Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mount St. Helens and Flowers

I've just returned from Glacier National Park, and have had a busy day cleaning, organizing, etc. You know, all the things you have to do upon returning from an extended trip! The family is beat as to be expected - hey, we played hard!

The trip was excellent, and I am in the middle of editing images now. They will follow shortly, rest assured!

In the meantime, I realize I have not shared my last trip to Mount St. Helens yet, which included a supreme flower show. May I?

I drove down to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument on a Saturday afternoon after celebrating my daughter's 7th birthday at an amusement park. I was beat before I got started!

What a difference a few weeks makes. Three weeks prior, my daughter and hiked up to St. Helens Lake, finding snow above 4,500' and a frozen lake.

This was a much different setting, with wildflowers ablaze across the landscape from the very beginning of the trail. I arrived under blue skies, but as predicted, clouds began moving in from the west creating some very dramatic light. Half an hour before sunset the clouds consumed the mountain for the evening.

I left the Johnstone Ridge parking lot at 9:00 pm for my next destination - Windy Ridge.

Just as I was about to the Windy Ridge parking lot, I saw a little bit of fog. Then BAM! I was in a white out! Solid white. I had to come to a complete stop as I couldn't even see 10' in front of me. I tried to roll ahead slowly, but couldn't. I waited for a break and finally got a quick glimpse of a white paint line on the pavement - a parking stall. I carefully pulled the truck in and parked it. The wind was howling and the clouds were just screaming over the parking lot. It was midnight.

I grabbed my headlamp and got out of the truck to look for the TH and figure out where in the parking lot I was. I couldn't find it and decided to just hope for better conditions in the morning. I began to return to the truck, but couldn't find it. I wandered and wandered. I had only ventured about 50-60' away from it, but somehow got disoriented. Finally after about 10 minutes my headlamp caught the side reflector of my truck.

I had planned to sleep in the bed of the truck, but conditions were too unpleasant. So I set my alarm for 4:00 am and reclined the drivers seat.

Wake up time came and conditions had not changed. I snoozed another 45 minutes and awoke to lighter skies. I successfully located the TH and was somewhat embarrassed at how close I was actually parked to it.

I grabbed my gear and began my hike in the still heavy fog. About 200 yards up the trail, I emerged out of the fog to clear skies and clouds filling the valley below. Mt. Adams was clear in the distance. What a difference escaping the Windy Ridge parking lot (low point in the ridge) meant.

I arrived at the Truman-Abraham Saddle as first light began to highlight the clouds above the peak.

From the junction I went up, following the Abraham Trail up a ridge with fantastic views. Wildflowers were out in force, influencing my pace substantially.

Soon I arrived at the Plains of Abraham, and remembered just how barren this landscape is. I walked south for a ways before returning to the junction and setting my sights on Windy Pass.

The Windy Trail has suffered from serious erosion and washout, and is difficult to follow in stretches. As it climbs to the pass, erosion has created some exposed stretches as you traverse the steep hillside. From the pass the trail descends steeply, and again goes thru some washouts at a couple of steep gully crossings.

But there was reward at the end of my descent. Pumice Plains was carpeted with lupine! I have never seen lupine in such abundance before. The ground was a solid purple, and the perfume was so intense I wished I could bottle it. What a treat the senses to absorb.

Finally, it was time to return to the truck for the long drive home.

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