Let's Go! Mount Saint Helens

For those of us who lived in the Pacific Northwest on May 18, 1980, the date is embedded into our collective consciousness. That is, of course, the day that Mount Saint Helens blew its top. It was huge news in Oregon and Washington, as well as across the rest of the country and world. This is Facilities Manager writing. Master Gardener Tamara needs a break from time to time so when that time comes I like to share my adventures. Of course, flowers and plants are included in my ramblings. Last Saturday I hiked near the north side of Mt. St. Helens, as pictured below. The mountain used to look a bit like Mount Hood, but now it has its own special topography. This was my first visit since it erupted all those years ago.

 This is looking south from the Johnson Ridge Observatory, which is 51 miles east of Interstate 5. Turn east at the town of Castle Rock (Exit 49) and cruise the hour up Highway 504 to the observatory and be prepared to be amazed. Shame on me for having waited all these years to go. Bad FM! Bad!

 Boundary Trail No. 1 headed east away from the observatory's vast parking lot. We walked to Harry's Ridge, which you can see just to the right a bit from the center. It is lower than the ridge deep in the background. We enjoyed an elevation gain from 3,200 feet to 4,750 feet. Not too bad on the lungs. Took about two hours and we enjoyed many native flowers and shrubs along the way. Very few trees as all of those were blown down during the eruption. I think some landed in Tacoma!

Looking north from the trail. That knob in the upper right is Coldwater Peak. Yes, a person can hike to it. Not sure about climbing it, but there are many trails I plan to explore. All of this is much closer to home than Mount Everest in Nepal, which I visited in late 2014. See that here. Master Gardener Tamara is much happier with me nearby. I could have used a yak, though, to carry my water and pack! And my beer and pizza, of course! Go, yak! Go!

Now, to the plants (with Tamara's help): This is Fragaria virginiana  Rhubus lasiococcus (thank you Evan Bean!) or wild strawberry bramble. Did not see one berry. And while I noted many huckleberry bushes I did not see any of those either. Berries, I mean. Huckle or otherwise.

Lupines and Castilleja or Indian paint brush. Some of these were dark red. Very pretty. I must apologize here because I took my little camera on the hike, and it does not do close-ups of flowers. Mountains? Yes! Humans? Yes! Individual blossoms? Ah, not so much. Sorry. (Bad FM...bad bad)

 There's my old trekking partner Scott. This is just before he got lost. Haha, how he did that . . . well, you can see Spirit Lake way out there (looking southeast) and you can see the huge log raft from the eruption. Imagine those logs have been floating and bobbing about for nearly 40 years now!

 Castilleja hispida or harsh Indian paintbrush. I would love to have some of these here at Chickadee Gardens. I grew up in Idaho on the Nez Perce Reservation and we enjoyed these plants, there, too. Tamara here - well, they are tricky to grow and require very specific conditions - they need to grow with native lupines and blue-eyed grass as they have a symbiotic relationship. Sorry, FM - maybe we'll try next year.

A field of what Master Gardener thinks is Arnica lanceolata. (Tamara here - OK, I hate that term. I'm just a plant floozie, really.)

 Calyptridium umbellatum or pussypaws. This plant was at the top of Harry's Ridge. A cool breeze was a perfect relief for we hikers, but I think these plants lead a harsh life in the bright sun and, in the winter months, cold and wind.

The path leaves Harry's Ridge and courses down to the lower part of the ridge. But it goes no further. Johnson Ridge and Harry's Ridge took the main shock of the eruption. I wonder what it looked like the day before the event itself. I plan to return and hike over to the mountain base to an area called the Blast Zone. I will be walking across the Plains of Pumice! Way cool!

Likely broadleaf lupine or Lupinus latifolius.

 Although difficult to distinguish in this photograph, I think this is Penstemon euglaucus or Penstemon serrulatus (thank you Evan for the correction!).

 Another Calyptridium umbellatum or pussypaws.

Hiking friend Bobby is just underway from the parking lot (note the asphalt). Bobby is from Michigan where there are very few mountains -- much less volcanoes -- of this scale. He was sufficiently humbled, and is quick to add that he loves living in the Pacific Northwest.

