The weather report looked dismal but that has never stopped me before. It’s a nearly two and a half hour drive so it’s important to have either good weather or a good attitude (preferably both). I was mindful that today was not just any day at the mountain.
Like the assassination of JFK, the first steps on the moon or 911, people have a clear memory of where they were forty years ago today, May 18th. I was driving to softball practice at Tyee HS near SeaTac and as I drove up I-5, people were stopped ON the roadway to watch the giant plume from Mt St Helen’s eruption. It was surreal. The stories that would come later would shape a generation.
Covid-19: An event that will mark a change in our history. I can’t really envision what the end of this looks like, but I know that someday it will be in the rearview and it will die out and come roaring back to life through memory and story. It’s the one thing I am certain of.
Last June I wrote about the eruption and about one character in particular: Harry Truman. A man raised in the shadow of the mountain and perished in her explosive eruption. You can read that post here. It was in the spring, June. There were no gates up. No closures. No warnings about anything other than the occasional mountain lion …
There has been a lot of confusion about what is and is not open right now. I have been following the Mt St Helen’s Institute on Facebook and on the 15th they posted a concise list of what would be open today. Elk Rock and Castle Lake viewpoints were open. Coldwater Lake picnic area, boat launch and trails all open. The restrooms at the Coldwater Lake boat launch were open, clean and stocked. Hummocks Trailhead is also open (no restrooms). This trail is very diverse and fairly easy for most any age or fitness level. It will also connect to the much more challenging Boundary West trail that takes you up to the observatory.
HWY 504 is gated just past the Hummocks trailhead. Cars are not allowed, but you can walk up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory (7 miles each way) or to the South Coldwater trailhead a shy two miles from the gate. Keep in mind the Johnston Ridge Observatory and pavillion are closed and there are no outdoor restrooms available.
My plan was to arrive early enough to stop at the different viewpoints and be on the Hummocks trail in time to be in view of the mountain at exactly 8:32 am. I went counter-clockwise on the Hummocks trail hoping to be at the ridge by 8:30. About half a mile in, I was greeted rather angrily by a pair of geese nesting with their furry little goslings right next to trail. No way was I going to be allowed to pass without a fuss. So I turned around and found myself a lovely “sit-spot” to revel in the exact moment. You pass through a beautiful red alder forest on the approach to this section. The short little trip was breathtaking.
I walked part of the Coldwater Lake trail before the clouds swallowed up the mountain. The flowers are just beginning and the tent caterpillars are wiggling around the branches. Here’s the most surprising thing of all: I saw only a handful of people and at most lots, I was the only car. Happy to have been given a private showing of Rainier’s little sister. I’d like to think my small act of attention and meditation made a difference.
Driving back down I realize the delicate balance here of planted forest and the natural reforestation. I think it is one of the most hopeful places on the planet. If you missed the link to my earlier post, here is what it looks like in June. In thirty more days it will begin to exolode with color and I can return to pay homage to Harry Truman one more time.
Happy Anniversary Mount St Helen’s ♡