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awilsondc
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awilsondc
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PostThu Mar 14, 2019 8:36 pm 
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I've been having a fairly dull winter.  Mostly I've been trying to avoid any avalanche risk, which has limited a lot of my backcountry options this year although it looks like the worst is behind us.  One of my go to winter destinations has become South Coldwater Ridge by Mount Saint Helens mostly because it's the shortest drive to any kind of interesting terrain from my house that is generally safe from avalanche hazard.  I've been up there four times now in winter and a couple have been pretty good, and a couple kinda lame.  Here's one of each!

1-13-19

I went up with the hopes of a good sunrise.  The forecast showed something like 30-40% cloud cover so I figured there was a decent chance for a nice show.  I started hiking up the closed road in the dark and noticed it was a bit windy.  I reached the trailhead and started up the trail, noting the stark lack of snow.  Like, hardly any at all.  Also, the wind was really starting to pick up.  As I neared the ridge the wind was just too much and I had to put on my puffy which made it lot more comfortable.  South Coldwater Ridge is in the blast zone of Mount Saint Helens and is completely bare.  No trees, not much brush, nothing to block the wind... and windy it was!  My guess is sustained wind in the 30's (mph) with gusts into the low 40s.  It was probably the worst wind I've ever hiked in.  My hood was flapping around violently and I had to hold it down tight and angle my head since I didn't want it shredded like a poorly secured tarp on the back of a truck.  The wind was hitting me from the front and the right impeding my progress and pushing me hard to the left.  Gusts would have me struggling to avoid falling over.  I was planning on reaching Blastzone Butte but when I crested the ridge at the base of the Butte the wind was an extra 5 mph worse and I could barely stand up.  I found shelter by a downed tree which helped a little.  I decided to hang around for sunrise although I could tell there were zero clouds in the sky and sunrise would likely suck.  It did.  Still I got my camera and tripod out and tried to take some photos which was comical as the wind was blowing my tripod all over the place and I eventually put it away and started to head back.  The trip kind of sucked, but it was good exercise.  Here are some photos:

st helens blue hour 1
st helens blue hour 1
st helens blue hour 2
st helens blue hour 2
st helens blue hour 3
st helens blue hour 3
light over south coldwater ridge
light over south coldwater ridge
sunrise 1
sunrise 1
sunrise 2
sunrise 2
sunrise 3
sunrise 3
Minnie Peak
Minnie Peak
illuminated stump
illuminated stump
groot
groot
dozer 1
dozer 1
dozer 2
dozer 2
dozer 3
dozer 3
yarder 1
yarder 1
yarder 2
yarder 2
yarder 3
yarder 3
yarder 4
yarder 4
yarder5
yarder5
Coldwater Lake
Coldwater Lake
road views
road views

3-10-19

The forecast for this trip was very encouraging.  Just a sliver of moon setting at like 9:30pm, clear skies, and very little wind.  It was the start of Milky Way season and I decided to head out to Blastzone Butte to see if I could get my first glimpse of the Milky Way and take some photos of it with a new camera lens.  The Milky Way was visible for about two hours in the middle of the night so I packed up a tent, sleeping bag, and warm clothes along with my camera gear and headed out for the Butte.  I hit the trail at 11:17pm.  This time there was lots more snow.  The road was covered, but there were packed snowshoe tracks and I was able to follow them in just my boots.  The tracks continued up the South Coldwater Ridge trail for about 200 vertical feet before the other hiker must have turned around.  I strapped my snowshoes on, resigned to breaking trail the rest of the way.  No worries, I had left plenty of time to make sure I made it up there in time.  The ridge is pretty straight forward but it was extremely dark out so I occasionally consulted my GPS to make sure I was on track although it would be pretty hard to get off route up there.  The route up the summit block was mostly icy frozen snow.  I got my ice axe out and carefully made my way up.  My snowshoe crampons were sufficient although I would use my regular crampons on the way down (really glad I brought them).  I must have reached the summit around 2am although 2am didn't exist since daylight savings time said it was now 3am, still 30+ minutes before the Milky Way was visible.  I set up my tent and crawled into my sleeping bag, boots and all, to stay warm.  When it was time I popped my head out to see if the Milky Way was visible.  It was.

the Milky Way is out!
the Milky Way is out!

I spent the next couple hours playing with my camera and taking photos of the Milky Way.  It was a fun experience.  I screwed up dialing in the perfect camera settings, but I had enough leeway to come away with some photos I was happy with.

Milky Way rising above Coldwater Peak
Milky Way rising above Coldwater Peak
Milky Way galactic core
Milky Way galactic core
Milky Way panorama
Milky Way panorama

Satisfied with my photos I crawled into my sleeping bag again to wait for sunrise which was in another hour.  During the shoot, my rain fly was blowing all over the place and annoying me so I just took it down.  The tent poles helped keep the footprint taut so I kept them up.  I cowboy camped under the stars, or rather took a short nap.  Still, I think this qualifies as my first winter camping experience.  After dozing off for a bit, I came to and got to experience the wonderful sensation of "where am I?" followed by the realization what I was on a summit surrounded by snowy peaks and blue hour dawn colors!  It was awesome!  I got up and took some photos and started packing up.  I couple ravens started circling overhead, my second such experience in four trips up there.  The way down was enjoyable taking photos of the wind blown snow patterns.  Sunrise was mediocre, which was to be expected given the clear skies.  This was a great trip and a lot of fun, but the sleep deprivation left me exhausted the next day and a half.  Totally worth it.  Here's the rest of the pics:

St Helens blue hour
St Helens blue hour
Minnie Peak
Minnie Peak
Coldwater Lake
Coldwater Lake
my bivy - rainfly was pointless but poles kept the footprint taut
my bivy - rainfly was pointless but poles kept the footprint taut
St Helens at sunrise
St Helens at sunrise
ravens flying in front of St Helens
ravens flying in front of St Helens
ravens over Coldwater Peak
ravens over Coldwater Peak
views from a rocky notch
views from a rocky notch
descending the mini col
descending the mini col
Coldwater Peak sunrise
Coldwater Peak sunrise
patterns in the snow
patterns in the snow
Coldwater Peak sunrise 2
Coldwater Peak sunrise 2
Blastzone Butte
Blastzone Butte
snow's a blow'in
snow's a blow'in
funnel
funnel
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Slim
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PostThu Mar 14, 2019 8:50 pm 
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Love your pics especially the Milky Way shots  up.gif

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Nancyann
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PostThu Mar 14, 2019 9:17 pm 
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Exquisite pictures Aaron. It looks like your new lens is working out well for you!
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Bootpathguy
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PostThu Mar 14, 2019 9:26 pm 
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awilsondc wrote:
illuminated stump
illuminated stump
groot
groot

Great eye. Something most people would miss

The rest of your photo collection is fantastic

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geyer
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PostFri Mar 15, 2019 4:57 pm 
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Great shots Aaron!

awilsondc wrote:
I've been having a fairly dull winter.

You've officially camped more nights than me  lol.gif
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Mikey
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PostSat Mar 16, 2019 12:09 am 
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Thanks for your report and photos.  I frequented that area many times before Mt St Helens erupted, not so much after.
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GaliWalker
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PostSat Mar 16, 2019 9:14 am 
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up.gif

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Photography: https://www.flickr.com/photos/shahiddurrani/albums
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awilsondc
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awilsondc
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PostSat Mar 16, 2019 9:25 am 
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Thanks y'all!  I've really been enjoying playing around with the new camera and lens(s) this winter.  Looking forward to getting back into the high country this spring!
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Forum Index > Trip Reports > A couple trips up South Coldwater Ridge - winter 2019
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