Saturday, July 11, 2015

Mt St Helens and Windy Ridge

We decided to head out for a day of exploration around the backside of our favorite local volcano – Mt St Helens.

Mt St Helens sits on the horizon where we live. It is something we see every day (along with Mt Hood and Mt Adams), and everyone took it for granted until 1980 when it started huffing out clouds of smoke and eventually exploded in an eruption that gave us all a very graphic example of what the word ‘devastation’ really means. Ridge after ridge around the mountain was cleared down to bare rock or covered in ash. Some of the ash even rained down over our homes. When we went to see it a few years after the eruption, it was like a desert where once a beautiful forest had stood. Now when we look at the mountain it’s flat top reminds us at a glance that we have a real live volcano in our backyard.

For many years we took an annual trip from Yakima up to Windy Ridge, often with our Miata friends, and admired the view looking down into the crater. We have also come in on the West side to the observatory. It’s an amazing place to visit, from either direction. This time we decided to wind up the backroads to Windy Ridge and see how it was doing. So we packed a picnic lunch, grabbed the camera, and headed out for a day of adventure.

Driving around the backside of Mt St Helens takes you through woods that were pretty much untouched by the blast, except for creeks and rivers that were flooded by the sudden glacier melts that occurred, causing mud flows to tear down the canyons and valleys. Everything is recovering so well though, that it is hard to see the damage anymore, even at overlooks that were established for people to stop and admire the changes in the landscape.

Then you come to the Muddy River at Lava Canyon

 Can you see Dave on the rocks looking over the canyon?

 We added a rock to a cairn we passed on our way along a trail that took us to another vantage point of the muddy river. Too bad the clouds were hiding the mountain at the other end of the canyon. We should have realized then that this just wasn't going to be our day for viewing the mountain itself.

 On to Lava Canyon, where water has carved a steep channel through lava rock.

 Very cool place, with lots of signs warning you that if you fall in that water, you will die and they will never find your body, or something to that effect. That was the take-away, anyway. That water was fast and furious as it disappeared into the bulbous lava forms sticking up out of the forest.

We backtracked out of the Ape Canyon / Lava Canyon area, and continued heading East towards Windy Ridge. We stopped along the road at this still wiped out canyon and ate our lunch while enjoying the complete peacefulness of the forest. I don't think a single car drove by while we were enjoying our lunch. It was just us and the birds in the trees.

Further up the road we stopped at a wide spot to enjoy this overlook of  what I think was the Clearwater Creek drainage. What an amazing view!

Our sturdy Flex made the ride nice and smooth over the terrible forest service roads, which had a lot of broken pavement. It was the right choice for this trip! The Miata would have been beat to death.

 Finally we arrived at Windy Ridge, with it's amazing view of...clouds. Lots and lots of clouds.

 Beautiful view of Spirit Lake though. We had a lovely panorama of the devastated area.

The devastated area has recovered considerably. There was a time when this was all just covered in brown ash. The effects of the eruption are still clearly visible in the three zones. Zone 1 - the ridges were blown clean down to bedrock. They are still bare of trees, but starting to show a cover of green.

Then there is the zone farther out where the trees were all knocked down, and still lay pointing away from the source of the blast. More baby trees are popping up in this area. 

In the third zone the trees were killed by the heat of the eruption, but remain standing. This area is recovering even better. It's amazing to see how one ridge is in the blowdown zone, and the next the trees were left standing. 

That is Mt St Helens for you - such a beautiful, amazing place. We stopped at another overlook on the way back from Windy Ridge and enjoyed the peacefulness of the scene, the little pops of color from wildflowers appearing on the hillside. We waited a little bit, but the mountain remained hidden in the clouds. It was just one of those days.

 But we had a great time anyway, as we always do when out adventuring together.


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