“The morning is the best time, there are no people around. My pleasant disposition likes the world with nobody in it.”
I was up in the dark of astronomical twilight on Tuesday, eager for my mountain snow-day. I had double-checked the latest forest service updates, packed for every possibility and hit the road by 4:30 AM. I chose Mount St Helens for sunrise because if both memory and experience serve, there will likely be no humans around this early. I am eager to check for mountain goats at the Observation Center and consider two hikes I’ll likely need snowshoes for. I’m giddy thinking about the snow. It’s a quiet like no other and quite possibly the most grounding experience I’ve ever known. Silence and serenity.
It’s an easy drive down I-5 against all of the commuter traffic heading north. I see stars in the dark sky until I hit Centralia/Chehalis. This area is like a fog belt. By the time I take the exit at Toledo it is thick as pea soup. I slow down. Once I hit SR504 it has mostly cleared. 17 miles from Johnston Ridge Observatory I begin to hit snow and ice just as the sky begins to brighten. There is a corner you take at which point the mountain reveals itself and I can see civil twilight skies. It’s a bit like both fire and melting sherbet.
At first glance the horizon is aglow and I pull over into the Castle Lake viewpoint to take it all in. My headlights light up the snow and the sky cradles the mountain in warmth. It’s below thirty and the wind is fierce, but I’m prepared. I don’t linger, wanting to catch a glimpse from the Observatory. 504 winds downward toward Hummocks Trail and Coldwater Lake before circling back up to Loowit Viewpoint and Johnston Ridge. The timing is perfect which makes my very early wake-up all worth it.
I pass the lake and prepare to head up and am stopped in my tracks. 504 is gated. What?
My heart sinks as my plan implodes.
I allow myself a few angry, frustrated words. It would have taken someone 30 seconds to update the website. I already know the Observatory is closed, but both places I checked said the road would remain open until December 1st. It is a two and a half hour drive for me and had I known I would have made a different plan. 30 seconds. I don’t think that’s asking too much.
So what now?
I walk the nature trail at Coldwater Lake in a cold wind. I drive over to the Hummocks Trailhead parking lot and meander along the sloppy path until I realize this isn’t how I wanted to spend my day. I wanted blue sky and biting cold and SNOW! So I hop back in my car and head to the Jackson Hwy that will take me to HWY12, which will eventually lead me to SR7 and into MRNP (Paradise). It’s two more hours in the car but the heart wants what the heart wants. This heart wants snow.
There is a huge gang of elk as I leave the area. I smile, thinking there might actually be 25 of them. Dropping back into the valley the fog returns and I almost miss my cutoff.
The sun is up now and the sky is almost ethereal. My timing is actually perfect for the opening of the gate at Longmire. The parking lot is scattered with cars as I layer up and pull on my spikes. Unless I plan to go above Alta Vista I shouldn’t need snowshoes, so I set out with camera in tow.
I’ll spare you a thousand more words and give you these pictures instead.
On my way down to Longmire before the gate closes, I pull into the Narada Falls parking lot and head down. Parts of the path are solid ice and I happily make my way down with my trusty spikes and camera. Oh. My. God. The falls are stunning.
Heading back down and safely past the gate, I stop in Longmire and wander along the interpretive trail. The ice is the star of the show here. I’m mesmerized.
Last night I was startled awake from dream, twice! Both times, there is a black panther sharing the path with me. It’s unsettling until I reach for my phone and tap in: what does it mean to see a panther in your dream?
I woke up this morning excited for whatever lies ahead. Serendipitous, methinks. Oh, and I got my Wordle in two. That’s a very good start!
Wordle 515 2/6
TWO mountains. And thanks for sparing me the trouble, as I too had been holding in my mind the thought of a possible snow trip up to St. Helens. The Hummocks Trail and the boardwalk trail at Coldwater Lake are often good consolation prizes for a trip up that far, though. I just wish you had known ahead of time. The waterfall is gorgeous and the video makes a huge difference in my being able to visualize it. Thank you for that. And for the close-up ice crystal shots. Simply stunning.
It was a great day, mostly because I didn’t do much hesitating. I was ready for snow and I found snow! Maybe in another week or so St Helens will have plenty. You’ll just gave to take Boundary West trail if you want to get to the ridge.
(A LOT of pivoting* this morning, here on the east coast (ha) ! Once more, into the breach! )
I would say, based on this startlingly beautiful images, even with the pivot, you more than got what you came for, Bon. And the words are as gorgeous as the art…* Just so hard for this east coaster to wrap my head around the fact that 2 weeks ago, Seattle was the hottest point in the USA, and now! Boom, Ice (and snow!) Capades! Bravo!
Agree 100%. I definitely got what I went looking for. Isn’t that always how it is? The beauty of living where I do is proximity to both mountains and beach. Snow, and it’s liquid version lapping at the coast. Heavenly.
You are intrepid. I feel completely lazy. Narada, oh my goodness. Mossyrock, yeah, that is the fog belt!
It’s such a wonderful feeling to be out in all that stillness. Nothing like it. I’ve never really driven through Mossyrock that I remember and it was a bit ethereal in that fog.
Super fantastic. That ice is just magical. It’s no wonder you had magical dreams.I’m glad those photos had the slideshow option. Stunning. I was disappointed and pivoted right along with you. What an adventure! Will you snow hike again or it all shutting down for the season?
Thanks, Nancy. Oh yes, I can’t wait to go back! I’ve been there several times when the trees are white and the snow is in drifts and everything is so completely still. Bliss.
Great job as usual, Bonnie! Must be something in the air because I just finished writing something on pivoting also😀
Thanks for writing Dan. Ahhh, the art of the pivot! I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts. Must have been the moon!
I’m so glad to see the snow at Paradise and the ice at Longmire! Can’t wait to get up there. Wonderful photos! And what a great pivot! Thank you!!!
Thanks for writing Bailey. I’ll head back in a couple weeks. I might be a little crazy, but I want to be there when it’s snowing! It was a great day. Hope you make it there soon!
WOW! Absolutely stunning photographs, as always! Perfect lesson on pivoting and the rewards that came anyway. Sure want to get my first snow fix of the year, too. Ann
Thank you, Ann. I’m glad I didn’t think too long before heading out. What is it they say: action has magic and power and grace. Hope you get boots in the snow soon!
That might be the highest compliment ever* Thanks, Jocelyn. Time for a Nisqually trip soon?
I feel the stress leaving my body just reading this, beautiful.
What a nice day! Thanks for sharing. There has been a concerted effort to increase the population of leopards and jaguars here in the Yucatan jungles and it seems to be working. Both are very present and important in the Maya culture.
It was such an odd dream. And to wake up twice, in different frames, was so surprising. I’m not sure I’ve ever even spoken the words before, so to see this beautiful creature so clearly was amazing. And the day, yes … gorgeous!
OMG the reason I live here… such wild beauty–and to read your blog and let you carry me into it. Thank you!
So, so happy to have you along! I’ll head back to Paradise in a few weeks when the trees are covered in white and the silence even more profound. Only poetry could do it justice.