Johnston Ridge, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, 06/26/10

Mount St. Helens erupted a few months before I was born. I just missed it. It also erupted about two-thousand miles due west of where I was born. So I didn’t just miss it, I guess. Sometime in elementary school a classmate came back from a trip Out West with a plastic baggie of Genuine Mount St. Helens Ash—bought, no doubt, on the side of the road somewhere in Montana or South Dakota. For many years that would be the closest I’d come to the mythical, prototypical volcano of my prepubescent fantasies: perfectly conical, oozing a fiery red glow down its flanks, and surrounded by prime dinosaur habitat. Volcanoes existed only in Earth’s far-distant past or its unbelievably exotic locales. They weren’t in Wisconsin; they weren’t near Wisconsin.

Well, it’s twenty years later and I’ve spent the last eight of it living in exotic Washington, home to five volcanoes, including, obviously, the majority of Mount St. Helens.

I’d had last weekend circled on the calendar for several months, as I’d pinpointed the date of a full moon rising over Mt. Rainier. Since snow levels at the particular area in Mt. Rainier National Park that I’d planned on going to weren’t quite low enough for me, as the weekend approached I began to look elsewhere.

And then Saturday morning arrived and I found myself sitting on the couch watching soccer. Nicole is so used to leaving at 05:00 that she was certain we weren’t going anywhere if we were still sitting on the couch at 11:00. This was all part of my master plan, though. It wasn’t going to work out for us to backpack anywhere, or camp anywhere, but if we left later in the day than normal, we’d be hiking in the late afternoon and could hang out until sunset and, hopefully, moonrise as well. Leaving West Seattle as late as we did (~14:00) meant that we wouldn’t arrive until about ~17:00. That said, both Nicole and I were surprised when Google Maps told us it didn’t take 4-5 hours to get there. We just always assumed it was a long, long ways away.

Anyway! This would be our first time to Mount St. Helens, a mountain we’ve rarely even seen.

We took I-5 south to WA-504 (Spirit Lake Highway) and drove it to its end. We arrived to the large, completely full parking lot at Johnston Ridge Observatory, ~4000′.

In the blast zone at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

The views of Mount St. Helens from the highway are outstanding, but once on Johnston Ridge the views are awe-inspiring. Seeing this live really reinforced the massive destructive power of the eruption.

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West Fork Foss River Lakes, 08/23/08-08/24/08

So far this summer Nicole and I have gone on six hikes together; the first three were all either one- or two-night backpacks; hikes four, five, and six were all day hikes.  So as the weekend approached and trip-planning began, like, for real, we knew we wanted to spend a night [tossing and turning within our sleeping bags].  Backpacking it would be, but since we only had Saturday night available, and I had to work Saturday morning, it couldn’t be a long drive or that long of a hike.  We also had to keep in mind that we’d probably be pitching our tent somewhere early Saturday evening, crux of the weekend populous.   I had my hands wrapped around a pair of Green Trails Maps (#175 & #176) and prior reports and pictures in my head.  Elimination claimed trails we hypothesized as too long, too difficult, too buggy, and too busy; those trips requiring off-trail travel were sadly stricken from the slate.

In the end, we decided to try our luck up the West Fork of the Foss River, along Trail #1064.  With four lakes sitting around the 4000’ mark, and all seemingly within reach from the 1600’ trailhead–the farthest being ~6.8 miles in–we were confident we’d find a place so settle down before the sun set.  This trail sits entirely within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and is easily reached off of US-2 via the Foss River Road (Road 68/6835).  Don’t ask me how–actually, I think it’s because I already had map in hand and read a recent report and therefore felt like I knew what to expect–but I neglected to check the USFS site until just now.  It calls the trail “severely flood damaged,” characterizes the difficulty as “Easiest/Most Difficult,” and states that visitor use is “Extra Heavy.”  I’ll try to elaborate on all that throughout the rest of this trip report, but let me preemptively say it isn’t quite so bad as that.

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