South Cascades

Lewis River Drainage 2012

Curly Creek, Lewis River Drainage Curly Creek, Lewis River Drainage
To put the cap on my trip to Oregon, I once again made the side trip to the Lewis River drainage on my way back home. If you recall my post from a year ago, my first visit to this area came with sunny skies. Forecasts for my return visit this year was showers so I was sure to have better conditions for waterfall and stream photography. My first stop was Curly Creek. I’ve been unsatisfied with my standard photo of the falls from its public viewpoint and I know there’s a way down to the base of the falls. My goal was to try and reach it.

My first thought was to hike alongside the margin of the Lewis River from a spot about 0.5 miles upstream. After some consideration on site, I decided to double back to a campground located along Curly Creek and attempt to parallel the hike to its base. Some waypaths existed around the campground and provided a start. There was a nice waterfall located next to the campground that I decided to photograph. The sun appeared just as I set up my gear; so much for those showers!

Curly Creek, Lewis River Drainage Lower Lewis Falls, Lewis River DrainageThere was one bonus that came with the sun- a low mist has hanging over the creek, upstream of the waterfall and it was now backlit thanks to the sunlight. After taking my share of photos, I packed up since I still had a ways to travel to reach the falls. The waypath I used would appear and disappear but the travel wasn’t as ornery as it could be (no devil’s club!). That’s not to say it was easy- I sweated a ton but did make it to the rim of the Lewis River. The final distance was the toughest and the sketchiest. I was so close- but I didn’t feel confident that I could descend safely. The only course of action was to turn back. After all, the waterfall will still be there!

Regrouped and refreshed back at my truck, I headed further up valley to the Lewis River waterfalls (which I never visited last year). On the way to the Lower Lewis Falls trailhead, I spied a few roadside attractions which I made mental notes of; I would try and visit them on my way back to I-5. Lower Lewis Falls is the largest of the three waterfalls on the Lewis River and the easiest to view. After parking, the viewpoint for the falls are a mere 100 yards away atop the high cliff. I didn’t stay long since the views are limited..

Lower Lewis Falls Detail, Lewis River Drainage Lewis River from along the Lewis River TrailMy last stop up valley was the Middle Lewis Falls trailhead. The waterfall isn’t very far (only a 0.5 mile hike upstream), and unlike Lower Lewis Falls, you can get fairly up close to Middle Lewis Falls. The river drops 33 feet and crashes into a broad piece of bedrock literally right next to the trail. It’s quite a powerful scene, especially in springtime when the river level is high. Those high river levels made the waterfall a solid wall of whitewater. Before calling it a day, I made a few stops at some locations that caught my eye while driving in. It was a nice end to a trip that had a rocky start!
Vine Maple and snag, Lewis River Drainage Unnamed Creek, Swift Reservoir Drainage

Mount Saint Helens

The beginning of May is when I think about climbing Mt St Helens. The weather is a bit nicer and the snowpack is fairly consolidated which makes for one long ride down in some nice corn snow. Typically the “summer” climbing route on Monitor Ridge isn’t accessible due to the snow covered road and so the standard winter route begins at the Marble Mountain Snow Park at 2640 feet. You do earn your turns though- 12 miles roundtrip and 5500′ of elevation gain.

I’ve climbed Mt St Helens a couple times before but not since the dome building episode of 2004-2006. My last attempt was aborted below the summit due to wind and rain so I was anxious to experience the new view from the crater rim. There was a promising forecast for the weekend so I purchased a climbing permit and headed down on Friday. Yet another “unseasonable” storm during the week brought new snow to the slopes of Mt St Helens. The promise of sunshine and warmer temperatures brought something else- high avalanche danger.

Monitor Ridge (Summer route) in the center and Worm Flows at right center
If I was to be on the mountain, I needed to try and get an early start so that my descent would be before the peak temperatures and sunshine. I arrived at a quiet snow park late Friday afternoon. I wanted to take some sunset photos but hadn’t decided on where to taken them- up the trail near timberline or down the road off of the mountain. I decided the latter and so during the last hour of daylight, I headed back down a few miles to a clearcut which offered a nice view of the mountain. Quickly looking around, I saw this fallen tree and decided to use it as a compositional piece…

Mount Saint Helens from Forest Service Road 81
Mount Saint Helens from Forest Service Road 81
The sunset wasn’t especially noteworthy and just faded away. Still, the setting light did accentuate the slopes of the mountain…

Sunset on Monitor Ridge
Sunset on the western slopes
After sunset, I headed back to the snow park where I sorted my gear for the morning went to sleep. I got up about 2:20am and hit the trail at 2:50am. I hadn’t paid any attention to the moon cycles so I was surprised to see that this particular morning was a full moon! It was already setting but did offer up a fair amount of light. After about an hour or so of hiking through the forest, I arrived at timberline and had my first good view of the mountain…

A moonlit Worm Flows from Timberline - 4am
The elevation gain begins in earnest from this point on. I do not consider myself to be a strong climber and so I opt for the slow and steady approach and utilize the climber’s breathing technique known as the rest step. Even with the warmer temperatures and sunshine, the snow did refreeze overnight and so I did have some latitude in my pace for the summit. In addition to food, water, snowboard & helmet, I was also lugging my SLR, 3 lenses, and my tripod. All of this starts to build after a number of miles!

View up from around 5,000 Feet
I plodded onward, taking the occasional extended break every 1000-1500′ or so. The weather remained clear and sunny with some increasing winds at the higher elevations. Crampons might have been good for piece of mind but weren’t required since there was an adequate bootpack in the snow on the route up. Once the sun’s rays started hitting the slopes, they slowly began to soften up.

Deceptively close - 2,000 feet to go...
A few clouds materialized during the morning but nothing too serious. It took longer than I would have preferred but just shy of 12pm, I topped out on the summit. A steady wind kept things cold and discouraged a long visit to the top. I was still very concerned about the avalanche forecast and so I only stayed long enough to take a couple photos before clicking in and heading down.

Panoramic view inside the crater
Crater Wall
After descending about 500-1000 feet, the snow conditions turned into perfect corn snow and I enjoyed smooth turns for 3000 feet. Below timberline, the snow was a bit slower but still rideable and I made it to within 1/4 mile of the trailhead before momentum finally ended. I was exhausted but I enjoyed sitting in the sunshine reflecting on a successful day.

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