Sunday, April 19, 2015

Cycling Mt. St. Helens

Continuing with our trend of biking on roads closed for the winter/early spring season, Craig and I jumped at the chance to cycle Spirit Highway, the road leading to Mt. St. Helens, before it opened to cars. Round trip, the route was about 70 miles, with only a 20 mile section closed to motorized vehicles. There was no snow along the road this time of the year, so I assume the road closure was due to having a lack of funding to support staff in the winter at the Johnston Ridge Observatory.

The ride, although very long and tiring, was awesome! Once we entered the blast zone, an approximate 19 mile radius of obliteration surrounding the mountain's north side, we had fantastic, near constant views of Mt. St. Helens. It was eerie to see the devastation while the snow-capped mountain beamed silently, yet proudly in the distance as if still basking in her underestimated force. Being on a bike allowed us hours taking in this scene while imagining the horror of pyroclastic flows traveling at speeds up to 670 miles per hour, flattening everything in its path.

Entering the blast zone

Mt. St. Helens comes into view

Even with the top gone, that is one big mountain!

On the final stretch to the top. The mountains behind me were tree covered prior to the 1980 eruption.

We finally reached the top and were stunned to find that even with such beautiful weather and an accessible trail head several miles away, there was no on else there! I've been to the observatory before during normal operating hours and, as with most National Parks and Monuments, it's typically packed with people. The experience of being there without crowds was enough to ensure that I'll never go back during the open season; the encounter is just not comparable. It was so incredibly peaceful to be alone with this colossal peak towering overhead and surrounded by a desert landscape that is only beginning to recover from the eruption 25 years later. The only sounds to be heard were the constant whistle of distant winds blowing up and over the summit. It was also the only peak covered in snow, casting a radiance that demanded attention. 

We had the whole observatory to ourselves!

Mt St Helens and her devestation

close up with a new bulge forming

No one here!

I lay down to get some rest before the descent.

Posing with the mountain

It was hard to descend because we kept stopping to take pictures. As it got to be later in the afternoon, the lighting continuously made the landscape more and more photogenic. Once we finally put away the cameras, it was a fun ride, but with more uphill than I recalled.

I'd really like to do this ride again, but only ride the 20 miles without cars and turn it into a sunset trip. The colors were so lovely in late afternoon so I can only imagine the pallet that would open up as the sun sets!

More views on the way down

More views on the way down

More views on the way down.

More views on the way down.

 Profile of the ride.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Deception Pass

Below are some photos from a hike at Deception Pass. After spending a few days at a work field site near here, Craig wanted to show me the fantastic place he got to call the office for a while. It was amazing--such a lush and dynamic environment. It was hard to look at the setting and not imagine the rich lifestyle the natives must have had here ages ago.

Luckily, we were also there when the tide was in transition from high to low. When this happens, the water at Deception Pass becomes a swirling confusion of water simultaneously flowing in two directions!

Me standing on one of the sheer bluffs

The Maiden of Deception Pass with her salmon

Craig looking out at the Sound

We had these views for most of the hike!

Craig (lower left) looking toward Deception Pass at an ebbing tide.

Great Blue Heron

Taking a quick break to catch some sun while we watch the tide change.

Craig and Deception Island

Views along the hike.

Views along the hike.

Craig and me

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Ashland Lakes & Twin Falls

Originally, Chris and I set out to hike on the Lake Twenty-two trail, with the final destination being a gorgeous oasis nestled into the shoulder of Mt. Pilchuck. When we arrived at the trailhead parking lot, it was apparent our peaceful picturesque idea of quiet forests teeming with old-growths and mountain views was quickly dejected--there were hoards of humans everywhere! The parking lot was so full, we had to circle around several times before eventually finding space to park along the road. Packs of people were getting out of their vehicles, the festival traveler types of the PNW were hula-hooping in the parking lot, and kids were running around everywhere. It was a circus.

