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PostSat Oct 10, 2020 6:34 pm 
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A volunteer ranger at Johnston Ridge told me about this hike a couple years ago when I asked him the name of the cliffy peak in view. It was Coldwater Peak. He pointed out a natural arch on the trail east of the peak. From Johnston Observatory, the arch was barely visible, but I could see it. I said wow, that looks cool. He warned me it was a long up-and-down hike, and indeed it was.

The trail starts easy enough - a slow descent east on Johnston Ridge for over 2 miles. Great views of the crater all the way.

A branch of trail continues straight to Spirit Lake, if you continue east. The branch going further afield turns north to Harry's Ridge, but not before descending more steeply. This area is land of the hummocks, interesting chucks of Mt. St. Helens' crumbly interior that just plopped in a heap after the explosion. Super interesting terrain - almost other worldly.

Passing Harry's Ridge, Spirit Lake and Mt. Adams come into view. The trail then gets going up and up, climbing up around Pt.5332, where you get really nice views of St. Helens Lake. Lots of logs from the blast floating in this lake too. The scenery keeps changing and getting more spectacular.

Between Pt. 5332 and the south shoulder of Coldwater Peak, the trail goes through the natural arch, which was so much fun to pass through. This area can get tricky early season when there is snow and ice here. We deliberately chose late season for this hike for that reason. After going through the cool hole in the ridgeline, the trail is blasted out of the cliffside, creating an interesting notch, or overhang on the trail.

The trail passes a saddle and wraps around the NE base of Coldwater Peak. Now the trail sharply ascends numerous switchbacks to the summit. There's great views of St. Helens Lake and Mt. Rainier along this section.

The top was just spectacular. Views of four mighty volcanoes (Rainier, Hood, Adams, St. Helens). And several lakes too - Coldwater Lake and Castle Lake join St. Helens and Spirit Lake in the view. There's some scientific equipment up there, I assume, monitoring the volcano. This peak is the site of a former lookout, and if you look carefully, you can find some melted glass sherds, nails, and some splinters of lumber.

We stayed for a long time on the summit, enjoying the great fall weather. We got to have fun going through the rocky arch on the way back.

Strava gave me 12 miles roundtrip, and about 3k' gain. The volunteer ranger who told me about the hike was right. It was a long, up and down trek. This hike would probably have much more traffic if that arch was closer to the Visitors Center. The strenuousness keeps out a lot of tourists who seem to congregate on Johnston Ridge. For such a popular area, it was pretty easy to get a bit of solitude.

there's the natural arch, zoomed in from Johnston Ridge.
there's the natural arch, zoomed in from Johnston Ridge.
land of the hummocks
land of the hummocks
first view of Spirit Lake
first view of Spirit Lake
gaping crater of Mt. St. Helens
gaping crater of Mt. St. Helens
Spirit Lake, backed by Mt. Adams
Spirit Lake, backed by Mt. Adams
blasted stumps
blasted stumps
Mt. St. Helens
Mt. St. Helens
the long sought-after arch
the long sought-after arch
hole in the ridge
hole in the ridge
archway
archway
gouged trail
gouged trail
St. Helens Lake and logs look like grains of rice on the water
St. Helens Lake and logs look like grains of rice on the water
I am watching your every move
I am watching your every move
Mt. Rainier
Mt. Rainier
Spirit and St. Helens Lakes with a side of volcano
Spirit and St. Helens Lakes with a side of volcano
Mt. Rainier
Mt. Rainier
Coldwater Peak, right
Coldwater Peak, right
Adams' rocky frame
Adams' rocky frame
Spirit Lake, covered with logs, and Mt. Hood in bg
Spirit Lake, covered with logs, and Mt. Hood in bg
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