Tour without a goal – 20 July 2014


The white dome peak whacked lower down,
open-sided crater on the northside, fumarole wisps
a long gray fan of all that slid and fell
angles down clear to the beach
dark old-growth forest gone     no shadows
The lake afloat with white bone blowdown logs
scoured ridges round the rim, bare outcrop rocks
squint on the bright
ridge top plaza packed with puzzled visitor gaze
– Gary Snyder, from Blast Zone

the road to Helens is lined with stinging nettles
It was actually rather cold this morning, fully overcast, damp with streamers of mist throughout the forest. I do ten miles on route this chilly, misty morn, most of it the climb up to Elk Pass I’d complete tomorrow. Turning off at FR99 I head west toward the mountain. I ditched my front panniers in the woods after a couple of miles as this road is all steep up and downs and of course won’t need the camping Gear at the top. Unburdened it was now merely a hard climb instead of a feat of strength. Winding forest road for six miles or so and then the first lookout which reveals the clouds are breaking up but the mountain is still hiding behind clouds.


At the next overlook I emerge from the forest into the blast zone. Ghostly remnants of trees protrude from ground like sticks poked into sand. The downed trees, white, strangely undecayed scattered like pickup sticks after a child’s temper tantrum. But down the other direction, Green River Valley, rich, striated between the lush returning life and the managed forest outside the National Monument.

In a great swath around the lake basin, everything in direct line to the mountain is flat down: white clear logs, nothing left standing. Next zone of tree-suffering is dead snags still upright. Then a zone called “ashes trees” blighted by a fall of ash, but somehow still alive. Last, lucky to be out of line with the blast, areas of green forest stand. A function of distance, direction, and slope. Finally, far enough back, healthy old forest stretches away. – Gary Snyder, To Ghost Lake

Stopping at every overlook really helps to break up the climb. FR99 ascends to 4100′ and then descends several hundred feet, a process which repeats multiple times until Windy Ridge at 4200′. The sky became increasingly clear and sometimes it’s warm in the sun, but when your destination is “Windy Ridge” you know what to expect . Indeed the wind was fully present and it was strong and cold coming right over the ridge to the west. Always blowing more clouds over the mountain.


Spirit Lake, this blue oasis in the blasted landscape with a huge mat of dead trees that were pulled into the lake when the massive landslide from the eruption pushed up the valley walls hundreds of feet and then trammeled back down. These logs were all, pushed to the far end of the lake – opposite of the relentless wind. One of the viewpoints is a Miners Car which a family had left at a trailhead and hiked to where they had a cabin on the supposedly safe “Green Zone”. The lateral blast went right into that portion of the green zone flattening their car and killing the miners. It’s paint stripped off my the blast, it sits there, flatted, rusted with fireweed growing out of it.


Windy Ridge has a tremendous view of Spirit Lake, the plateau below the mountain – with mounds made up of the top of the mountain strewn about –
and views right into the crater an the lava dome. But it never cleared up on this day and only the bottom of the crater below the lava dome was visible. A good part of the sky was clear but in the direction of the ever present wind was a stream of dark clouds all the way to the horizon. This is the Pacific Northwest and we always make do.


The descent was cold and punctuated with climbing at those spots where it had descended on the way up. The road is crumbling on this side as well so it had to be a careful descent. Still it was a lot faster – the wind was also with me. Soon enough I reached where I stashed my panniers and re established them to their rightful place. Then I rode another couple miles down and almost at the junction with FR25 I found a dirt road that went down to Iron Creek. I rode down there and found it was a well established camping spot and stayed there for the night right above the creek.

sitting in the forest
the twilight birds calling
filtering water for tea

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