BOOM! No, that's not the sound of an explosion coming from the very volcano we saught to hike up today. That's the effect that the view from Aaron's cabin had on me this morning. Stretching out before me was a perfect day for our hike. Clear skies with just a dash of fog swirling over the surface of Lake Merwin. Around 6am everyone woke up and prepared themselves with some packing and a quick breakfast. Once ready we all piled in my Volvo and Aaron's VW.
A washboard and gravel road that lead to the trailhead was a bit rougher than I remembered from my past hikes up this same mountain. It didn't matter though because, after a group picture and sunscreen application, we darted into the forest that started off the hike. The dusty trail winds through an evergreen forest that skirts up against the edge of the timberline on Mt. St. Helens. The 4800' level marks the end of that green section of the trail and the beginning of the rest of the ascent.
Monitor Ridge was our guide up the duration of the mountain. After a clambor up the side of the ridge it's easy to gaze up Mt. St. Helens toward the now-visible summit and at the expansive landscape expanding in all other directions. At this point Mt. Adams was visible to the east and Mt. Hood in Oregon to the south. After lunch in the cool Sun or even cooler shade (whichever we chose) Mt. Jefferson even further into Oregon was visible. The ridge leads us summitward toward the next challenge on the trail. A glace to the top of the mountain would now reveal tiny colored dots that represented successful hikers now at the top enjoying the vistas that we would soon enjoy.
Four (or more) tiers of boulders were the next phase in the progression we followed up St. Helens. Without a real path to follow, hikers like us are expected to keep our eyes on the posts that mark the general trail so we wouldn't wander to far astray. We took a slow pace from here on out because, as most of us realized, we are out of shape! This didn't matter though because we could all now see thin, multi-colored lines pacing at the top of the mountain. The ash/gravel fields that now stood in front of us were no more than a yellow light telling us not really to stop but to keeping going because a green light like this hike doesn't come along every day. So we did it.
Dust clogged our eyes and lungs and fatigue burned through any muscle that was needed to get us to the top. Tiny steps are the only way to finish this section of the hike because too great a push off with one foot allows it to slide backward in the ashy ground. But just about as soon as we realized that the lines that we saw at the top became recognizable limbs, we knew we were there. At the top is where we stand awed.
After a time, we decended Mt. St. Helens. Some painful troubles with Sarah's ankle required special attention on the way down. Through the pain and tears, the difficult journey down the mountain came to an end when Sarah and I emerged from a fantastic conversation and the forest through which the hike had begun earlier that morning. We drove back to the Hideaway and feasted on chili that Aaron prepared in a crock pot. A bunch of people spent time in a hot tub while the rest of us slowly curled into a heavy, and well deserved, sleep.