, Ollie and myself.  And by that, I mean that Sarah took a significant portion of the gear, while I stayed light and easy.  I mean, I didn’t slouch too much… mine was ~30 lbs, while hers was ~37 lbs, but still.  Those seven pounds don’t seem like a lot until your a few hours into it, and your legs don’t want to move.

 

We actually got into it on Thursday, driving up into Washington and getting our permits – not only a sno-park permit, but also the tree cutting permit!  Did I mention that?  We had an ancillary goal to this hike; we’d learned that you can legally harvest Christmas trees nearby, so after the hike planned on tracking down our own lovely tree!

The process was a bit more complex, of course.  So three stops and an internet search later, we gave up and just bought the permit online before driving into the national park.

 

Walking in was glorious.

Like I mentioned, it had been a while since we’d gone backpacking.  Just the simple act of walking uphill, carrying a pack, over the snow, with the looming mountain above us, was enough to send us into giggles.  We had a blast – stopping every so often to rest and enjoy the view, watching Ollie blast in and out of the tree line, and just enjoying the crisp air and warm sun.

And it was warm – almost unseasonably so, actually.  Sarah called it “summer conditions”, and it did worry us a little.  The warmer it gets, the softer the snow becomes… which might not seem like the worst thing.  But it means more slipping, and more effort to get the same amount of elevation.  At our elevation it wasn’t a major concern, but for our ascent the next day… well, we made sure to keep an eye on conditions.

We finally broke out of the tree line in the early afternoon, a fair bit ahead of the schedule we’d set for ourselves.  Which meant that we had even more time to set camp than expected… which meant that Sarah had time to construct what was undoubtedly the most impressive campsite I’ve ever seen.  A huge platform was excavated from the snow, leveled out and tamped down, with a windbreaker wall built up around the edges.  This thing even had steps leading into the tent.  Seriously, you don’t even know.

And I helped!  By boiling water.  And staying out of the way.  Turns out, snow skills are valuable when camping on snow.  Who knew?

Well, Sarah knew.  I learned quickly, after seeing how excellent the tent site became.

What we didn’t know, was quite how quickly fuel burns up at that elevation and temperature.  Sure, it was warm… but that’s when you’re walking with a pack.  The stove wasn’t walking… and was half-buried in the snow for stability.  Which led to a quite fast burn rate… which led to an empty canister.

We’d run out of fuel – dinner was made, thankfully, though we hadn’t had enough fuel to really boil as much water as we’d planned.  We ate and discussed, coming to two conclusions:

One, that we wished we had hot cocoa.

Two, that we probably had enough water to summit, but it’d be close.

Our plan was simple – start hiking early in the morning, and check in with our water supplies every two hours.  If we ran too low, we’d immediately turn around, ensuring that we had enough water for a well-hydrated return hike.  Not the ideal conditions, but that’s part of adventure, right?  Adapting, and making intelligent and informed decisions.

Our decision and plan made, we headed to bed.  At 5:40 in the afternoon.  It was dark and we were tired.  And we’d be starting in early in the morning…

 

In the morning, we really regretted running out of fuel.  Instant coffee is made to be reconstituted in hot water.  Not cold water.  When you pour it into cold water, you get a gross caffeine paste that wakes you up… half from the caffeine, and half from just how vile it tastes.  We both learned this the hard way, gulping down what we could before packing up and heading onward, breakfast bars in our hands and crampons on our feet.

Note: Sunrise over mountains is ridiculously, incredibly, unbelievably beautiful.  Just FYI.

We’re feeling good, having gotten moving a little bit before dawn, sometime around 5:30 or so.  It’s not until around 10:00 when we’re resting before the final push that our water situation started to get a bit grim, and we had to have the hard decision about whether to push onward or turn around.

In all honesty, we were’t super close to the summit – it was still maybe an hour to go ahead of us.  And that hour or two would have been rough, thanks to the warm weather and significant elevation gain.  In the end, it was a pretty quick conversation before we decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and headed back the way we came.

Descending was much quicker than ascending, thankfully, and a lot less draining on the water supplies.  I even did a bit of glissading (Editors note: That’s when you slide down the mountain on your butt.  Don’t worry, Ben had snow pants on) for the first time since my injury, which was super fun!  Ollie didn’t think so at first, though, and kept trying to catch me and stop me from falling… cute, but also scary since her way of stopping someone is to chomp on their jacket while bracing herself.  After that it was pretty flat anyways though, so we all walked the rest of the way back to camp without incident, continuing to massively enjoy the views as the sun finished illuminating the range around us.

 

 

Once we hit camp, we quickly packed up and headed out.

Wait, that sounds wrong.

Ohh right!  What I meant to say was, we bonked out and took a nap.  My mistake, those two things are so similar, amirite?

After our luxurious nap we pack up again (with Sarah again taking the lions share of the gear.  Thank you!) and start out on the rest of the hike.  It wasn’t short, I’ll admit to that… it seemed to drag on forever, even with the cool views and cool air, but thankfully the path was pretty clear and simple, so the snow didn’t slow us down too much.  It did get a little icy near the end, but nothing necessitating putting the crampons back on, thankfully.

The most excitement of the walk out, aside from dreaming of the snacks we’d left in the car for ourselves, was watching Ollie zip around.  She’d been pretty tuckered out for most of the hike down, but once we got back into treeline she perked right up, and started blasting around like normal.  Which was a bit annoying, since she lost a puppy-boot at one point.  Which, of course, caused us to stop for 20min while we searched her tracks to find the lost shoe.  Bluh.

 

Back at the car, we rested and recharged.  We’d stashed some brisket sandwiches and water for ourselves, and so were well fed and happy after a short break – ready to head off and find our tree!

Funny story though… the forest is pretty big.  I mean, we had a specific zone that we were supposed to harvest from… but that doesn’t narrow it down too much, when that zone is a few hundred acres.  Thankfully, we’d been given a bit of a tip from a ranger we’d run into, and had a pretty good idea that we’d find something good on a specific stretch of backwoods highway.

A stretch that just so happened to pass a really nice overlook of Mt. St. Helens, by the way… an overlook that we drove past just at sunset.  So clearly we stopped for a romantic sunset picnic of more snacks.

After our quick stop, it wasn’t much of a drive to the secret tree spot that we’d learned about.  We weren’t sure we’d recognize it when we got there…. but ohh man were we wrong.  We made a turn, and suddenly a massive forest of Christmas trees opened up in front of us, with giant pine trees towering at least 150ft above them.  It looked like ants walking around the feet of giants… all of which would make glorious trees for our livingroom!

It took a bit of doing, but we finally found the perfect one.  We wanted a tree that spoke to both of us – not something we were okay with, but something that we both knew was right.  Silly, but hush I don’t care we wanted it.  After following a few promising leads, we found it.

Literally.  You have no idea – this tree was actually honestly in a moonbeam.  We turned around a small copse of trees, and saw this single tree in a literal moonbeam, just waiting for us.  We both gasped, looked at each other, and hefted our tools.

Before long, the tree was in the box on the roof, and we were driving home.  We ordered two pizzas on the way, picking them up as we drove.

We then each ate an entire pizza.

Because we’re adults, and can do what we want.

Especially after hiking up and down a mountain, and finding a perfect Christmas tree.