A couple of us did this classic hike through the blast zone on Sunday. Clouds were low in the morning, so the only views of the crater were on the return. The Boundary Trail out to Devils Elbow was officially closed and deemed unsafe, but the scofflaws were taking it anyway. A sign redirected us over a snow bank on the alternative cutoff.
Once on the Truman Trail, we descended the Spillover, where the landslide from the May 18th, 1980, eruption crested the ridge and spilled over into the South Coldwater drainage. At the base of the Spillover, we walked along Langes Crest, the natural landslide dam that blocked Spirit Lake’s outflow. Much of the route here is along the old road bed carved in 1982, when the Army Corps of Engineers became concerned about the rising water levels of Spirit Lake, which had become an inland drainage basin. The thought was that the waters could rise to a point where they would breach Langes Crest and cause a catastrophic flood that would reach communities downstream. With surface waters of the lake already 260 feet above pre-blast levels because of displacement, the Corps of Engineers maintained 16 pumps on a barge that funneled lake water into the “Engineers Canyon” and thus to the North Fork Toutle. By 1985, they had lowered the surface level by about 60 feet. At the same time, work was begun on the overflow tunnel that would maintain a constant water level in the lake by diverting any excess to South Coldwater Creek. Ironically, discussions are being had this year (2017) about reopening the road down from Windy Ridge to study the natural dam as well as inspect the tunnel and decide whether to decommission it.
In any case, walking across the Pumice Plain, where we passed a couple of long-term plot studies, we were in a zone that had been above the tops of trees in pre-blast times. Soon we crossed outflows of the several large springs that flow into Spirit Lake from the west. These are all concealed in dense willow/alder thickets. In places, there were whole fields of paintbrush and wild strawberry in bloom.
We took the Willow Springs Trail to connect to the Loowit and began hiking up towards the Breach. From the Boundary Trail, we had scoped out Step Falls, which in the 1980s had been the main outlet from the crater. Now, Loowit Falls became more fully visible: its creek had drained into Spirit Lake after the blast, but it took over from Step Creek as the principle drain when it carved a new channel to connect with the North Fork Toutle River. With binoculars, we could observe small herds of mountain goats on green fells both to the left and right. I was also surprised to find myself crossing bare bedrock, sporting rather obvious glacial striations: during the eruption, the entire north face of the mountain had slid completely over this area and left it exposed.
The last section of trail saw us to the overlook at Loowit Falls. Two round-the-mountain backpackers were already there eating their lunch. As we were enjoying ours, the clouds begin to lift and the outline of the rim itself became exposed. Thus, on the way back, whole panoramas opened up before us, with Coldwater Peak, The Dome, Mount Margaret, and Bismarck Mountain all displaying large snowfields as a backdrop to Spirit Lake.
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Nice trip report. I had tried Coldwater Ridge to Harry's Ridge the weekend before last, but was turned back by some sketchy snowfields on steep ridges. Is the boundary trail clear to the cutoff for Coldwater Peak?bobcat wrote:A couple of us did this classic hike through the blast zone on Sunday. Clouds were low in the morning, so the only views of the crater were on the return. The Boundary Trail out to Devils Elbow was officially closed and deemed unsafe, but the scofflaws were taking it anyway. A sign redirected us over a snow bank on the alternative cutoff.
Usually, there's a big snow field on the east slope of Coldwater that I could not see from any vantage point on our hike. Temperatures are warm, however, so I expect it would be soft enough to stomp across by the time you get to it.mrblisterdundee wrote:Is the boundary trail clear to the cutoff for Coldwater Peak?
If you mean the point where the trail breaks off to climb up Harry's Ridge, yeah, it looked pretty good yesterday (6/9). We actually followed in bobcat's footprints, and turned off into the Plains on the Truman Trail, so no on-the-ground observations past there. The occasional snowfields we did come across, all day long, were indeed fairly soft and steps could be cut with trail runners.mrblisterdundee wrote:Nice trip report. I had tried Coldwater Ridge to Harry's Ridge the weekend before last, but was turned back by some sketchy snowfields on steep ridges. Is the boundary trail clear to the cutoff for Coldwater Peak?
If you mean the traverse between the saddle above Saint Helens Lake and the cutoff up Coldwater Peak, I wouldn't mess with that one yet. (The runout would hurt!) A friend went up Coldwater last week, and took the direct route up the south side. And that was after feeling the need for his ice axe along the natural arch ridge.