Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mount St. Helens Crater: The Descent (Part 3)

We didn't spend long at the glacier. With temperatures in the low 40s, and most of us damp--or worse--it would be unwise to stay still for too long. Only twenty minutes after we pulled the lunches out of our packs, our hike guides were rounding us up for the descent. We retraced only a small part of our route through the crater, and then we headed more to the east, to take a shorter route down.

Downhill felt good! At least for a while, until knees and toes started to grumble...

 But it was never always just down. Volcano country is filled with more UP than down...or at least that's how it seems! Here's a little creek filled with minerals, and therefore algae and other plant life, from a hot spring upstream. But after we crossed the creek, it was back uphill again for another scramble up the ridge on the opposite side.

 Here's another one of the cracked rocks. I think they are so interesting!

 You might notice several things in this photo. One, I don't have my hat on! A dry(er) hiking experience, at least for a little while. Two, there is a surprising amount of green in the landscape. I was continually fascinated with the ways that the plants are making a comeback into the blast zone. Three, even though that's Mount St. Helens behind me, you couldn't prove it from this photo. The clouds were constantly shifting. I'd see a great photo op, and then the clouds would change again.

 Here's a view of Loowit Creek. Downstream a little ways it drops off into a lovely long waterfall - kind of a "bridal veil" style of waterfall. This photo shows the dramatic effects of 30 years of a creek flowing through a volcanic landscape. The soils here are all so easily moved by water, that a simple creek can create this impressive canyon.

 Believe it or not, this is cool. See the white fuzzy shape in the upper middle of the photo? Can you guess what it is? Figure it out, and then check your answer at the bottom of the post! *

 Looking down on Spirit Lake in the distance. Woo hoo! There's a bit of blue sky overhead! I was able to tuck my raincoat into my pack for all of about 20 minutes. Then those fluffy white clouds moved in again...

 Like I mentioned before, there is no simple route "down" in this rugged landscape. We needed teamwork to cross Loowit Creek. Longer-legged hikers crossed first, then extended a hand to help the rest of us "vertically challenged" hikers make the crossing. Then we scrambled back up the other bank, once again.

Still headed east, across the pumice plain, almost back to the cars. By this time I had my raincoat back on again, my little toes were actively hurting, and I was ready to call it a day. But I didn't complain! I was SO GRATEFUL to have had the privilege of hiking into the Mount St. Helens crater.

(I'm in the 2nd row, 4th from right)
Photo from the MSHI Facebook page

At the end of the hike, our hike leaders complimented us on doing so well under the brutal weather conditions. Having been a hike leader myself on lots of scout outings and other hikes, I can relate to the sense of responsibility they must have felt, shepherding 16 strangers through a demanding physical landscape with no easy access to help if it was needed, and with constant worries about temperature and visibility. They were wonderful hike leaders, and I would recommend this hike to anyone who is reasonably fit and ready for some adventure. The Mount St. Helens Institute will be posting next year's hikes on their website soon. I understand that this year's slots filled up within one day of the hikes being posted on the website. The schedule for next year's crater hikes will be posted in December 2011.

*Oh, and the white spot in the photo? Of course you guessed it, from my hint at the end of yesterday's post. That, my friends, was a HUGE mountain goat. Oh, how I wish the visibility had been better so I could have captured a better photo! I tried several different shots, and that was the best I could get through the fog/cloud. But really, he (she?) was SO big. And SO white! How can their coats glow so white like that in the middle of that gray and dusty landscape? I thought mountain goats were the size of a large dog, but this one made me think of a walrus! We kept him (her?) in sight for nearly an hour as we worked our way down a tricky bit of the descent. The mountain goat was perched on a shelf, quite comfortable, and not the least bothered by us clumping about his territory.


Dorothy said...

Well done, Kathy! I was looking at the photo of your group and wondering about the rest of the participants. Where do they come from, what are their occupations, their motives for this adventure?

Kathy Haynie said...

All over the place! There was a group from California. A couple of the men worked at Boeing, and another is a truck driver. A mother (nurse) and daughter (college student-Marine Biology) were part of the group. One of the MSHI volunteers (a woman) is a pilot for Horizon Airlines. We were a VERY diverse group.

Katie Lewis said...

Mom, you look great! So sporty in your cute jacket.

Sarah said...

Wow! That's awesome! You look great by the way. Wonderful photos. That sounds like so much fun...and hard work. You're amazing.