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Exploring Mount St. Helens

04.28.17

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Exploring Mount St. Helens

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  • A narrow and scenic section of the trail to Harry's Ridge.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • View of Mount St. Helens (8,366 ft) from Hummocks Loop.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • View to the crater from Windy Ridge.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • Wildflowers in the meadow with a view of Mount Adams.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • High clouds appear to emanate from the smoldering volcano, seen from Norway Pass.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • Flowers and grasses form the colorful foreground for one of the most beautiful sunset vistas in the Pacific Northwest, Mount St. Helens and Spirit Lake glow in the background.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • Trail down to Shovel Lake.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • View of Mount St. Helens (8,365 ft).- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • Blue Lake along the Sheep Canyon Trail.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • The destroyed forest resembles toothpicks.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • View of Mount St. Helens (8,366 ft) from Hummocks Loop.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • A mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) keeps an eye on things in Ape Canyon. - Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • Stairway descending to upper and lower Ape Cave options.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • Just out of the trees, the Worm Flows Route switchbacks to gain a small ridge.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • Waterfall views from the bridge in Lava Canyon.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • At the Mount St. Helens summit.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • Pushing up and out of the clouds en route to the summit.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • Looking east over the crater's edge, views of Mount Adams (12,281 ft) appear.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • Morning mist at the sediment dam viewpoint.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • View from Coldwater Lake's western shore, looking at Minnie Peak (5,610 ft).- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • Field of bird's-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) at Coldwater Lake.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • June Lake takes on an entirely different persona in winter.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • The exit of "The Crawl" at the Trail of Two Forests.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • Morning light on the Worm Flows route.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
  • View of Mount Adams (12,281 ft) from the Mount St. Helens summit.- Exploring Mount St. Helens
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Pro Contributor

Many Washington residents remember the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, when blasts of ash torched the forests and landslides buried homes near the mountain. More than three decades later we recall the events with awe, reminded of the cataclysmic power boiling beneath this mountain.

The volcano is still considered active, evidenced by steam that rises from the ever-growing caldera where a summit used to be. Another eruption is probably far off, however, and surrounding forests are recovering remarkably in the meantime. The area has been designated a national monument, and there are now more than 200 miles of hiking trails traversing the former wasteland laid by the eruption. You can explore the new landscape, which features relics as well freshly sprung beauties. Solidified mud flows and thousands of floating dead trees are reminders of the destruction, but serene lakes and wildflower meadows that never existed before the blast are like phoenixes risen from the ashes.

To witness this rebirth for yourself, and to plunge into one of America's most impressively diverse landscapes, check out these adventures on and around Mount St. Helens.

North Side Hiking

Johnston Ridge Boundary Trail - Possibly the most popular trail in the national monument, Johnston Ridge provides perfect views into St. Helens' steaming crater.

Harry's Ridge - An easy spur hike from Boundary Trail leads to even more incredible views into the crater and its fledgling glacier, plummeting waterfalls, Spirit Lake, and distant mountains.

Windy Ridge Viewpoint - Drive to an excellent overlook and additional hiking trails that give dramatic views of the blown-out crater and debris flows.

Hummocks Trail - This easy and very scenic interpretive loop is the best way to learn about the "then and now" of the eruption and how the forests are recovering in the aftermath.

Goat Mountain + Green River Loop - A perfect backpacking route or a long day hike combines landmarks like Deadman Lake, Goat Creek, Green River, and views of all the huge volcanic mountains on the horizon.

Mount Margaret - A wilderness trail leads through the heart of the blast zone, which now provides inspiring views through the haunting forest of skeleton trees. This unique hike rewards with a 360-degree panorama from the summit of Mount Margaret.

Margaret Lakes - In the vicinity of Mount Margaret and Norway Pass are picturesque backcountry lakes, and the Lakes Trail accessing them makes a worthy hike and a serene camping spot.

Whittier Ridge - This trail makes an adventurous loop with Mount Margaret and the backcountry lakes because the hiker must navigate steep, exposed, rocky terrain. The challenges reward with spectacular views.

Coldwater Lake - Enjoy hiking, camping, fishing, and paddling around this crisp, clear lake that was created by the 1980 eruption when volcanic debris choked up the bottom of a valley. The shores are lined with regenerating trees and fields of wildflowers.

Sediment Dam - Though this destination is not in the immediate vicinity of St. Helens, it is a direct product of the volcano's eruption and part of the historic aftermath. This dam was built to stop additional runoff from the debris flows, which were causing massive damages to infrastructure along the Toutle and Columbia Rivers.

South Side Hiking

June Lake - The mountain's south side was mostly spared from the blast, leaving June Lake and surrounding old-growth forest intact. This moderate trail and the side hikes from it feature shady streams, mountain views, and waterfalls.

Sheep Canyon - This trail tours both old-growth and regenerating forest in an area that was variably affected by the eruption. Clear lakes and huge trees have survived in pockets, whereas others exist only as skeletons that are being steadily replaced by new growth.

Ape Canyon - an especially fun and varied hike, Ape Canyon tours the remnants of blasts and mud flows that reached the mountain's south side.

Lava Canyon - interpretive overlooks and bushwhacking adventures are both easy to find at this series of moss-lined waterfalls, offering something for every type of visitor.

Caving

Trail of Two Forests - This short interpretive loop tells the tale of an older eruption of St. Helens that buried the forests of 2,000 years ago. The trees have since decayed, leaving holes in solidified ash and mini lava tubes that you can crawl into.

Ape Caves - This is the home of North America's longest lava tube. These caverns are created when flowing lava cools into a hardened shell that molten material continues to flow out of, leaving behind a hollow tube. You will need a headlamp, sturdy shoes, and warm clothes to explore these slippery and cold caves.

Mountaineering

Monitor Ridge - If you want to stand on top of Mount St. Helens' 8,366-foot summit, Monitor Ridge is the go-to summer route. It follows a steep, debris-strewn ridgeline for 9 miles and more that 4,500 feet of gain, but the views and iconic summit are worth every step.

Worm Flows Route - As a summer climb, this is the longer and more challenging route to the summit. It is more commonly done in the winter, but is still fun as an introduction to non-technical mountaineering after the snow has melted.

Winter Trekking

Worm Flows Snowshoe - Winter can make for easier climbing conditions than summer for the snow-savvy hiker, because loose talus and ash are frozen over with snow. This also makes a great introduction to Cascades mountaineering.

Worm Flows Backcountry Ski - Skilled skiers can reach the summit on their own power and then reap the reward by skiing down. Most choose to do this during spring, once the snow pack has had a chance to stabilize.

June Lake Snowshoe - June lake takes on an entirely different persona in the winter, when feet of snow bury the trails and blanket the trees. Groomed trails surround the lake and make an obvious starting point for summit attempts on the mountain.

 

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