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Jonny V
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PostMon May 18, 2020 5:12 pm 
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In honor of the 40th anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens I thought I'd post a trip report from my first visit to the area last summer.

I had long wanted to get up close and personal with Mt. St. Helens, especially the northern section. Iíd seen photos from north of Spirit Lake looking into the mighty jaws of the crater. It had been 39 years since Mt. St. Helens blew the entire top off the mountain back in May 1980 and I was very interested to see both the devastation that had occurred and how much rebirth had taken place since that day.

The area we had originally wanted to go was to a camp on the south side of Whittier Ridge in the Mt. Margaret Backcountry where the camp actually looks down across Spirit Lake to St. Helens. I waited too long to try and reserve the camp and it was taken on the dates we wanted but Greg and Cindy managed to secure two different camps for the two nights we planned to be out. Since these camps were on the north side of Whittier Ridge, the only views of St. Helens would be early in the hike before dropping behind the ridge. However, this north side also had its unique characteristics and a beauty all its own.

This map shows our route. Starting at the Norway Pass trailhead, we hiked over Norway Pass and explored the length of the north side of Whittier Ridge which followed Trail #211 past a string of lakes to the junction with Trail #214.

We were a bit concerned about the weather forecast which hovered between cloudy and rainy so we kept our fingers crossed for the former. Backpacking in the rain is a challenge. At the trailhead, we started out in a very light drizzle but the temps were comfortable and it wasnít long before the drizzle fizzled. Our first day was a planned five miles up over two passes and down to our first camp. I cannot describe adequately and photos just donít convey the plethora of color that surrounded us in the form of every conceivable wildflower imaginable. Brilliant orange Indian Paintbrush. white Glacier Lilies, Red Columbine, purple Lupine - Cindy and Greg were much better at naming all the flowers along the way but we hit it at a great time if you like lots of color!

Indian Paintbrush.

A bit over two miles we came to Norway Pass and our first opportunity for the famous view of Spirit Lake with St. Helens behind it. Sadly, the clouds were much too low and although we could see Spirit Lake our views of the St. Helens crater were obscured by clouds. That was extremely disappointing but we knew there would still be a lot of other things to see.

Spirit Lake from Norway Pass

Our first obstacle came in the form of a somewhat sketchy rock cliff that had an eroded section of trail across it. We handled the dicey section like the pros that we are and worked our way higher until we came to the high point of the day which was Bear Pass.

Sketchy section

Spirit Lake from Bear Pass

Spirit lake was cool with a large amount of dead trees filling up the north end of the lake. When St. Helens blew, 300 mph winds created by the eruption and the incredible massive landslide instantly leveled a large part of the surrounding pristine forest and we observed the destruction all along our route. We tried to put on our most positive faces but we were clearly disappointed at the lack of big views.

Red Columbine

From Bear Pass we dropped over to the north side of Whittier Ridge and came to the first lake on our route called Grizzly Lake. By the way, with names like Bear Pass and Grizzly Lake you would think there were bears in the neighborhood and you would be right. We saw bear tracks and several sets of bear scat, some of it very fresh but we never saw any bear on this trip.

Grizzly Lake

The clouds were rolling in and out all day long so you might have a view and seconds later it would go away. The fact that it wasnít actually raining made the fog much more tolerable and actually the resulting lower temperatures were ideal for lugging a full backpack up and down through the mountains. Several hours and five miles from the trailhead we came to our first campsite of the trip known as Obscurity Lake Camp. We figured the lake was called Obscurity Lake due to the fact that the camp isnít even on the lake and for that matter you could hike right past the lake and barely know it was there. While this camp wasnít a primo spot in terms of views, we again made the most of it. After setting up camp we climbed a knoll next to the site and from the top of the knoll we could look straight down into Not Obscure Any More Lake. Well, I guess it went from Not Obscure Any More Lake to Obscurity Lake and back about twenty times but never truly cleared off.

Obscurity Lake from our knoll.

