Day 25: Mt. St. Helens to Mt. Rainier
Mt Saint Helens—Mount Rainier—Vashon Island, Washington
Because we could not see our surroundings last night I was quite surprised at what I woke up to. We were in a northwestern rainforest. I didn't know there were rainforests in this country and it turns out I slept in one last night. What made this different from the other forests? The ground and all the fallen logs were covered with the thickest blanket of moss I've ever seen. This stuff was softer than wall to wall. All the branches were covered in moss that dangled down like the Spanish Moss of the Southeast. You get a sense that there is a quick rate of decomposition here, all the fallen trees I could see appeared as though they were turning into mulch before my eyes.
We left our plush spot in the woods around 9:30 and it was still cloudy and raining slightly, very cool too - probably in the lower 60s. We took National Forest Road 26 to the monument. These roads are still heavily forested, very thick. The monument is small in terms of the amount of land, it doesn't even cover the blast zone around the volcano that occurred in the eruption. Eventually, as one drives closer to the blast zone and the volcano, the forest disappears and all that remains are fallen trees and low regrowth, like wildflowers. We turned on National Forest Road 99 which leads to Spirit Lake. Along the way there are several overlooks but because it's cloudy, all we could do is read the sign and use our mind. We got to Windy Ridge, the closest overlook of the volcano and the end of the road. It was still wet outside and we both had changed into jeans and long sleeves by now. It's hard to change your pants in the car.
Spirit Lake is still partially filled with trees. In this picture, 14 years after the eruption, the growth is now beginning to return.
We left and headed for Cedar Lake and then the Harmony trailhead. Here we hiked down to Spirit Lake. This is a short trail but it's a 600 foot elevation difference. The trail lets you see up close and personal the regrowth process and the devastating effects on the trees. Near Spirit Lake the vegetation disappears and it is very rocky. Pumice and other volcanic rock are scattered throughout the entire area here. The lake is still filled with logs, it looks as though it is more than 50% full of the trees that settled in the lake after the eruption. Trees also lie on the banks where the trail meets the lake. It is remarkable to think that before the eruption, Spirit Lake was 200 feet below where it is today. The eruption caused the side of the mountain to slide into the valley where the popular Spirit Lake was. It buried all the houses and the one old guy who refused to leave, Harry Truman (no not the former president, or his son). You could say he's two hundred feet under. All the soil is gray from the ash. We hiked up, narrowly escaping the rain, and headed out of the park and back to US 12 and Randle, WA.
We stopped to get some pizza at this country bar, which posed as a restaurant in the daytime. We were now heading for Mount Rainier National Park, continuing up US 12 through Packwood and then to WA 123. This park is just beautiful; the combination of the rainforests, the alpine meadows, and the many streams and lakes were spectacular. Unfortunately, it was still cloudy and the only way we were going to see Mt. Rainier was on a postcard. We missed the Visitor Center and were halfway toward the northern boundary of the park before we turned back. There are only two main roads going through the park and we get lost. Mt. Rainier is the highest peak in Washington at 14,410 feet and has the most extensive glacial system in the lower 48 states.
We finally got on the right track taking WA 706 west along the south side of the mountain. We stopped at Box Canyon where the Cowlitz River runs between two walls of rock. It's not wide but the rock is practically vertical. We continued on to the Reflection Lakes but nothing was reflecting today, still too cloudy. Our next stop was Paradise. There was a nice visitor center here at an elevation of 5,400 feet where we looked at the exhibits and then took to the network of trails through the Alpine Meadows. On average, this part of the park gets 630 inches of snow a year. The record is 1,122 inches or 93.5 feet of snow in the winter of 1971-1972.
Higher and higher, we hiked into the clouds and sleet passing glaciers and these purple wildflowers.
There is a real sense of climbing in elevation on these trails. At the bottom were many bright green grasses and wildflowers of all colors. As we went higher, the flowers and grass were not as abundant, more stone and sandy soil is exposed and fewer people were around. Higher still and we were walking in snow. We kept going and there were only a few determined tourists left. It was very rocky now and there was little vegetation. We saw this furry thing scurrying about the rocks, looked like a light brown, long slender mop. We asked a guy about 100 feet behind us if he saw it and knew what it was. He told us it was a marmot; I've never even heard of a marmot! Onward and upward. Now we could look down on snowfields and the Nisqually Glacier. We were now in the clouds and could not see the trail below that brought us here. We finally made it to Panorama Point at 6,800 feet, climbing 1,400 feet from the parking lot. Now freezing rain was coming out of the clouds and the trail we had planned to take down looked like it was closed so we had to go down the way we came.
We came out of the clouds and it was just drizzling now. We decided against going to go to the 10,000 foot Camp Muir (laugh), the base camp for the nearly 10,000 people who climb the mountain each year. We also decided not to do the 93 mile Wonderland Trail that encircles the volcano (laugh again). It was about 6 P.M. by now and we still had to go to Sharon's tonight outside of Seattle. We took a change of clothes into the visitor center, changed quickly, and were off.
As we headed out it became darker and darker. We were on WA 706 through the Snoqualmie National Forest and then turned west on WA 7. We were beginning to re-enter civilization again. WA 7 took us to Tacoma where we got on WA 512 then I-5. We went to Ruston where we had to take the $11.85 ferry to Vashon Island, where Sharon lived. We drove around the island looking for a phone to get directions to her house. Once we finally found one, Sharon's phone was busy. It was busy so long that we got some food out and had a bite to eat while waiting to get through. Eventually we drove into the town of Vashon to kill a little more time and called again. This time we were able to get through.
She lives with a bunch about her age, male and female, who share the house together. When we got there they were just hangin' out. One of them cooked a homemade pizza and we all had a piece. We talked to her roommates for a while. At 10 they all watch Star Trek, but it was one they'd seen so we continued talking. We all went to bed around 11:30 or midnight.
This house and these people really remind me of the 60s communal living thing to some extent. I mean, they're not milking their own cows or anything but there are at least five people living in the house and one's got a tent set up in the backyard for his bedroom. It seems like they're able to share so much without getting angry at one another, I really envy them and there's a part of me that could stay here, but I know another part of me would not like it and that's the ironic thing about it. It's one of those idealistic dreams I've had since high school but I know that I probably would not be able to deal with it too long.