Monday, January 26, 2015

Juneuary at Mt. St. Helens

The unseasonably good weather here in SW Washington proved to be just too tempting yesterday. Despite the oppressive weight of the studying I needed to do for an upcoming economics test, I couldn't resist taking a break for a quick afternoon jaunt to Mt. St. Helens. It's been a spectacularly warm January, but even with the record breaking winter temperatures, I was shocked at how little snow there was on Mt. St. Helens and the mountains surrounding it. Even the region’s highest peaks, Coldwater, Whittier, Margaret, and Potato, retain little more than a few scattered snowfields. St. Helens itself has fared little better, and vast bare streaks extend far up its flanks. 

Don't stand near this on a windy day.........
It felt like spring on the hummocks trail, which despite its short length and valley-bottom location, offers a great variety of views and points of interest, weaving among weed-choked beaver ponds (the rising waters of which have forced the trail to be relocated many times since its construction), bright alder forests, and wide mossy meadows. Several trees have fallen across the trail, and it looks like an industrious beaver will provide an additional obstacle in the near future, but the majority of the tread is in fine conditions. The slides that used to plague this loop have long since stabilized, and the slopes of the hummocks are green with thick mattes of moss and tan fields of grass. 
A perfect reflection in a hummocks tarn.

The upper North Fork of the Toutle River seems to have settled into a fairly steady channel, and at the moment it's not running much faster than in early summer. I really wish they would put in a trail here crossing the valley to Castle Lake; a suspension bridge would be ideal, since the river here is shallow enough as to be easily forded, and sufficiently braided as to make seasonal footbridges practical. 
Toutle River and Mt. St. Helens

Mountains Mini, Coldwater, Whittier, and Margaret.
Sunset was both mellow and spectacular, with low clouds on the horizon casting the mountain in early shadow, while the clouds above were lit with a light of pinkish hue. If the weather stays as nice as it was today until next weekend, I could imagine hiking to destinations as high as 5 or even 6 thousand feet and encountering very little snow at all! While the greedy hiker in me celebrates this unexpected early hiking season, the ski and snowshoe enthusiast looks anxiously for a few snowy months to frolic in powder, and the environmentalist cringes at what this means for the summer snowpack and the increasing probability of a bad drought. 

One last thing of note is the increasingly hideous appearance of the forests adjacent to the Monument along Spirit Lake Highway. In addition to several particularly offensive clearcuts near the Coldwater Visitor Center, the tops have been cut off of nearly all the Noble Firs on several hundred acres. The result is the appearance of a poorly trimmed hedge. I don't have any photos (I was in a hurry to hit the trail before dark), but I would appreciate any insight into the purpose for this strange forestry practice. It remains something of a tragedy that when the Monument was created, its borders did not extend to the top of the ridge along which Spirit Lake Highway was later built, and of course, to the sadly still unprotected High Lakes region. As the primary portal to Southwest Washington's greatest tourist attraction, it seems vital that this region present as attractive an appearance as possible.

Enjoy the fine weather while it lasts. I know I will!