Mount Saint Helens National Monument
Mount Saint Helens National Monument
~5.5 miles, 1200 ft elevation change
MSR Lightnings this year. Low snow levels this last week dipped only briefly into the valley but dropped considerable amounts of my favorite physical-state-of-water in the upper elevations of my Portland backyard playground. With Sunday promising some much needed Vitamin D, Andy and I headed out with our friends, Matt and Allison (who are quickly becoming our adventure/hiking/snowshoeing buddies) to one of our favorite places on the north side of Mount Saint Helens: the Hummocks-Boundary trail.
Over the last year, Andy and I have visited this trail four times, which is unusual. This is not to say it is strange to love a place- we are always finding places we love, and certain landscapes certainly speak to us more than others. What is unusual is that our fascination with this particular area of Helens continues to draw us back, time and time again, and how, no matter the season, no matter the weather, the trail here is always uniquely beautiful and intriguing.
With the trailhead at approximately 2500 feet, we weren’t positive how much snowshoeing we would be doing initially, only that snowshoes would (most likely) be required later on. Turns out, we needed those snowshoes right away.
It was snow of the worst kind, too: dense, wet, Cascade “concrete” complete with hard, frozen crust. We were breaking trail and punching through with every step, which made for a jarring and painstakingly slog and many face plants along the way.
But it was beautiful. And we were the only souls we would see for the entire day.
|(photo by AJP)|
At the junction of the Hummocks and Boundary Trails, we encountered a herd of elk beating a hasty retreat from all the racket we were making (insert swearing & sweating loudly and profusely here); they clearly relished the tiresome snow conditions about as much as we did. From the Hummocks-Boundary junction, the trail climbs moderately through pumice fields and alder stands before meeting up with the lower end of Johnston Ridge. Here, we stopped to catch our breath and to enjoy outstanding views of Helens and her Toutle River Valley while Matt treated us to his stellar He-Man antics.
|He-Man (photo by AJP)|
After we fortified with He-Man antics and some PB&Js, the climbing began. With everything under several feet of snow, we opted to forgo the formal trail (since we couldn't see it anyway) and instead blaze our own path straight to the top. The southern exposure on this particular ridge had softened the snow, which was both good and bad....kick-step, kick-step, kick-step, slllllide....rinse and repeat. Going up is so much less fun than going down.
|kick, step, climb.|
|meet Allison (rear & left)|
After a short snow nap, we had all sorts of fun running around (much better snow conditions up here) and just embracing life like five year olds. We planned to build a snowman but never got around to it, instead, soaking in the views all around us.
One of the entertaining side effects of caloric expenditure is how often the conversation turns to food. During our siesta on the ridge, Andy, Matt and Allison began discussing the virtues of a charmingly grubby, Portland hole-in-the-wall establishment by the name of King Burrito. Cheap, enormous burritos, what could be better? Or, as the Guilty Carnivore states, burritos with "enough heft and calories to feed a sub-Saharan household for a week or to sedate a large bear for a season’s hibernation." This is the point in a hike where my mathematically-gifted, engineer-by-profession, husband begins to calculate his caloric expenditure vs. deficit vs. how much he can eat to replace said calorie burn throughout the day. This dialogue usually continues all the way back to the trailhead and for the duration of the car ride to said place of gastronomic intent. I imagine his salivary glands to be in overdrive much of the time.