After having spent several days going to state parks, we decided to try hiking in the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument since we've heard enough people say that the trails are still accessible. The weather was supposed to be nice, so we were hoping that we would get some good views of the mountain. This was also a longer hike, so we were thankful the forecast had no rain.
Knowing there were going to be competing for breakfast with the kids who showed up the night before, we went downstairs with a little bit of trepidation. There were only a couple tables' worth, so it ended up being no problem. Back in the room, Melody saw them board the bus, so we were glad everything went smoothly with that many people; makes us wonder how much contention there is during the summer season.
We drove past Seaquest State Park, past the Hummocks trail, all the way to the Johnston Ridge Observatory. We knew the observatory itself would be closed, but there were no closed gates on the way, and the parking lot was not only open, but there were other cars there. We parked near the trail head, hung up the Forest Pass, and after gathering our things, head out on the trail. Right away we noticed that we were at quite a bit higher elevation than before; the Hummocks Trail went up to 2,500 feet, while Harry's Ridge Trail gets up to 4,500.
We saw quite a few small frogs, lots of elk hoof prints, and even a couple chipmunks. As for the flora, the day before we were going through a forest, while this time it was very exposed. Instead of ferns and alders, we saw small shrubs and ground strawberries.
While we saw one guy who seemed to be getting ready to hike in the parking lot, we saw no one else on our way out. The weather was indeed great; it was overcast with some pockets of blue skies. The trail was very well marked, and started out being pretty easy. However, about half way is a section which is pretty narrow and goes along a steep slope. We just took our time and had no trouble.
Going along the trail, we kept getting glimpses of the observatory, which was a good way to keep track of how far we had gone. We were able to see the base of Mt. St. Helens, but the clouds kept obscuring the crater. There were enough breaks in the so we could see parts of the peak. About halfway we started getting glimpses of Spirit Lake, too.
As we got to the last leg of the trip, the trail got very steep, going right up the ridge. When we spotted a weather station, we knew we were close, so we did one final push to get to the top. We were rewarded with great views of the lake and occluded views of the mountain. It was a pleasant place to stop and have lunch.
As we were finishing lunch, the breeze started to pick up, so we figured it was time to head back. We kept looking for good, clear views of the mountain, but still only got slices. We also kept keeping an eye out for how far the observatory looked, since it seemed so distant. It was gratifying that it did get closer as we went along! We did run across some people hiking the other way, but we never did see the guy from the parking lot, and his car was gone when we got back.
We then walked along the interpretive trail outside the observatory, and from there we got the clearest view of Mt. St. Helens' crater for the day.
When we got back to the room, the McDonald's which was next to the motel was completely fenced off. There was no fencing when we left in the morning, so it happened pretty suddenly. We don't know what was going on with that.
We found a place to eat in Longview, and had a great meal. On our return, we saw that the bus with the kids was in the parking lot again, but they must have been much more tired than the previous night, since we hardly heard them. We were both pretty tired, so it wasn't too long before we went to sleep.