[/caption] One of the best areas to visit Mt. St. Helen’s is via the Windy Ridge viewpoints and trails. It’s the furthest from any of the other areas but it’s well worth it. Since there are no roads that connect the Johnston Ridge and the Windy Ridge area, you have to make the long drive from either the south or the north. It’s 128 miles, one way, from Portland, which made this the longest one day drive I’ve done so far. However, it’s well worth it. I passed several camping areas, which would make for a great couple of days. There are endless amounts of trails throughout the entire wilderness area. The Windy Ridge highway have close to a dozen viewpoint areas that have trail access. Every parking area was in fantastic shape. The highway was clean and smooth and the viewpoint areas had ample parking and some had picnic benches and bathrooms. I was extremely surprised at how well it’s maintained. It had a National Park feel and look. However, the drive is very long and windy. There are several twisty areas that cause you to slow down a lot. This will add an hour to your drive. I also found a small herd of elk standing on the highway at one point. You really need to be cautious when driving here. There were three hikes that I did on this day. The picture shown was taken along the Independence trail. On this trail I came upon a large herd of elk that were resting under some trees. I watched them scurry up the hillside. It’s also amazing how much pumice lay within the wilderness area and the amount of wildflowers scattered within them. The trail leads to an awesome viewpoint of Mt. St. Helen’s, Spirit lake and a panoramic view of the logs in the lake. You can also see just how immense the destruction of the landscape was. The entire wilderness was stripped of its trees and now lays in Spirit lake. St. Helen’s caused the largest landslide in recorded history and it hit Spirit Lake at some 150 mph with a tree-clogged, toxic mudflow that sent the lake sloshing more than 800 feet up the opposing bank. What had been a pristine, alpine lake ringed by old-growth conifer forests suddenly became a hot, toxic sludge hole. You can also see Mt. Hood in the distance as well as Mt. Adams. Mt. Rainier can be seen at the top of Windy Ridge viewpoint, which is a steep but short hike up the hillside. To get this shot I made sure to attach my UV filter as well as my warming filter and my CIR-PL. It was around one o’clock, so I was having to adjust my white balance quite a bit. I never used my tripod due to the huge field of view and the brightness of the sun. I had the ISO set at 100 and the aperture at F-8. I had the camera set at Auto Exposure, the shutter speed was at 1/600 second and the white balance at -.7. I was using my 12-24 wide-angle lens and had the focal length at 14mm. This wasn’t my best shot of the day but I wanted to show as much of the area as possible. Everywhere around you allowed for a great photo opportunity. The Harmony Falls trail allows you the only trail down to the edge of Spirit lake and it’s worth it. You can feel the warmth of the lake as well as the frigid cold creek bubbling out of the earth. There is a small waterfall which allows for a great place to cool down but the water is frigidly cold. I had collected some pumice stones and waited to see how long it took them to sink in the lake and suddenly a huge trout swam from beneath the logs to investigate. The Windy Ridge trail is the start of the volcano and the glacier hikes as well as several other shorter hikes within the wilderness. If you live in the area and don’t have the time to visit a National Park, I highly recommend this area. It’ had National Park written all over it and offers some of the most unique sights that other Parks can only dream of.
[/caption] This is one of my favorite spots to cast a view of 5 of the Cascade Volcanoes. You can see Mt. St. Helen’s, Rainier, Adams, Hood and Mt. Jefferson from the crest of this old Fire lookout site. You can also see the tops of Mt. Washington, North and Middle Sister’s. You can see just how spectacular the forest surrounding the Cascades is as well as the intense greenery and solitude that it provides. It’s hard to believe that the forest service was paid to look out from this spot several years ago. The only thing remaining are the concrete steps and a small plaque. During July and August, several summer flowers grow along the crags and cliff’s surrounding the Western Cascades. This trail is only about an hour drive from Portland but you would never think that it’s that close to civilization. Since the forest road is so remote and the trail is somewhat poorly marked, I have never seen anyone on this trail. This is surely a place to have some peace and quiet. I hiked the trail over the weekend in order to take advantage of the beautiful weather in the Pacific Northwest. I was a little nervous about the sun glare so I started the hike in the later part of the morning, which put me on the top of the summit by about 4:00. The trail to the ridge is only about 4 miles round trip but there are several other trails that zigzag through the Cascades and also to some of the nicest meadows and natural spring lakes. I also ran into several feet of snow along the trail, which really slowed me down. I haven’t seen that much snow during the middle of June since 2007. I was forced to scramble through the snow when the trail was impassable as well as rummage through the thickets. I ended up with some descent scrapes but it was well worth it. I took this shot from near the concrete steps in order to get the crags and fir trees in the foreground and give it more personality. I was using my wide angle lens and had the focal length at 15mm. I had the camera mode set at auto exposure and the ISO at 100. Since I was facing away from the sun, I had to keep the white balance at 0 and the F-stop at 8. I was using my tripod to stabilize the camera since there was just a slight breeze. This is one of those hikes that you could do several times a year without ever getting bored.
[/caption] I can’t believe it but it seems like I took this photo many years ago. This winter has got to be one of the warmest winters that I can ever remember in the Pacific Northwest. This shot was taken near Johnston ridge just across from Mt. St. Helens. It took me several hours to hike to this spot from Coldwater Lake but I never had much snow to contend with. My snow-shoes weren’t required. I hope to hike hear again one more time before most of the snow melts. On my next trip, I hope to see more of Mt. Adams since it was mostly shrowded in clouds when I was here last time. I never used a tripod to get this photo since the wind was pretty strong and I was just as comfortable lying on my stomach while I rested my elbow in the snow. The view in the crater is awesome from this spot. I could see all of the volcano as well as the vicinity where Mt. Adams is. I used my warming filter and my CIR-POL filter to separate the blue sky from the snow and exposed rocks. The warming filter also helped bring out some of the personality of the rock. I used my 50-250mm telephoto lens at about 190mm. This is a great place to view the blast zone and all of the destruction that was caused when Mt. St. Helen’s erupted.