Mt. St. Helens

September 2, 2010

We drove through the Gifford Pinchot National Forest past Mt. St. Helens on the way from Portland to Mt. Rainier. Most visitors to Mt. St. Helens go to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, as it is closer to Interstate 5. We chose the less traveled road to Windy Ridge, where you can look across into the throat of the volcano over Spirit Lake. Our route also provided additional opportunities for visiting surface features such as lava tubes and lava caves, and, of course, more geocaching.

The reader is no doubt aware that Mt. St. Helens erupted catastrophically in 1980 in the most recent large Cascades event. The eruption blew the cap off the formerly 9,677-ft (2,950-m) mountain,1 leaving a wide-open crater, an awesome sight to behold.

Trail of Two Forests

Our first stop was at the Trail of Two Forests.

Here, you can see moss growing on the lava.

The first forest, above the ground, is obvious. The second "forest" looks like this.

When lava runs into a tree, it of course sets the tree on fire. But the tree also cools the lava and stops its flow, leaving an impression of the shape of the tree in the lava.

Ape Cave

At 12,810 ft (3.9 km), Ape Cave is the longest lava tube in the continental United States.2 We did not have time to see the whole thing.

The opening of Ape Cave.

Inside the lava tubes.

A detail shot of some nifty lava.

After leaving Ape Cave, we spent a while trying to find Forest Road 25. We missed a turn somewhere and went down a muddy road that Pearl was barely able to handle. We had to retrace our steps back to the paved road. Stupid GPS.

Windy Ridge

Our first glance at the famous volcano.

Mt. St. Helens, with her mud in the foreground.

We climbed to the top of this butte to get a better view.

The view down the butte into the parking lot. Our trusty but filthy Pearl is the second car from the left.

The open mouth of the volcano.

The view into the mountain's throat.

The remnants of its formerly majestic sloping sides.

Me in front of the mountain.

The mountain with Spirit Lake in the foreground. Spirit Lake was significantly altered by the 1980 eruption, and much of the lake's water was splashed out.

The present heart-like shape of Spirit Lake.

Windy Ridge was such an incredible spot that we could see three other Cascade Mountains from it.

Mt. Hood, in the distance.

Mt. Adams, relatively close by.

And our next destination, Mt. Rainier. (This picture was actually taken a little further along the road, but the vantage point was nicer.)


Distance driven: 205 (329 km)

Caches found: 3


Distance driven: 1,312 mi (2,111 km)

Caches found: 14

2 Roadside Geology of Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and Vicinity

On to Mt. Rainier National Park.

Last updated: 09/02/2010 by Eric and Beth Zuckerman