So we made it through the first day and night with no rain to speak of. We had barely seen any other people and no one else had camped at Obscurity Lake our first night. Our original plan (and our permit) had us hiking another five miles to Shovel Lake Camp which would have left us with a ten mile pack out the last day. After deliberating, we decided that the odds of Obscurity Camp filling up were slim to none so we made the command decision to be scofflaws and left our camp set up at Obscurity Lake for the second night. This left us with all day to wear tiny little day packs and hike out to the end of Whittier Ridge and back which sounded a whole lot better than trudging a heavy backpack even further from the trailhead. We awoke to a much sunnier day than our first one and it bolstered our enthusiasm to see some blue sky.

Our camp at Obscurity Lake. Todayís route would take us up and over Obscurity Pass which is the low point above the two tents.

After breakfast we got everything situated and hit the trail. The sun felt great and we were in equally great spirits as we climbed high above our camp towards the pass.

Flowers along the trail

In short order we attained Obscurity Pass and were greeted with a view beyond devastated timber from the blast down to Panhandle Lake. The hike down to and along the lake was particularly beautiful.

The view from Obscurity Pass. Our route would take us down to and past the lake and up along the ridge line beyond the lake.

Panhandle Lake. The amount of downed timber from the blast was just incredible.

Panhandle reflection

Beyond Panhandle Lake the trail crossed a creek and began to climb along a steep ridge line towards the next lake called Shovel Lake. This section of trail was fun as it hugged the edge of the ridge with sheer cliffs dropping off down towards Shovel Lake. To the north was the beautiful Green River Valley. At one spot we had a great view of both Panhandle Lake and Shovel Lake.

Green River Valley

Running the ridge between Panhandle Lake and Shovel Lake

Panhandle Lake on left and Shovel Lake on the right

Shovel Lake. If we had followed our original plan, camp 2 would have been down by the far shore of this lake.

Avalanche Lilies

Beyond the cutoff to the Shovel Lake Camp the trail gently meandered a ways past the now abandoned Whittier Ridge Trail to Pleasant Pass.

The trail between Shovel Lake and Pleasant Pass.

Clouds were beginning to roll in near Pleasant Pass as we worked our way through timber strewn hillsides covered in Beargrass.

Beargrass below Pleasant Pass

Downed timber near Pleasant Pass

Arriving at Pleasant Pass it was still only around noon so we set our sights on climbing a point above the pass to see what we could see. I love off trail scrambling. This was pretty easy pickings as there were multiple game trails to follow up through the timber and heather. It wasnít really that far, perhaps another half a mile and maybe another 400í of elevation but it was fun and we still had lots of energy.

The point (on left) we climbed above Pleasant Pass

Once on the top of the point we could see down the other side of Pleasant Pass to another lake called Snow Lake.

Snow Lake surrounded by blast zone fallen timber

Looking back towards Shovel Lake from the hillside above Pleasant Pass

Big Dipper above camp

Sunshine greeted us on our pack out day and yet the temps were pleasant and perfect for hiking. So far we had really dodged the rain bullet and had pretty great weather. The forecast had been spot on for the three days but more rain was on the way so we hit the trail at 8:30AM for the hike back to the trailhead.

Obscurity Lake. The knoll on the left is what we had climbed the first day from camp.

Climbing up past Grizzly Lake on the way out we were greeted with Mt. Rainier peeking up over the far ridge. My heart was getting all aflutter at the thought we might get really lucky at Bear Pass.

Grizzly Lake (Rainier poking up on the right).

At Grizzly lake the trail climbs steadily out of the valley towards Bear Pass. With the gods smiling down on us, as we crested Bear Pass we were greeted with the full on in your face view of Mt. St. Helens in all her glory. It literally takes your breath away and as Iíve said many times, photos cannot possibly do it justice. Itís just so much bigger than the photos convey.

Mt. St. Helens and Spirit Lake

And it wasnít just St. Helens. From our vantage point at Bear Pass, four of the Northwest volcanoes could be seen.

