Thursday, 16 June 2016

Mt St Helens - the Story of a Hike and an Eruption .

To better enjoy the photos, please click on them to increase their size.

Travelling back to Australia after visiting my wonderful son and daughter in law, in Banff Canada, I managed to twist my husband's arm hard enough, that he organised a 5 day stop over in Portland Oregon. My desire to visit this area had grown over the past few years of following blogs of the area, especially that of 'Linda's Lens'.

Linda very kindly offered to take a flexi day off work and take me hiking on the Johnson / Harry's Ridge Trail at Mt St Helen's - 13.6 kms, in quite hot, sunny conditions. Thankfully it wasn't in the 38C temperatures of the day before. I was even more grateful that the wildflower explosion we witnessed, hadn't wilted under those conditions.
My first view of Mt St Helens.

"On the morning of May 18, 1980, a 5.1 magnitude earthquake shook Mt St Helens and the north flank of the mountain avalanched downward. A powerful lateral eruption blasted to the north and a vertical eruption carried ash more than 19 kilometres into the air. The eruption continued into the late afternoon as mudflows and mixtures of hot gasses, ash and pumice surged down the flanks of the valley"
[Quote from the packaging of a hiking pin, I bought.]

I remember being stunned by the all the images showing the magnitude of the 1980 explosion. National geographic covered it so well.  To be hiking here was a dream come true.

It was a 2 hour drive from Portland, but we managed to pull into the parking lot of Johnson's Ridge Observatory about 9am, after a short visit to Coldwater Lake. Coldwater Lake is a barrier lake, created when the mountain rushed down Toutle River.

Mt St Helens can't be seen from the observatory car park, but as we set off along the ridge, it soon came into view. I gasped in awe of its staggering, distant beauty, enhanced by the bright colours of the wildflowers surrounding us.

The scale of distance in this area is difficult to determine. Mt St Helens appears to be a short distance away, but if you had permission to hike across, it would actually take a good day to reach. This side [north] is protected to allow scientists to monitor the areas recovery. During winter, the southern slopes are actually skied on. Linda has hiked up and skied down. I am full of admiration.

As we hiked along the ridge line, Mt St Helens was almost constantly in view. A riot of colour lined the path, slid down the steep slopes, caressed the fallen trees and crept into into unbelievable nooks and crannies of the sometimes rocky terrain.
Paintbrush, penstemon and lupine. 
Avalanche Lily

Lupine and Pussy Paw



The trail dipped and rose along the ridgeline, passed through low growing bushes and barren areas, narrowed to negotiate the Devil's Elbow and climbed steeply along Harry's Ridge to our final destination and lunch spot, with its panoramic views of Mt St Helens, Mt Adams and a distant Mt Hood.

Looking back to our starting point.

The initial wide trail.

Devil's Elbow section.

Halfway - the Devils Elbow bend.

The ascent to the crest of Harrys Ridge.

About 12.30 pm, saw us at the top of Harrys Ridge with a direct view to Mt St Helens.

The story of Harry's Ridge, taken from Linda's blog of a previous hike.

"Harrys Ridge is named for Harry Truman, a crotchety old man who owned a lodge on Spirit Lake.  He lived alone with his cats.  When the mountain threatend to erupt and evacuations were ordered, he refused to leave his home.  The authorities came to take him to safety, but Harry just sat down on the steps of his home and said, "If this mountain is going to blow up, I'm going to sit here and let it take me. I have lived in this house all my life, and I am not going to live anywhere else".  And that is what happened.  Harry and his cats perished in the 1980 eruption, buried under tons of debris."

It was a perfect lunch spot with its 180 degree views.
Linda enjoying her lunch with Mt Adams in the background.

As we had made our final ascent along Harry's Ridge, Mt Adams and Spirit lake were constantly in our view. 
The force of the eruption, had shattered trees, with the wind carrying them over the next ridge. An extraordinary large number were dumped in Spirit Lake. Thirty-six years later they are still floating here, moving at the whim of the winds. The force of the eruption also created another lake well above Spirit Lake.
First views of Mt Adams

Distant Mt Hood, which I would visit two days later.

The Eruption.
Mt St Helens caldera, with its central dome, a mass of steaming brown lava, growing at a very, very slow pace. 
Not steaming, just dust blowing.
Snow fed waterfalls at its lower lip.
The now wide Toutle River plain, of ash, mud and pumice.
A floating mass of tree trunks.
Unusual features at the end of Spirit Lake.
Shattered tree stumps

A ridge of blown over trees, all facing the same direction.

