I camped two nights at the Green River Horse Camp to do some hiking around the northeast side of St. Helens. The campground was deserted the first night, but freezing in the early morning. However, I woke up to clear skies, a welcome contrast to the low chilly clouds of the day before.
I arrived at the Norway Pass Trailhead at 7:30 or so and took the Boundary Trail up the ridge. Views began to open up, first to Meta Lake and then a panorama east, with Bismarck Mountain pointing to Mt. Adams. When Mt. St. Helens came into view, I marveled at the log rafts of Spirit Lake. The afternoon before, I had descended to the east shore via the Harmony Trail. There was a vast raft of 41 year-old logs as far as the eye could see. Overnight, they had all shuttled to the opposite bank on what I assume to be a daily migration!
Higher up, around Bear Pass, Mt. Rainier came into view, and I got my first views to Mt. Teragram. The trail continued to traverse, crossing a lush draw near Bear Camp, where I paid my respects to the composting toilet. Boot Lake and Obscurity Lake lay nestled in their respective bowls below. The rugged but beautiful ridge between Mt. Margaret and Coldwater Peak spread before me. Near the junction with the Whittier Ridge Trail, I ran into a bow hunter. He had tags for deer and bear, but had only seen about 200 elk and dozens of goats. During our fairly lengthy conversation, I kept eyeing Teragram and ended up taking its tempting offer.
Teragram is either 2-3 feet higher than Mt. Margaret or 2-3 feet lower (pick your source). Margaret is close by and blocking a view of the Pumice Plain. The jagged granite/diorite Mt. Whittier Ridge, part of the Spirit Lake Pluton, was directly north and the entire upper reach of the Coldwater Valley lay below. I could see Rainier, Adams, and Hood, but things were hazing up in the distance, with a distinct brown fire pall layer in all directions.
I returned to the Whittier Ridge Trail junction to begin the two-mile traverse. A lot of the route is hacked out of cliffs, but it is a trail and there is always solid rock to grasp. There are steep downclimbs and a couple of scramble sections. Boot Lake, and then Holmstedt Lake appeared below. A few times, the boot tracks of others led me to some highly exposed prospect and I realized I wasn’t on the main route anymore. After I crested Mt. Whittier, an easier ridgetop walk took me to the final big gendarme and, rounding a corner, I came eye to eye with a goat. The beast made an about turn, conveniently demonstrating the next cliff traverse, which led me to steep pasture laced with goat trails. After thrashing about here a bit, I headed to the crest to find the real trail again and descended to the junction with the Lakes Trail, scattering more goats and getting a sighting of Coldwater Lake.
(Note: I’ve seen photos and descriptions of some really sketchy and dangerous passages on Whittier Ridge. I didn’t see these places myself, meaning the authors were off trail and exposing themselves to unnecessary risks – yes, someone died here just a few weeks ago. I also folded up my trekking pole, finding it an impediment rather than an aid in these circumstances. A big pack would also be an encumbrance. Whittier Ridge, done with care, is a lot of fun! Start early, never do it in poor visibility or bad weather, and take your time.)
The Lakes Trail, from Pleasant Pass to Bear Pass, is a huckleberry bonanza at this time of year, and the berry harvesting extended my trip by at least an hour. The route is also very brushy – although not hard to follow – but it would be a drenching experience on any wet day. I passed above Shovel Lake, ensconced below a granite cliff, with the deep Green River valley and the long Goat Mountain ridge to the north. Then I descended along the panhandle of Panhandle Lake and passed the permit campsites there.
Heading out, I passed three single hikers coming in, each one permitted for a different lake. (I hadn’t seen any sign of habitation from the night before, so the lakes were very unpopulated.) Next was Obscurity Lake and then the brushy traverse above the steep Grizzly Creek bowl to pass log-filled Grizzly Lake. From Bear Pass, I could see the St. Helens lava dome enjoying a quiet afternoon toke, and then it was an easily-graded 2 ¾ mile amble back down to the trailhead.
(Another note: I found this CW approach to the loop perfectly suitable. I have seen exhortations to the effect that CCW is the way to go because of the ease of missing a certain traverse on the Whittier Ridge and finding yourself in dire circumstances. Granted, I had a billy to guide me on that section, but with the morning vegetation dripping with a heavy dew, I would have gotten soaked in short order if I had gone to the lakes first. If you’re taking the Lakes Trail, wear long pants in any case. The outflow creeks from the lakes are good water sources.)
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