06 July 2016

Taking the Next Step

A view of Mount St. Helens from the hummocks.
My hike near Mount St. Helens 11 days ago began last summer, and it's not over yet.

On a Father's Day trip to the mountain in 2015, my dad and I found some information about the trails in the area. After last year's successful hikes at Mount Rainier, Olympic National Park, and the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, I spent part of the winter planning excursions in the Pacific Northwest for this summer. The details about the Mount St. Helens trails provided a number of great options.

The hike from the hummocks northwest of the mountain to Johnston Ridge seemed particularly interesting, and I quickly settled on it. By Christmas, my mom and my cousin were on board for the hike.

As it moved from the Toutle River Valley up Johnston Ridge, the Boundary-Hummocks Trail displayed a surprising range of features and ecosystem types. The hummocks, formed by deposits left from the massive lahars (mudflows) triggered by the volcano's 1980 eruption, contained lush ponds shaded by alder. The ponds provided homes for beavers and birds and fed thriving thickets of ferns, cattails, and horsetails. Below the hummocks, the Toutle River continued its task of cutting through the sediment deposits.

Johnston Ridge, which received much of the 1980 blast, featured different terrain. A few trees had returned, but much of the land was open, giving us a great view to watch the day's clouds shuffle around the mountain. The clouds became the stars of the hike. They began to clear at about 9:30 a.m. Around noon, they re-formed near the mountain's middle like a Hula-Hoop. By the late afternoon, they covered the summit. Rather than taking away from the view though, the clouds seemed to enhance it with various personalities. Last year, during the hot, dry summer, we saw no clouds around the mountain. The clear view was fantastic, but this year's clouds made for many unique perspectives not possible without them.

When the hiked ended, I felt like I knew Mount St. Helens more intimately. I'd walked in two very different environments in the span of just a few miles, and they had revealed a lot about what has been happening around the mountain in the last 36 years.

In truth, this one trail represents just the tip of the iceberg with regard to the network of paths around the mountain, so an adventure that began in 2015 and continued this year has plenty of next steps.

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