Weekend Backpacker: Portland

Mount St. Helens
  |  Gorp.com
Mount Hood
Spirit Lake lies in the shadow of Mount St. Helens

When Mount St. Helens erupted in the early hours of May 18, 1980, Mount Margaret got hammered. Part of the ridge that forms the northern shoulders of Spirit Lake, Margaret served as a speed bump to millions of tons of rock and ash that thundered from the mountain. Not far beyond this area the devastation peters out.

But Margaret (and Spirit Lake) went through enormous changes. Her fir-lined slopes were wiped clean, the trees tossed into Spirit Lake like so many pretzel sticks. Now, as life slowly grows back, we're treated to some great, almost unearthly, backpacking at the Mount St. Helens National Monument.

Recommended Trip

Mount Margaret via the Boundary Trail

Day 1: From the Johnson Creek visitor center (elev. 4,312 feet), take Boundary Trail 1 East. At 1.7 miles, pass the Truman Trail on your right and climb up Harry's Ridge. At 2.5 miles reach Harry's Saddle. Harry's Ridge spur trail cuts southeast from here, ending in a half mile at a vista overlooking Spirit Lake.

Climb from Harry's Saddle up to (and under) Arch Rock. At 3.5 miles, hike by Coldwater Trail #230 on your left. St. Helens Lake (elev. 4,575 feet) is now immediately below you to the east. In about 0.3 mile you'll come to the short, steep trail that runs up to Coldwater Peak. Weather, water, and time permitting, take a run up to the summit for some brilliant views.

From here the Boundary Trail follows the ridgeline, climbing up over "The Dome" (4.5 miles), then over a pair of mini-peaks. The views up here are phenomenal, and so is the exposure. The only thing between the mountain and the weather is you, so be careful.

You'll arrive at the spur trail to Mount Margaret at (roughly) 5.5 miles. The spur climbs up, falling just short of the summit. From the summit you can view all the grand dames of the region: Hood, Adams, Ranier, and Mount St. Helens. Enjoy.

To make your way to camp, continue northeast on the Boundary Trail for about 0.3 mile. Turn left (north) on trail #214. This takes you over Mount Whittier, then drops you down to Pleasant Pass and Lakes Trail #211. You're now in camping country. All three alpine lakes to the east (Shovel, Panhandle, and Obscurity) and the one to the west (smaller, unnamed, but with more tree cover than the eastern lakes) have maintained campsites with reliable water sources. Always treat your water.

Day 2: For lack of an extra car, you're more or less limited to backtracking. This gives you a chance to catch up on any missed spur trails. Taking Coldwater or Lakes Trail would drop you miles from your vehicle.

Permit Information

Given the sensitive ecology of Mount Margaret, permits are monitored carefully. Fee is $10 per night per campsite, and the maximum camping group size is four people. Contact monument headquarters for details and reservations.

Recommended Map

Mount St. Helens by Al Cardwell. Excellent topo map, shows the entire region in clear, four-color relief. Contact Geo-Graphics, 970 Muirfield Court, Beaverton, OR 97006.

Recommended Guide

100 Hikes in Washinton's South Cascades and Olympics by Ira Spring and Harvey Manning (Mountaineers). Good coverage of natural history and fine photrography. Covers much of this trip (in reverse direction) in Hike #60.

Getting There

From Portland take I-5 North to Castle Rock, Washington. Head east on Washington 504 and follow it all the way to the end at Johnson Ridge Observatory. Overnight parking is permitted.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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