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.