Blowing the Top

Mount St. Helen is one of those places everyone should see.  Or at least anyone who is interested in what happens when a mountain explodes.  It’s one of those fascinating places that I have no problem returning to.  I’ve been there three times, which is a lot considering I live about 2500 miles away and there are a lot of places I haven’t been that are higher on my bucket list.

Our last trip out to Portland, my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew wanted to see Mount St. Helen and we decided to do a 6 mile hike while we were there.  My dad and his wife would hang at the visitor’s center while we did our through-hike.  They would pick us up at the end of the trail.  Timing was a bit tricky.  With no working cell phones, we had to predict how long it would take us to go 6 miles.

I have read a lot of books about backpacking where people say things like “20 minutes a mile with a full pack is a good pace.”  I have yet to go on a day hike where we were able to maintain a 20 minute mile pace, let alone a hike with a full pack.  So, when my sister-in-law (who likes to do things like run marathons at an 8 minute/mile pace) guestimated we could hike 6 miles in 1 1/2 hours, I was less optimistic.  A 15 minute pace sounds painfully slow to a runner, I suppose, but maybe that’s why I don’t enjoy running?

Before we departed, I told my father we would take at least 2 hours and that he shouldn’t worry if we took 3.  I set the panic time for 7:00PM, figuring that would give us three hours–I felt confident we could manage a 30 minute pace even in the worst of conditions.

The views in the Mount St Helen area are haunting.  The landscape looks almost foreign.  Yet, each time I’ve returned here, there were more signs of life–more green, more elk, more birds.  Given that it’s been nearly 10 years since my first trip, the progress is slow, but it is progress.

As it turned out, we got confused about which trail we were on.  Our only trail map was a flyer from the visitor’s center that gave us so little information we couldn’t find the trail we wanted to be on and eventually decided to turn back.  We walked back quickly to an overlook we’d passed.

After hitting up a few tourists until someone agreed to give me a ride down to the meeting place, I made it to the rendezvous spot about 1 minute before the panic time.  My dad and his wife were quietly napping, so I don’t think we were in danger of them panicking.

On the way home, we stopped one last time to enjoy the view of Mount St. Helen–majestic even without her peak.