Thursday, June 07, 2007


It was gorgeous sunny weather so we decided it would be a good day to visit Mt. St. Helens. Daniel volunteered to come, and we headed out at about 8:00 for the monument, taking I5 up to the Castle Rock exit toward Johnston Ridge and Coldwater Ridge. We arrived at Johnston ridge about mid-morning.

The Mountain from Johnston Ridge

Toutle River Valley

I hadn’t been there for years, and since it was such a barren wasteland it didn’t look too promising for birdlife, but the beautiful wilderness environment more than made up for that.

Though the views of the Mountain were great, the wind was really powerful, and carried particles of ash and dust that would be sure to scratch lenses and make photography difficult (as you can see in the following photo :).

So we walked around inside the visitor center for a little while, examining the seismographs, photos and stories of the eruption. Adam said that when he used to work in a cave in MO, they had a seismograph which could pick up activity from all around the world. Sometimes they would see indications of an earthquake or eruption and several hours later the news would confirm an event at the time the machine recorded it.

The wind died down a bit and allowed us to get some neat shots before we left for Coldwater Ridge. On the way back down through the hills we spotted a hawk flying overhead. In typical birder form, Adam found the nearest pulloff--on the other side of the road--and swerved in there. The bird turned out to be just a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, so we kept going. We stopped at the short “Birth of a Lake” boardwalk trail on Coldwater Lake, where we got some neat photos of the lake, and saw a few Yellow Warblers and Willow Flycatchers.

Coldwater Lake from the "Birth of a Lake" trail

As we were eating lunch at the trailhead, the resident ground squirrel came for handouts--there was a $250 fine for feeding the animals so I shot him instead!

Then we were feeling adventurous enough to attempt the Hummocks Trail (named for the ubiquitous rounded mounds that are found in the valley), a 2.5 mile loop through some of the most amazing terrain around the mountain in the Toutle River valley. There weren’t too many birds, but the scenery was even more magnificent than the route description promised, so we really enjoyed that hike.

Scenery from the Hummocks Trail

I kept imagining how much fun it would be to kayak down the Toutle River, but I don't even own a kayak, and they might not allow it. Too bad.

We then visited the Coldwater Ridge visitor center, which was really nice and tourist-friendly (without the wind!), offering great looks at the lake down below and the mountain.

Me at Coldwater Ridge (photos by Adam Nisbett)

View from the Coldwater Lake Visitor Center

Though the birdlife was pretty subdued, the mountain was spectacular as always. It really is a national monument to Creation.

All photos © Benjamin Berkompas 2007 (unless otherwise indicated), taken at Mt. St. Helens National Monument WA

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