Bujold and Mt. St. Helens Weekend

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October 1-3, 2003

Outline and Background

A long and very busy three day weekend! By their selves, a three day trip to attend a couple Lois McMaster Bujold signings and hang out with listies or a long weekend spent exploring Mt. St. Helens wouldn't be enough to justify the time or airfare. However, combine the two, and a rather fine weekend is created. Maps

I flew into Portland, one of the best and most functional regional airports around, picked up a rental car and headed north to the southern slopes of Mt. St, Helens. After a bit of squiggly roads in the foothills, I walked through Ape Cave, then continued north around the east side of the volcano, eventually ending up in real world traffic south of Seattle. Caught the end of the pre-signing dinner, the end of the reading and signing, and joined the Locusts-descending-on-the-innocent-IHOP for dessert. Drove back down to the vicinity of the of the volcano to get a hotel room.

The second day dawned overcast and drizzly, in hopes that it was just coastal fog, I drove up to Johnston Ridge Observatory, after a stop at Coldwater Ridge for the clouds to clear. Hiked out to Loowit Falls and back. Drove back to Portland with a stop to get my summit permit for the next day.

Headed up early to climb up to the summit of Mt. St. Helens by the Monitor Ridge Trail/Route. Didn't actually get to the exact summit, just a high point on the rim. Back to Portland and over to Beaverton for dinner, the reading and signing, and dessert at Denny's. Back to the motel and an early flight out to get back to SF before my shift started.

Overall excursion route, route in and blue (day 1), fuschia(day 2), and red (day 3)

Map with route
Detailed Map (156K)


First Day's Excursion

Images Trip Icon . Road Maps Maps

I flew into Portland, one of the best and most functional regional airports around, picked up a rental car and headed north to the southern slopes of Mt. St, Helens. Despite the fact that a solid week wouldn't be enough to explore the area, I did try to touch on all the major aspects of the volcano...the much less affected south and east, the blast zone, and the remains of the actual mountain. In pursuit of the first, I drove along squiggly roads and through forested areas where the greatest impact was the ash fall, and mud flows in the major drainages. Ape Cave is probably one of the least affected areas, being an underground lava tube, with not particular direct connection to the outside world.

In the parking lot there was a herd of school buses, so I was prepared for the hordes of kids in the Lower Cave...it actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise...a couple hundred kids strung out through the tube means a couple hundred flashlights, and the possibility of actually seeing large portions of the tube. Big tube! Width was generally in the 20-30' range, and ceiling hieghts up to 50-60'. Flat floor, various high-lava marks on the walls, almost looks manmade, except the natuarlistic alignment. I went down to where a false roof dives into the sand, not being inclined to climb up the walls and go further.

Back up to the lower entrance and continuing through the Upper Cave, which is advertised as requiring actual scrambling skills. Which it does. Large portions of the upper tube consist of scrambling over talus where (inner layers of) the roof have fallen onto the floor. It also is steeper and narrower than the lower section, exhibiting several areas where the flowing lava eroded its way deeply into the original floor of the tube, creating lava defiles and in one place what was a small lavafall...that actually was solid Class 3 for a solo. Nice ladder to get out the top entrance...much narrower than the lower one. Then a quick hike down across xeric lavascapes and forest, with the final bit across a heavily sanded/ashed former forest to the trailhead.

Very neat, bring a camp lantern and a bright LED lamp for best effect. I wish I had had a tripod with me.

I continued driving around the volcano, on Forest Road 25, with a stop at Iron Creek Falls. Then it was back on state roads, winding past Elbe, which I last visited many years ago on a railfan trip, the Mount Rainier Scenic Railway is definitely worth the trip. The last bit coming into the suburban areas south of Tacoma were predictably trafficky, and I didn't make it to the dinner til near the end.

Trip IconI decided to take my time with dinner (along with another (couple?) listies and made it to the reading (at the University Bookstore) towards the end, then it was generalized hanging about with listies through the signing. Afterwards we walked to the local IHOP for dessert. We pretty much cleaned them out of yummy desserts in one fell swoop. I finished the day off by driving most of the way back to Portland and got a hotel room (overpriced) near the entrance to the park I would be using later in the morning. My bad for not actually planning ahead and scoring a reservation or something.

Technical Details, Weather and Conditions

The Ape Cave Loop was about 3 miles total, with 500' of ascent. Iron Creek Falls was a trivial quarter mile round trip. Approximately 350 miles of driving. Sunny and warm. The trails are in good condition, relative to their scope, which is to say, Upper Ape Cave is most of a mile of rock hopping and scrambling in the dark with overhead hazards from time to time...the cold is not, however, a problem..

