Ringing in the New Year

2015 started off on a good note.

Hello, Helens.

Lunch break with a view. Hello, mountain

On the long approach up WA SR-504, Helens and the newly whitened landscape glitter in the sun. It’s bluebird. Andy says it: “I’m going to call it. I think this is my favorite hike.”

It is no secret that we love Helens. It also never ceases to amaze us that such an intricate landscape pretty much lies in our backyard. And although they possess an almost desolate beauty, the areas located in the heart of the blast zone- Johnston Ridge and the Mount Margaret backcountry in particular- have a unique hold on Andy and I’s hearts. Our feet have traipsed around Johnston Ridge (Harry’s trail, the Boundary and Hummocks trail, Coldwater Lake) well over ten times, which makes it among our most beloved and most visited of hiking destinations.

The approach is frosty and slick. Two + hours from Portland, we pull into the parking lot. Five cars. Still, true to form, we see no people all day.

Last time snow levels were this low, we startled a herd of elk at the junction of the Hummock and Boundary trails. Flailing through deep snow topped with an icy crust, they looked as thrilled with the snow conditions as we were. Conditions were easier this time, and we didn’t put on snowshoes until we crested the rise overlooking the Toutle River Valley, working our way towards Johnston Ridge.

climbing through the alders, just past the hummocks

The snow was better up here, deeper, fluffier. Andy indulged in some snow tobogganing shenanigans, while I munched on an apple and took in the world around me.

Although I really wanted to make it to the observatory (I suffer from destinationitis), Andy wasn’t feeling his Wheaties this day, so we settled for climbing higher to a nice viewpoint overlooking the valley. The snow was wind crusted and deep, but the snowpack was stable, so much so that our snowshoes barely punched through in places.

While I suffer from destinationitis, Andy does not

I might have a slightly fussy husband here regarding this hill I'm dragging him up

We found a nice little promontory for some afternoon mountain watching, sun-bathing and lunch. Interestingly enough, courtesy of the east winds, it was warmer here on the mountain than in Portland, with only a slight breeze. During lunch, another Helens icon showed up- a small herd of about ten elk negotiating the steep hillsides across from us.

Sun? Check. √
Elk? Check. √
Great snow? Check. √
Solitude? Check. √

Heading back, we simply blasted cross country through deep snow, making good time off the ridge. And, like the gift that keeps on giving, the evening light across the hummocks, alder trees in the valley and the mountain herself was some of the best light of the day.

taking in the view (photo by AJP)

heading home, Coldwater Lake to the far right

dropping back down into the Hummocks area

winter evening light on alders & Helens- simply beautiful

Welcome, 2015? Check.  

Last of the light. Until next time, Helens

Mount Saint Helens National Monument, Washington
~6 miles (?) ~1400' EG (?)

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