Mt. Hood, Oregon

Mount Rainier to the north

Mt. Adams to the east

Looking into the crater

The team

Last look at St. Helens from Norway Pass

Such a great trip and I really look forward to exploring more of this fascinating area!
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RichP
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PostMon May 18, 2020 5:21 pm 
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Great report. I've been on the summit of Mt St Helens a couple times but have explored the surroundings very little. Makes me want to get out there this summer.
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Jake Robinson
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PostMon May 18, 2020 6:49 pm 
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This is really beautiful, thanks for sharing  up.gif
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timberghost
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PostTue May 19, 2020 5:36 am 
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beautiful
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tinman
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PostTue May 19, 2020 6:20 am 
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Looks like a great trip.  Your Green River Valley photo shows Goat Mtn. which is where my brother and I spent the day before the eruption watching the mountain.  Nice to see it from a different angle than I have seen it before.

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Wherever you go, there you are.......
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Mikey
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PostWed May 20, 2020 1:12 am 
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Thanks for your report and photos.  I hiked, hunted, and fished most of that area pre-eruption.  I got a USFS permit to conduct research on the north side of Mt St Helens (timberline parking lot) and the permit allowed us to be there from 8am Thursday to 6 pm Sundays.  When we were there on April 4, 1980, Mt St Helens was spewing out rocks and black smoke, pretty scary.  We were cross-country skiing on the USFS 100 road in March (March 22, 1980 I think) on the day the numerous small earthquakes started but we did not feel them through the snow.  2 of us (not me, I was at a Mountaineers snow field trip at Alpental that Sunday) were scheduled to have our 22 ft motorhome field lab at the Mt St Helens timberline parking lot to conduct research measurements but the wind direction was predicted to be from the north so this research trip was cancelled - which of course was a life-saver.  We asked the USGS volcano scientists (from Hawaii as I recall) what we should do if Mt St Helens erupted (the north side bulge was expanding about 5 ft per day) and the scientists told us that the eruption lava would flow down the side and there would be ample time to drive down to Spirit Lake and then west on the Spirit Lake highway.  The USGS scientists told us that they did not camp or stay overnight near the mountain but stayed in a motel overnight (maybe a motel at Castle Rock).  The scientists had a helicopter and had instruments located on the side of the mountain.  Also the scientists had instruments at the timberline parking lot and apparently the measurements detected lava flow occurring and also the parking lot was increasing in height daily but I forget how much.

I climbed Mt St Helens many times and there was a steaming hot spot on the north side of the mtn near the summit.  During a climb in 1979 near the Wishbone glacier, I came across a place where there the snow slid about 15 yards down exposing the rock.  This 15 yard by about 60 yard "crevasse" might have been caused by the heating of the rock.  I got photos of this.  I checked the history of Mt St Helens and did not find any mention of a hot spot on the Wishbone glacier.
Needless to say, that May 18, 1980 eruption scared the hell out of us.  The UW graduate students who were gung-ho about doing research at Mt St Helens hardly even mentioned it any more after the eruption, probably because we were very lucky to have not been there when it erupted.  One of my grad student's dad (Mt Steig) was the Weyerhaesure Safety engineer (Longview) and he took his son and me on a tour of the Weyerhaesure areas such as Camp Baker, etc. which could be driven to to see the eruption destruction.

There was a U of Calif. Davis chemistry professor who set up dust  samplers (I think on the south side of Mt St Helens prior to the May 18th eruption, probably accessed via the South Fork Toutle road to his sampling site) and got samples of the Mt St Helens eruption dust for chemical analysis.  This same chemistry professor set up his dust samplers around the Sept 11 2001 New York towers hit by the aircraft and chemically analyzed the samples and reported them to be highly toxic but the US Govt reported the dust was not toxic and of course it is now known that that U of Calif. Davis chemistry professor's chemical analysis was correct.
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Jonny V
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PostWed May 20, 2020 5:53 am 
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Thanks so much for sharing your story.  I was actually living in Colorado when it erupted and it may have been three days later we got ash all over everything there.
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Forum Index > Trip Reports > Mt. St. Helens  Natl. Volcanic Monument, 7.7.19 - 7.9.19
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