Heather Lake Trail| Hike Into The Alpine


Alpine lakes stir up images of crystal pristine water with emerald green vegetation, with possible snow on the high slopes. Heather Lake Trail is one to do in late spring early summer to view this beautiful alpine wonder without having to backpack very far up a mountain. This lake has been on my list for some time, and when I had the opportunity to hike to this lake as my first alpine hiking trip, I could not pass it up.


With a pack all loaded with all the essentials, I headed out for a 4.6 miles round trip to the lake summit. The trail winds through young growth and old growth forests with lots of green vegetation along the path. There were sections where old boardwalks and bridges have been beaten up by nature.


IMG_3182 Along the trail, there were small streams running over rocks with small pools of water where salamanders were hiding. A fellow hiker in my group caught a salamander hiding under a rock in the above picture. The little guy was not a happy camper about it, and at one point almost slipped out of her hand entirely.


At one point a banana slug was found to be moving slowly up a trunk of a moss-covered tree. This one decided it did not want to be down on the trail and decided to move to a higher location.

_DSC0041If you are wondering, yes I have licked a banana slug before, and the slime from the slug does make the tongue go numb for a short while (I do not endorse licking slugs in general!). One time was enough for me and thus would never do it again.



Once to the top of the lake shore, my fellow hikers and I found a nice vantage point on a rock overlooking the lake for lunch. This rock has been known to be proposal rock and a few people have been asked here in the past.


After much needed substance, the snow pack near the slope by the lake was a call to be explored. The whole time I was looking for watermelon snow (snow that is a ting pinkish-red) for a sample to analyze in the lab later. Watermelon snow does taste a little like watermelon, but you do not want to consume it for you will get a bad case of Hersey squats!


While there appears to be one lake, Heather Lake is actually made up of one large lake and a smaller one more like a marsh. Here plants and small animals thrive to create a mini ecosystem in an alpine elevation.


While exploring the smaller lake area, I came across some frog eggs. At first I though they maybe salamander eggs, but frog eggs have a distinct color and shape to them. They almost look like a bunch of eyes looking at you in my hand.



With the summer heatwave in full effect, the 80°F temperature made this one heck of a sweaty hike. At one point I decided to dip my feet into the lake to cool off. Just imagine how refreshing it was for thirty seconds before you cannot feel your foot! Heather Lake is an alpine lake being fed by glaciers, thus making this lake very cold!!



After spending some time by the lake soaking in the quiet beauty and being one with nature, I headed down towards civilization. Even with a dip in the alpine lake, the hike down was still sweaty from the 80°F heat the area was getting at the time. By the time I reached the parking lot, I was clear out of the water! A ranger station a few miles down the road had a water spigot to refill my water bottle for the drive home. A reminder to carry enough water with you, even if it is two water bottles full of water.

Have you hiked Heather Lake before? Did you do it in spring or summer? Or in fall or winter?

Heather Lake Trail


Mt. St Helen’s Volcanic Monument| Part 4

Days 4: Iron Creek & Ape Cave

I will admit, when morning time came and it was time to pack up the campsite, I was glad. After exploring Iron Creek trail for an hour in the morning, it was time to see some water falls.


On our way up the pass towards Cougar, we stopped at Iron Creek Falls to hike to the falls. I love waterfalls, and this was the icing on the cake for me.


After days of waiting to see of road to Windy Ridge would open, we were disappointed in finding out they were not going to open the road for another few days. This meant we would not be seeing the crater or hike down to the pumas flats and valley floor on this trip. Bummer I wanted to see some pocket gophers up close! Instead we headed down route 25 towards the town of Cougar.


Along the way we decided to head towards Ape Cave for some spelunking. I have never done bouldering nor thought I would be crawling over rocks in a dark tunnel of a lava tube. My excitement of doing this soon wore off when I realized I would be getting cuts, scrapes, bruises and crawling around a pitch black tunnel with only headlamp as light. Would I do it again? Yep! Because after all the cussing and battle scares it was one major accomplishment to overcome fear, build confidence, and learning how much mental, emotional strength you have. When I finally reached to top of the lava tube (going from the bottom to the top of  tube)  and crawled out a small hole to the outside was exhilarating.


Ape Cave did not come to being until after 1980 mass eruption uncovered it. This lava tube is third longest tube in North America and formed over 300,000 years of basaltic eruptions. The cave is uneven terrain with an average temperature 42-50 degrees and pitch black conditions. Just as the park ranger said, you want to have warm clothing ( the cave drips water), close toe sturdy shoes, pants (no shorts!), headlamp and a lantern (no phone flashlights!).


Our last campsite was at Cougar Camp next to Yale Lake for our campsite turkey dinner and one last time around the campfire together. The next morning we packed up the van and headed to the last two places before heading home.

