MSH Boundary Trail (Jul 5, 2019)

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MSH_boundary_trail_coverConditions: Day hike
Gear: nothing special
Map: USGS Spirit Lake West
Area: Mt St Helens, Johnson Ridge
Reference: Day Hiking Mount St Helens
Stats: 9.93mi, 2345' gain
Weather Forecast


I've been itching for a trip down to MSH for a while so when I was checking trip reports over at wta.org and noticed a trip out to Coldwater Peak I clicked the link. I found lots of color...LOTS...so that became my plan for the day after the 4th.

I was up early (a bit after 4am). I knew traffic would be light for a working day because of the holiday yesterday but I knew I had a long hike planned and at least 6 hours total of driving. I didn't want to cut my day short with a late start. The good news is it took me right about 3 hours to get through the Seattle traffic and roll into the parking area at MSH Johnson Ridge Observatory. Note: the Visitor Center there doesn't open until 10am and the last services are down at Coldwater so plan accordingly. Also, there is a fee to visit the monument but thankfully my America the Beautiful Pass qualified so no additional fees for me. Also, this trip is dry and exposed (no shade). There are no water sources at all along the way so make sure to bring plenty of water and sun protection.

It's been almost 20 years since I was last out this way. The last trip was a Mounties snowshoe trip up Coldwater. I bailed on that trip just below the top (don't remember...tired?) so I was eager to get back to the area. This trip was completely different. No snow and TONS of color. More color than I had expected.

The trail starts at the east end of the Johnson Ridge parking area (4189') and is paved at first (but not for long). The trail heads east away from the parking area along Johnson Ridge. The area is completely void of taller trees which makes sense because this area was in the blast zone.

At about 1.6mi (4181') there was a sign pointing straight that said "trail" but the map showed a trail rounding the south side of Pt4380. That trail was obviously blocked off. Maybe the 1980 eruption took the trail out??? I continued straight and eventually met up with the trail (as marked on the USGS map) at 2.22mi (4129'). Here the trail starts to head more northerly skirting the west side of Harry's Ridge.

I had started out the hike in the clouds and this didn't change as I walked past and slightly above the big basin area to the west of Harry's Ridge. That basin area and the bits I could see were aflame with purple...I couldn't tell exactly what the flowers were (lupine I suspected) because the swirly cloud I was hiking inside of. The paintbrush in this cinder/pumice/ash area was incredibly bright, big, and prolific. I couldn't believe the large dense clusters of red all over the place. More paintbrush than I'd ever seen before on a hike. Eventually (at 3mi, 4411') I met up with the spur trail that heads up to Harry's Ridge. For me the goal was to hike out to Coldwater Peak so I kept going north.

From the Harry's Ridge junction the trail starts to steadily climb uphill. Nothing too steep though. It was interesting that as the trail dropped down the east side of the ridge the pumice type ground disappeared and there was actual dirt underfoot (more protected from the blast?). The clouds were still swirling and I knew Spirit Lake was nearby but I didn't have much in the way of views except the nearby trail and the inside of the clouds. Slowly though as the day warmed the clouds did start to burn off some.

At about 4.34mi (5231') I reached a turnaround spot. I was high up above St Helens Lake and I could see Coldwater Peak not too far away. But...I'd need to lose some elevation and I guessed the peak was still another mile off (as the feet walk). So, I found a nice spot, plopped myself behind a rock and soaked in the views as I ate lunch. Be the time I left my lunch spot most of the clouds had burned off except the very top of Coldwater Peak and the top of MSH (neither ever completely came out while I was around).

It was time to head back. Feeling a bit guilty about bailing on Coldwater Pk I decided to head up to the viewpoint on Harry's Ridge (6.36mi, 4725'). There were several small groups up at the viewpoint so I didn't stay too long. By the time I got back to the junction with the Boundary Trail the sun was out and it was starting to warm up. That basin down below on the east side of Harry's Ridge was now completely visible...and looked like a purple punch bowl...it was completely covered in lupine and penstemon. Wow.

I took my time hiking back out to the car. Lots of stops photographing all the color. I truly was amazing.
 
MSH Boundary Trail Slideshow

MSH_boundary_trail_map1 MSH_boundary_trail_map2
(click on map to view a larger version)

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Copyright Janet M. Putz
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