At the completion of our hike we visited the observatory to pay our park fees. Our mornings early arrival had meant the centre wasn't open, but also meant that we had had the trail to ourselves, until the later part of the day. As we walked the last kilometre, I realised just how fortunate we had been, not to have had to share the trail.

The final highlight of the day, was to view a 20 min movie of the story of Mt St Helen's eruption. It was excellent, but a surprise awaited. As the movie screen folded away, a curtain backdrop slowly lifted revealing magnificent Mt St Helens.

Finally, just a few more pics showing the grandeur, that had my happiness meter spiking throughout the day.


A totally awesome day. My deepest thanks Linda for this wonderful opportunity to explore just a small part of your magical outdoors.

I would love to read your comments.


  1. Fabulous series, totally enjoyable.
    Wonderful that Linda was your tour guide, there's none better.
    Thanks for sharing your awesome adventure!

    1. Thank you Laura for your lovely comments. As it was such a special day for me, I really hoped the post would convey Mt St Helens magic.
      Yes, it was fantastic to be with Linda, after enjoying her blog for so long.

  2. Great recap and photos of our day! It was wonderful to meet you and show you one of my favorite places to hike. Now I need to save my $$ for a trip down your way. :)

    1. Looking forward to that. Happy hiking in the mean time.

  3. WOW! I've always wanted to visit there, too, but after seeing your spectacular photos, I want to even more. Thanks for taking me along - at least, virtually!

  4. It was odd to see pictures taken from spots I know-- Excellent pictures! I'm glad you had a sunny, clear day to see everything. And my Indian Paint brush had dew from a cloud that was sitting on top of Johnston Ridge. Well done, Helen!

    1. Thanks Bill. It was a brilliant day. As we drove up, I was trying to pick the ridge where you take so many of your pics of this incredible mountain.
      We passed a large lake with hyacinth floating around the edges. I wondered if this is where some of your lovely shots come from.
      I loved our visit to Columbia Gorge, based at Cascade Locks, but I had expected the river to be more like many of your train shots. From flying in on a clear day, I expect they were taken on a reach much further up river.

    2. Yes, Helen--- things are quite different once you get to Hood River and points east. Each side has its good points, but I love the dry side for pictures. I look forward to our next trip out there---once it starts cooling off again in the Fall.

      The lake is Silver Lake, and yes, the wetlands are at the very first visitors center on the way up. The Elk Rock Viewpoint near the crest of the climb is usually a good spot as is the Castle Lake viewpoint just east of there. Our favorite spot on Johnston Ridge is the Loowit viewpoint just before the crowded visitors center. And--- Coldwater Lake. Love it all!

    3. We didn't stop at that visitor centre, but its lovely being able to picture where your photographs come from.

  5. Absolutely stunning! I think it must be the best period with all the wild flowers. What a wonderful way to end your holiday.

    1. Thankfully spring was about 5 weeks early wherever we went.
      Possibly not good in a global sense but perfect for my visit.

  6. How wonderful to be able to met up with a blogging friend to go on such an incredible hike together. Love, love, love your photos.

    1. Thank you. I just loved, loved, loved where Linda took me.

  7. WOW what incredible beauty! Your day shared with Linda looks like perfection to a T!

  8. Hot! but so clear in comparison to the following days. Like all my hikes in the Rockies, just amazing.

  9. Hi Helen, I'm visiting you from Linda's blog. I can see why your happiness meter was spiking. What glorious landscapes and an abundance of wildflowers. It's always fun to meet a blog friend.

  10. Hi Helen, i am new here just came from Linda's. It looks like most of us came here from there, meaning she also made a wonderful documentary of your trek, and thanks for you both because i might not be able to see it in this lifetime, yet i felt so personal through the 2 of you. The landscape is awesome, and MSH is truly magical. I can already see the dome forming, wonder when it will burst next. I am so envious of you, and congratulations for a dream come true.

    That was what happened when i went to NZ from Auckland to Queenstown, and through a 5hr bus trip to Milford Sound. The feeling, which you call "spirit soaring"was with me too as that was my first time to see snow caps. They were so near on the road to MS. Have you been there?

  11. Hi I came over from Linda's! What a great hike!! Your photos are awesome! :)

  12. Hi Helen, I hopped over from Lindas. How fun that you two got to meet up and hike together. Hubby and I traveled to OR a little over a year ago. We got to have lunch with Linda, but didn't get a hike in. OR is a gorgeous place! Love all of the wildflowers that were blooming on this hike. Interesting learning about crotchety old Harry.