Day 5: Lahar Viewing & Lava Canyon

First stop viewing the Lahar viewing area which show how the mudslide from all the eruptions had scoured the canyon leading behind large boulders like a massive dry river bed. This is a massive geologist’s dream with all the different rocks littering the canyon towards Muddy River valley.


Second stop hiking the Lava Canyon where numerous lava eruptions over time build a Canyon with a very beautiful water fall.


** White-nose syndrome has killed over 7 million bats in US and Canada since 2006 and is considered the most devastating disease ever reported for wildlife in North America. The disease is named for the white fizzy growth on the nose, ears and wings of affected bats that caused by cold loving fungus that thrives in bat hibernation sites such as caves. Affected bats wake up more often during hibernation causing them to use crucial fat reserves leading to possible starvation and death. The disease has spread across 32 states and 5 Canadian Providences. As of March 2016 Washington’s first case was conformed Near Bend and is now within miles of Mount St Helen’s Ape Cave and Mount Rainer National Park. There is a screening procedure in place at Ape Caves to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome. Please note any clothing, or equipment that has recently been in any cave or mine outside Ape Cave will not be allowed. You must decontaminate the items. Learn more about white nose syndrom please visit http://www.whitenosesyndrome.org. ***


Ape Cave
Lahar Viewpoint
Lava Canyon
Iron Creek Falls



Mt. St Helen’s Volcanic Monument| Part 3

Day 3: Coldwater Lake & Hummocks Trail

After a really goodnight of sleep I was ready to conquer another day out exploring the Volcanic Monument.We all piled back into the van ready to head back up to Mt. St. Helen’s to explore the trails and new lakes that had formed after the eruption.

First stop was the side of the road near one of the turn offs towards Coldwater Creek where there was a herd of elk hanging out in the sun. At one point some one thought it would be a really great idea to make an elk mating call to get the elk’s attention. Oh boy did it get the whole herd to pay attention! I believe the elk thought what the heck are these humans making elk mating calls at us for! Elk mating calls done by a human is horrible yet humorous at the same time.


Around lunch time we all hiked the Hummock Trail to view the hummocks leftover from the eruption in 1980. The trail winds through ponds, wetlands, and alder forests towards the Toutle River valley where the hummocks from the former summit of Mt St. Helen’s were deposited during the eruption. I ended up eating my lunch near a small creek running through the alder trees with the rest of the crew. When we all finally looped back to the parking lot, we headed for Coldwater Lake Recreation Area for exploring.


Coldwater Lake was not formed until after Mt. St. Helen’s eruption of 1980. For some reason I had the urge of find out where a trail going around the lake would lead and discovered it is the Lake’s Trail which weaves around the edge of the lake. This trail I had discovered weaves in and out of forests recovering from the blast of the 1980’s eruption. The lake below sparkled with the clear blue color of an alpine lake and the small island in the middle of the lake resembled the Wizard Island of Crater Lake.


Since the weather had been sunny, we headed up to Johnson Ridge Observatory to see the mountain again up close and maybe personal. St Helen showed some of her crater, but still kept some cloud cover higher up. While out on the viewing platform the wildlife around the observatory decided to play cute with our cameras. The golden mantel squarls are very photogenic and will pose for you when they want some of your trail mix.


Spending a good hour up at Johnson Ridge, we headed back down towards Iron Creek campground going the way between Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainer National Forest. Once at the campground we realized how primitive the surrounding in the old growth Douglas fir forest was going to be for the night. This campground has outhouse toilets, no showers, and at the time, no running water. This meant some of us had to siphon and purify the water from  Iron Creek-Cispus River for water to cook and drink. The firewood bought ended up being crap wood since it did not burn well, and at one point Duralog had to be use to keep the fire burning. With our tent spots being further away from the toilet, and a cougar spotted close by, it made an uneasy night for a few of us.


Iron Creek Campground
Coldwater Lake
Lake Trail
Hummock Trail

Mt. St Helen’s Volcanic Monument| Part 2

Day 2: North Fork Toutle River & Kid Valley

When I was a kid my parents took me to see Mt. St. Helens in the early 90s. Looking back at those pictures it is a wonder how much nature has continued to push forward in renewal. Back than Johnson Ridge Visitor Center had just opened for visitors, and the surrounding landscape looked desolate with little vegetation. Now the desolation is limited to the areas closest to the volcano crater.

As we left SeaQuest Visitor Center on Spirit Lake Memorial Highway (SR 504) climbing up toward Johnson Ridge. As we climbed along we passed through an area destroyed by the 1980 eruption, North Fork Toutle River. In the small town of Kid Valley (no joke!) there is a roadside attraction called A-Frame House Survivor of North Fork which is buried up to the second-floor balcony in mud flow from the flooding of the Toutle River. This house and one other on the same property are a testament to the 200 homes destroyed or washed away when 250 ft of mud came flowing down the river valley. There is some humor to the area since it is called “Bigfoot” country, and a huge statue of Bigfoot made out of the mud and ash from the eruption of 1980 stands as an attraction.