 If you ramble yourself to the Johnson Ridge Observatory or elsewhere on or near Mount Saint Helens you will find plenty of this stuff -- light, dusty pumice material -- everywhere. This is one of those places, i.e., Crater Lake, the Wallowa Mountains, Steens Mountain, that is a long drive but totally worth the trouble and effort. Plus, the observatory itself is quite a place. 

If I might take a moment and add a few more lines: I recall that morning in May 1980 living 300 miles away and hearing a light boom in the distance. It could have been the eruption. But then later in the day a dark, black cloud crept closer and closer and finally dumped four inches of ash on my town in Idaho, and even more in other areas east of the Cascades. I recall also driving through Portland in July that year and seeing vast clouds rolling out of the mountain as it continued to spew off and on.

Tamara here - I remember it too, born and raised here in Portland. My older brother was supposed to have a Boy Scouts outing on Mt. Saint Helens that weekend but it was cancelled. We watched in horror as the sky darkened and ash fell all over, carpeting our little neighborhood with what resembled gray snow. I think my little brother still has a jar full of ash knocking around Mom's home somewhere. That was a sad but incredible day. Sad because many people, animal and whole ecosystems perished, incredible because...well how often do you get to see a mountain blow up in your backyard?

I will also add that no one knew what would happen as far as life returning to the mountain. Soon they discovered life. Mosses, gophers, ants all began showing up and that led to other critters and other forms of flora. Today it has changed tremendously and as you can see many of our native wildflowers have returned. It's a fascinating look at what nature can do if you are interested in learning about these things.
Back to Facilities Manager: Saturday's trip put a bookend to this for me, and I enjoyed it immensely. I look forward to returning and see what I see, AND taking my good camera and lots and lots of water. Where's that yak?

To learn more about Mount Saint Helens wildflowers, click here.
For a link about hiking Mount Saint Helens, click here.

That's it from Chickadee Gardens this week. Sometimes it is good to leave the gardening behind and see a volcano from a high ridge-top. Have a great day and happy gardening (and hiking).


  1. Interesting post. No mountains in Florida, either, sadly. I love looking at the different types of plants you all have compared to us. Thanks for this.

    1. Thank you. FM here. Had I had my good camera you would have seen more plants than the handful shown. You have to admire the high-altitude plants, though. They take a beating with the wind and snow and ice up around Mt St Helens. I plan to revisit the hike in October. Watch for snow!! Thanks again.

  2. Very cool - and you two are delightful! : )

    1. Thank you, Stephilius. We have a lot of fun these days. Living in the country means everything to us. Plus, we can see three major mountains from our neighborhood; Hood, St Helens and Adams. Oh, those lovely Cascades!

  3. Thanks for sharing the hike! I remember the news of the event, viewed from the safety of Southern California. It's interesting to see the area's slow rebound.

    1. Thanks, Kris. I did not mention the big, fat chipmunks running around. Too fast for photos. I plan to hike into the lower portions of the mountain soon. I will let you know what plant-life I find up in there. They say the deer and elk are also roaming about. Oh boy!

  4. All my friends are putting me to shame for not making it up to Mount St. Helens this year. I really need to make it a priority. It's a relatively quick drive up the highway for me, compared to other hiking destinations. Great photos. I always love seeing this place.

    A few notes from the obnoxious know-it-all: The "Rhubus lasiococcus" is actually Fragaria virginiana. There may actually be some Rubus lasiococcus in the photo with the possible Lupinus latifolius. Castilleja species also grow with native bunch grasses and penstemons, so they may not be impossible. Linda Cochran has had success with them in her garden. The "Penstemon euglaucus" is more likely Penstemon serrulatus. Ok! That's it for me!

  5. Housebound in the hills NE of Spokane, for what felt like weeks. So much ash, everywhere. I never thought life would return to normal (kids can be so dramatic...).

  6. Downtown Portland was like a desert metropolis. The few brave souls wandering the streets wore face masks. Many thought it was the new normal and planned to move. It was remarkable how quickly plant and animal life began to reappear.

  7. I visited it as a kid in the late 1990s. So much more life now! Great post.


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