Portland Trip: Day 8 – Mt. St. Helens

August 30, 2014

For much of this trip I’ve been awake before the alarm. Today was no exception. I was out of the hotel by 6:30. There’s a Subway next to the motel, so I got a sandwich to carry with me for lunch. The drive to Johnston Ridge Observatory (JRO) takes me up I-5 for a short distance, then eastbound on WA 504. I arrived at JRO by 8 and was on the trail by 8:10. Although the forecast was for a sunny and warm day, I couldn’t see the mountain which was well obscured by rain clouds. I was the only one there.


Not far up the trail it started raining lightly. After a while it the rain was coming down hard enough to get out the poncho. Of course, once I had the poncho on, it stopped. But not for long. Once the rain returned, it got progressively worse and worse. By 9:45 I decided this wasn’t any fun so I turned around. On the way back, the clouds were a bit lighter, but still raining.

I thought the terrain was interesting. For the most part, there is no sign this was ever forest. But in one place on the back side of the ridge, there are tree stumps a few inches tall and some large deadfall, all pointing exactly away from where I assume the mountain is. The ground in places is covered with something not quite like moss, not quite like lichen. There is little ground cover otherwise. There are wildflowers in places, and shrubs in the gullies that coated me with water when the trail passed through them.

IMG_6037sThe trail is free of roots (for obvious reasons) and mostly free of rocks, making the hiking easy. Along the trail are large posts, taller and bigger than signposts and without signs. I thought they were a bit odd, but didn’t pay them much attention until on my way back. Because there is little ground cover, if visibility is degraded it can be difficult to follow the trail. I found the posts very helpful in the near fog conditions on the way back.

This hike is the “No Fun Trifecta”: cold, wet, and miserable.

Back at JRO, I went inside to watch one of their movies and check out the exhibits. At the end of the movie, they open large curtains revealing a wall of windows, presumably facing the mountain. Everybody went “oooh” but it would have been better had it been clear and the volcano was actually visible. No food or drink allowed inside, so I drove down to the Elk Rock overlook and ate lunch at 12:30.


Rumor has it there’s a volcano around here

I stopped at another viewpoint a little farther down. You get a nice view of a large bridge but it wasn’t as scenic as I’d hoped. Beside the sign with the description of the bridge were other signs detailing how Weyerhauser had planted trees here, how big their investment was, and when each section would be harvested. I’m in the middle of a giant tree farm.

IMG_6048sI shouldn’t complain too much about the weather. This is the first day it was unsuitable for my activities. The silver lining in this cloud is that I was able to take my time on the way back to Maupin, where Mark kindly put me up for the night. He’s only a short distance from Oregon Raceway Park, my next destination.

The route took me south on I-5 and I-205 to Portland where I headed west on I-84. I exited I-84 on suburban streets that eventually lead me to US 26 where I refueled. This route let me scout the location of the trailhead for the Mt. Hood hike, which is planned for two days hence.

At Government Camp, I pulled over to make a phone call. A couple guys pull up and wait for me to finish. The driver gets out, all excited to see the car, particularly in these colors as he’s wearing Oregon gear. He says his 2 year old daughter loves Elises and he wants to get a picture of her in front of it. She couldn’t care less, but he’s pretty psyched.

By now I needed a rest stop and luckily there was one nearby. It’s still a bit on the chilly side and overcast. There I chatted with a guy riding a classic BMW motorcycle, mid-70’s. He’s trying to get warm and not having much luck.

Back on the road, I find OR 216 shortly after I pass the turnoff for Timberline Lodge and head east. It runs a pretty straight route, through pleasant pine forest before transitioning to high desert. Pretty quickly I arrive at Mark’s, it’s only 5:30. At the Café I dined on a bacon cheeseburger and a blackberry shake, which is strictly against my low sugar diet but much enjoyed. Afterwards, I visited with Mark over a couple beers.