Seeing the North Fork Toutle River Retention Structure Dam gives an eerie feeling of how much destruction the river played a part in the eruption. Ten years later the dam failed to hold back the new river route and there is parts of the dam strewed along the river from the breach. Now there is a new dam, but it is still showing issues.


Further, we climbed, we stopped along the way to view the new Hoffstadt Creek Bridge and to cross it on the way up. One side of the road into the high hills is the Weyerhaeuser timber company tree farms are located. These tall Douglas Fir trees (monocultures) tower over the road on one side and the other side is the volcanic monument where trees are different species.


At Hoffstadt Bluffs Viewpoint and Coldwater Viewpoint, we stopped to view the mountain which was masked in fog and clouds at this point. For some reason, she was not going show us her glory…..yet.


Once at Johnson Ridge Visitor Center, we piled into the theater to watch two short documentaries about the eruption, and volcanoes. The funny point of one of the films was when the curtain lifted to show Mt St. Helen’s only to show a wall of gray clouds covering the mountain. At one point the clouds played peek a boo with the mountain long enough to get a glimpse of her.


While taking in the sights on the Eruption Trail, I turned to see a massive dark gray cloud coming towards me on the ridge at eye level. At 4300 ft elevation, I forgot how close the clouds are up this high and how fast they can move! Within a minute the cloud engulfed the area and rain pelted me to the point of being soaking wet within minutes.

Once back in the van and starting to dry out, we turned back towards SeaQuest for another night of camping. And some campfire ravioli.

Part 1


Johnson Ridge Visitor Center
Mt. St Helen’s Volcano Review


Mt. St Helen’s Volcanic Monument|Part 1

I fell into a burning ring of fire,
I went down, down, down,
and the flames went higher,
and it burns, burns, burn,
The ring of fire.
~Johnny Cash “Ring of Fire”

Someone asked me how can I be so calm when living in a region with three volcanoes, and earthquakes? Living within the Pacific Rim means living on the edge of the Ring of Fire on a daily base. Just like those who live in regions where tornadoes are common, I am aware of it, and I go on living knowing natures most destructive forces are in my backyard. These volcanoes and the two mountain ranges in Washington state are the reason why there are places to hike worth exploring even when danger can be one step away.

On Sunday morning May 18, 1980, Mt. St. Helen’s erupted with such destructive force, that it turned the landscape around the volcano into an apocalyptic wasteland. The carnage left behind could be described as a ton of nuclear bombs had been dropped simultaneously for thirty minutes. But this apocalyptic nightmare of 1980 has turned into giant scientific laboratory showing the world there is life after destruction, and nature does have a way of renewing itself.

Mt. St. Helen’s Before and After Eruption. Photo: PixShark.com

 Start of the adventure…

Day 1: Castle Rock

Sunday afternoon I headed off towards Castle Rock with a van full of other students from Northwest University. With the van packed full of sleeping bags, tents, and food for the next five days, we set out for an adventure together to see how Mt St Helen’s rebirth has changed the landscape.


By late afternoon early evening, we had reached SeaQuest State Park campground on the west side of the mountain. For a Sunday night, the campground was still packed with people, and most would still be there by the time we left Tuesday morning. After setting up camp, there were campfire spaghetti with salad and peas for dinner. After dinner, we all headed down to Silver Lake for an evening nature walk along the lake. At one point a beaver scared the crap out of me when it slapped it’s tail on the water surface as a warning to me not to get any closer. Just imagine a beaver coming at you! Not fun! Just walking along the boardwalk viewing the huge water lilies, and bird watching, made for a very peaceful relaxing evening walk. This peacefulness would be short-lived by night.


Tent camping is an adventure in itself, and with three girls all crammed into a tent for the night will our bags, one of us was bound to be beat up by morning. I was the one who could not sleep a wink that night from the thunderstorm that had rolled in later that night and having a tent mate roll all over you during the night.  Normally hearing raindrops on the tent would be a relaxing sound to fall asleep to, but for some reason, the sound was not soothing enough to lull me to sleep for long. By morning I was tired, needed coffee really bad, and at one point fell asleep for fifteen minutes before breakfast in a camp chair.


With a breakfast of Life cereal and coffee, the day started off at the Mt. St. Helen’s Visitor Center at Silver Lake looking at the exhibits discussing the geological aspects of the eruption. While in the parking lot of the visitor center, a Seahawk decided to make an appearance to show off their Seattle Seahawk pride as a “twelfth bird.” The Seahawk in question is a female taking care of her young in a nest of a few Douglas fir trees down from the visitors center. Looking through the scouting scope, the Seattle Seahawk football hawk logo resembles the real seahawk’s head pattern.

After confirmation that the road to Windy Ridge was not open, we head up the road to towards Johnson Ridge Visitor Center for the day.


SeaQuest Campground

Mt. St Helen’s Visitor Center at Silver Lake

Seaquest State Park- Silver Lake