It is no secret that I am endlessly fascinated by Mount St. Helens.
That fascination has led me to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, about an hour and fifteen minutes away from my home, three times so far this year. Saturday, I took the opportunity to drive there again, but this time wanted to hike to Harry’s Ridge to get what I thought would be an unrivaled view of the volcano.
I loaded up the car and headed south on Interstate 5, then south again on state Route 505 through Toledo and out past Toutle, eventually connecting with state Route 504 and leading me to Johnston Ridge Observatory. From there, my hike began and would take me the majority of Saturday to complete.
Only the penitent man shall pass!
There were not too many people on the trail on Saturday, even though it was Memorial Day weekend. Most stayed behind at the Johnston Ridge Observatory, which was the starting point for my hike that I initially planned to only entail the 8.3-mile loop to Harry’s Ridge and back.
Of course, with narrow passageways and a bit of elevation gain throughout the area, a good portion of the trail was not for the young or the not-so-sure-footed to hike.
Don’t lose your footing on the Boundary Trail. This can be a dangerous area.
The trail to Harry’s Ridge opens up, and although it temporarily takes you out of view of Mount St. Helens, you get to see some snow-capped peaks such as Coldwater Peak in the distance.
Hiking toward Harry’s Ridge. There are many inclines on the way there.
Keep climbing upward and you’ll eventually come to the Harry’s Ridge trail that takes you to the viewpoint on top the giant ridge. You’ll know you’re getting close when Spirit Lake comes into full view — it looks vastly different than it did May 17, 1980.
A view of Spirit Lake, a brand-new body of water that remains fragile.
Keep walking up the Harry’s Ridge trail and soon you’ll come to an overlook that gives you a grand view of Mount St. Helens directly facing the north side of the mountain, where the lateral blast came from. It’s a great view of the volcano, even when obscured by clouds. It still gives one a great perspective of just how much of the mountain was blown away in the eruption, and it’s mind-boggling to see it from this angle.
The view from Harry’s Ridge. Unfortunately, it would be awhile before the clouds would disappear.
I ended up making decent time, motoring up the ridge from the starting point at Johnston Ridge Observatory in just under 1 hour, 30 minutes.
The views to the east are spectacular. On a clear day you can see Mount Adams, but even on a cloudy day you can get a view of the picturesque Spirit Lake area and the regeneration still taking place.
A phone panorama of Spirit Lake, untouched by human hands since 1980.
Once I came down from the ridge, I wasn’t satisfied with my hike for the day. The mountain had been enshrouded in clouds, and even though there is MUCH more than just the mountain to see at the monument, I needed more. So off I went to the Truman Trail, on a journey that would take me through the heart of the blast zone.
Truman Trail begins. You can begin a hike around the mountain from here.
About a mile into the Truman Trail, the sun began to burn off the clouds. Could it be that I could see the whole crater from the north for the first time in my life?
As I got closer to the mountain, the clouds began to burn off.
Looking good so far…and just a few minutes after I took that last picture, lo and behold, there stood Mount St. Helens in all her devastated glory.
Fifteen minutes after that last shot, the clouds were gone.
The Truman Trail winds its way around several hummocks, small hills and trees — even traversing small streams a few times — before leading hikers into a pumice plain. Welcome to the core of the blast zone.
The mountain looms over the pumice plains.
Stop and take a look to the west, and you can see signs of life. A stream feeds Spirit Lake, surrounded on both sides by vegetation that is beginning to take root and sprout up in the years following the eruption.
A look back reveals new life inside the blast zone. Incredible to see the recovery after just 34 years.
The further you hike down the Truman Trail, the closer you get to the mountain and the more impressive the view becomes. Before too long, Loowit Falls is visible — a waterfall on the edge of the crater created by snowmelt inside the mountain.
A man ahead of me…
The hike along Truman Trail leads one along several areas teeming with plant life and fauna as well.
As mentioned before, plant life is coming back along the trail. Red paintbrush is abundant along several areas of the path, and the color reminds one to stay on the path and not veer off it — these plants are, once again, very fragile.
Red paintbrush is in bloom, and plentiful close to the volcano.
The Truman Trail alternates passing through landscapes of rock and vegetation, also leading people through small creeks. The closer you get, the more rockfields you navigate through. The trail becomes much more narrow and begins to be delineated only by large posts that show you the general direction in which to travel.
More navigating through rocks.
Small trees like this are few and far between, but it is encouraging to see them begin to pop up again.
Another look back shows just how far one has come, along with giving a rather impressive view of Spirit Lake surrounded by smaller mountains.
Foreground: A hummock. Background: Spirit Lake.
The trail passes a neat geological feature in which a mud and water flow had carved a passageway from the mountain. Seeing Mount St. Helens in the background and this in the foreground made me wonder what kind of force the eruption blasted the valley floor with.
Amazing to see the path carved by a water and mud flow down from Mount St. Helens.
The walking path hugs the edge of the bank.
I checked my watch just after 6 p.m. and noticed I was still 2 miles from Loowit Falls. I wouldn’t quite make it out there, but I was satisfied with a hike that brought me the closest to the north side of the mountain that I had ever been. I turned around, but before I left I grabbed my Canon camera and got a shot of the mountain before clouds began to cover it again.
One final look back at the massive mountain, and again it is amazing to see the lava dome in the middle.
The way back is just as scenic as the way to the mountain.
Which way to go?
Parting shot from the Truman Trail before daylight ends.
Stopped for a quick shot with my Canon T2i.
It was fitting to see a sunset right before I returned to my car at the Johnston Ridge Observatory parking lot at 9 p.m. After 16.78 miles, I needed to rest my feet and I did so as I watched the sun go down. It was also fitting that I was one of the last people there that evening, just hours after the parking lot had been so full that I needed to park far from the observatory’s entrance.
The sun sets over my hike. I knocked out 16.78 miles in total!
If you want to hike to these points beyond the Johnston Ridge Observatory, note that you’ll need to bring a few supplies. There is no water source along the trails, so a hydration pack is the best option. Carry some food as well (I carry a massive supply of granola bars), and invest in some good hiking boots and trekking poles. The poles will prove invaluable throughout the hike.