First Day's Maps

Hiking route, route in solid and dashed black
Map with route
Detailed Map (61K)


Second Day's Excursion


Images Trip Icon
. Road Maps Maps

The second day dawned overcast and drizzly, in hopes that it was just coastal fog, I drove up to the Coldwater Ridge Interpretive Center at 3500' where it was still dreary. I lazed about there a bit, looping around the nature trail, and finally having a sandwich from the snack bar before it started lightening up after 10am. It cleared up rather abruptly on the short drive up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, and remained clear thereafter, although the clouds remained in the valley. After a brief stop at the Observatory, I hit the trail.

The first part of the trail follows Johnston Ridge, some green and trees recovering on the north side, still pretty blasted on the south. It descends off the ridge at the Spillover, where debris blasted out of the volcano crossed the drainage of the Toutle River (low point ~3200') and climbed over the 4200' ridge into the Coldwater Creek drainage! The rest of the trail was over the Blast Zone, and even after more than 20 years, it is still a very unhappy land. The plants are stunted and weedy, the streams are milky, broad braided washes across the dusty, sandy, gravelly, rocky ground and the land forms remain those of a cataclysm. The air is hazy from the dust picked up from the ground, and the mass of the volcano is wreathed with dust from the continuous debris slides. Pretty it is not. Less the grandeur of the power of nature than the feeling of wandering around in a very large abandoned open pit mine. Interesting, fascinating, dramatic, those things for sure.

The trail up to Loowit Falls climbs up the debris pile and ends on a rocky (pile) shoulder, obviously short of where it ended the previous year, and likely beyond where it would end the next year. Loowit Creek appears to have cut hundreds of feet through the debris to reach an old cliff, over which it falls in a graceful stream. Very odd to see a classic waterfall, amidst the extremely young surroundings. Very dusty, my sandwich got gritty in the time it took to eat it. The return hike was a basic slog, although I did get to see a bit of the wandering of the logs in Spirit Lake (the wind blows them back and forth). Drove down to Cougar to get my hiking permit for the next day, and on to Portland to get a cheap motel room close to the airport.

Technical Details, Weather and Conditions

About 17 miles, and approximately 2000 feet of climbing. The weather was sunny and clear, after early morning dreariness.

Second Day's Maps

Hiking route, route in blue
Map with route
Detailed Map (106K)


Third Day's Excursion

Images Trip Icon . Road Maps Maps

I got to the pleasant forested trailhead around 8am. The first part of the trail, below the Volcano Loop Trail (#216) is a pleasant climb through forest. Once past the Loop Trail, you emerge from the forest and very rapidly transition to a Class 2-3 ridge back route that goes straight up Monitor Ridge, protective gear is good, since everything is sharp. The views are consistently spectacular, with the cone of Mt. Adams directly to the east. Above about 7000', the going gets harder as the route emerges onto a steep sandy ridge with the wind blasting you with grit. As you get closer to the summit, the (coarse) sand and pumice gets deeper and less stable, until, the last several hundred feet is a near critical slope sandpile to the crater's edge. Brutal. I ended up getting to the rim and stoppingat the nearest prominence, not being willing to drop down a couple hundred feet and up to the actual summit. Volcano views are unparallelled, since there is never anything tall nearby. The haze, grit, gale and loose ground detracted from the experience. Admired the lava dome and glacier behind it. Watching the debris slides off the crater walls was interesting.

Going down was much easier. I am very very glad to have thought to bring my gaiters, to keep the grit out of my boots. Step-sliding down the sandpile was fun, clambering down the sharp boulders less so. But there was much less scrambling on the way down, the lower 1500 feet of the Monitor Ridge route has a parallel sandy gully, for express descent! Only took about two hours to get down, and that included the usual chatting with up-climbers. The drive back to the motel was relaxing. After a freshening up and walking over to the light rail station that abutted the back of the motel, I headed for Beaverton.

Trip IconTypically, I got to deal with rush hour traffic crossing Portland, but I made it to the dinner at a chinese restaurant in decent time. As always, pleasant to chat with Lois and Listies and Barflies. The reading and signing at the Powell's at the mall was more intimate than the one at the University Bookstore, although Lois didn't read quite as much. Afterwards, a few of us went on to a local Denny's for dessert and extended discussion of everything Bujold. The flight out the next morning was uneventful, if earlier than is pleasant.

Technical Details, Weather and Conditions

About 10 miles, with about 4500 feet of climbing. The weather was sunny and breezy (windy on the exposed ridge)

Third Day's Maps

Hiking route, route in red
Map with route
Detailed Map (127K)


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Bujold and Mt. St. Helens Weekend / Robert Parks / rparks@lvhot.org / revised May '05