Now, I should also say that this parking lot scene does make me glad that the people of Seattle love getting out and enjoying the great outdoors. I realize that it's only through such human interactions with nature that appreciation, and thereby preservation, is gained. I'm a social person who gets totally energized by being around large groups of people. However, to have balance, I need the solitude of nature, trading in the urban noise for sounds of birds, wind, and sometimes just a simple silence.

We debated about sticking it out and doing the crowded hike anyway, but ultimately decided to try another, more remote trail. Without cell phone reception and in a bit of a crunch for time, we picked our next trail by simply looking at a map and choosing a squiggly line to follow. The winner: Ashland Lakes.

Chris at Ashland Lake

The parking lot at Ashland Lakes was much more of what I like to see when I arrive at a trailhead--about 3 cars. Much of the trail meandered through a large network of wetland areas and we walked on a raised boardwalk for the first half of the hike. The boards were wet with pockets of snow, leaving the wood incredibly slippery and we spent a lot time looking down with care for steady foot placement; I still managed to fall.

One of the fellow hikers asked if we were on our way to Twin Falls, which we had no idea about. They tried to explain how to get there and eventually just told us to follow the blue ribbons. Finding these trail markers proved more difficult than it sounded and we ended up back tracking portions of the trail after realizing we must have gone too far.

We did finally find some blue tape tied high on some small tree branches and were on our way! What follows are a string of photos from the trail and Chris's back. I swear he has a face! 

walking on the boardwalk 

Success! We find the blue trail markers!

The trail was filled with webs of tree roots.

After we found the blue ribbons, the trail quickly transformed from raised boardwalks along a flat wetland, to an undulating trail thick with old-growth trees. Massive webs of roots (both from trees present and past) crawled over the hillsides. The long, thick roots reached out their moss-covered fingers to firmly grasp large boulders along the trail. Every where we looked, a complex cast of  green shades saturated the trees, their bark, the rocks, and the ground.

We made a final ascent to a fantastic, isolated waterfall cascading down a cliff face into a small lake! The water, although clear of sediments, was brownish red with tannins. It seemed like a great place to come back to in the heat of the summer for a mid-hike swim. 

We find a waterfall!

The person we met earlier had called this area Twin Falls so shortly after finding the first waterfall, we set out to found its counterpart. Following the stream down, we found a rope crossing a creek that was truncated by nothingness. We figured this must be the top of the second waterfall and the rope was leading to its access.

Crossing the top of the second waterfall. (Photo courtesy of Chris)

The forest was very brushy and dense on the opposite side of the creek and we struggled to find a good viewpoint of the second fall.We found a nice rock outcrop that allowed for sweeping views of vast hillsides of spruce and cedars. The waterfall could be loudly heard from here, but still not seen. Determined to find it, Chris and I carefully navigated around the thicket and literally used our bodies as bulldozers, pushing through areas we couldn't circumvent. 

With a little persistence, we found the waterfall...or at least the top half of the it. The bushes soon opened up to a smooth rock platform with two streams of water gushing down its face. The water didn't even have time to pool before disappearing down a vertical cliff that lead to the creek 100+ feet below. Terrified of heights, I was very nervous being out of the rock that was obviously cleared of vegetation and smoothed by large floods. Although the platform was perfectly safe, for some reason I irrationally convince myself that I'm going to randomly fall down and fling myself over the ledge whenever I get around exposed areas.

Chris looking for the waterfall from the rock outcrop.

Chris on the platform at the top of the second waterfall.

Me looking over trying to see the bottom of the second waterfall. (Photo courtesy of Chris)

Chris at the top of the second waterfall. This picture still makes me nervous to look at. So exposed!

We relaxed here, hypnotized by the loud roar of the waterfall for a while and then started making our way out of the woods. Since finding the blue ribbons, we didn't see a single other person on the trail! Although we didn't choose this path for any reason other than its remoteness, I was highly impressed with the temperate rainforest and waterfalls it kept tucked away.

Afternoon light on Ashland Lake