Welcome to the Toutle Valley!

I'm starting this blog to help visitors find the many things to do around Mount St. Helens and the Toutle Valley.  Our area is surrounded by adventure, high and low, but it's sometimes genuinely hard to find information about these special places.  Before our volcano erupted, the Spirit Lake Hwy followed the Toutle River all the way to Spirit Lake and Mount St. Helens with easy-to-find adventure around every bend.  The route was lined with campgrounds, river access, logging roads, trails open to all,  and vast areas to explore. 

Today its different--With all the passes, permits, and rules, it's a tangle of red tape to just understand where you can go for a walk.  Don't dispair!  I know all the secrets... and I might even be asking for your help to make the area more accessible. 

Consider this blog your "insider's guide" to the Toutle Valley.  

Posted By Toutle Trekker

Forty years ago today I woke up and I wandered down the stairs to the kitchen where Mom was cooking up huckleberry hotcakes.  We'd picked the berries up near Spirit Lake the previous fall.  We were planning to pour cement for the new house that day, and a few people were coming to help.  My grandfather came into the house and said, breathlessly, “I think the mountain just blew up.”

Everyone at the kitchen table rushed outside, but I took my time.  After all, we’d been watching the volcano puff and sputter since March.  I’d even collected a thimble-full of ash by sweeping it from our car windows with a paint brush.  Gramps wasn’t used to seeing eruptions: No big deal. 

But when I stepped outside, the whole sky was boiling in and enormous blue-black cloud.  Comparing THIS with previous eruptions was like comparing a bb-gun with a nuclear bomb.  A hundred nuclear bombs.  The cloud stretched out, and started to block out the sun.  It was filled with blue lightning, but we didn’t hear a sound.  The wind shifted and it was eerily quiet.  Turns out we were so close, the sound bounced over us, and people hundreds of miles away heard a blast and felt a shudder.  My dad had a little instamatic camera and he started clicking off pictures.  I remember, specifically, looking directly overhead and up to the cloud, and then turning around.  It was above us and behind us.  Even in my 10-year old mind, I knew that was a bad thing. 

Mom, who was pregnant, started to panic.  She dragged my sister and me to our rooms and started tossing clothes into suitcases.  I checked the TV for information, but it was just regular Sunday shows.  Within half an hour, Mom had hustled us kids into the car and we started evacuating ourselves.  Since we lived on a hill, Dad figured it was safe to keep watch on the farm.  I remember turning on the radio, but there was nothing but static.  As we drove away, toward the beach, I was stationed by the back window.  “It’s still back there; it’s still following us,” I’d report.  After an hour, we stopped at a small store to grab some food.  The radio was now coming in, and reported, “Mount St. Helens has had a major eruption.  The towns of Toutle and Castle Rock are being evacuated.”  Our lives in Toutle were never the same….


 
Posted By Toutle Trekker

Most mountain trails are still buried in deep snowdrifts, but the trails near Coldwater Lake melt out early because of their treeless, southern facing slopes.  Today, my family hiked to the Loowit viewpoint from the Hummocks trailhead via the Boundary Trail #1.  Its a great get-in-shape for the summer hike, and we've done it twice in the last few weeks.  The entire hike, up and back, is about 8 1/2 miles with 1500 feet of elevation gain.  It was spitting snowflakes, but the Hummocks parking lot was snow free, as was the trail until the creek crossing 20 minutes from the top, where snow lasted a few hundred yards.  Often, on sunny spring days, many hikers head to the Lakes Trail along Coldwater or the 2 1/2 mile Hummocks Trail loop, but usually the Boundary Trail has little traffic.  It is a climb afterall.  The trail is in good shape, with only a few bushes leaning into the tread, along with the one spot of snow.   To get to the Boundary trail, travel SR 504 to the Hummocks Trailhead parking lot just past the outlet to Coldwater Lake.  First, starting at the information sign boards, follow the Hummocks trail for 1/2 mile to the junction with the Boundary trail.  Follow the boundary trail left (east) until it intersects with SR 504 at the Loowit Viewpoint.  Currently the highway is gated until May.  When the snow melts, the Boundary Trail can be followed all the way to Council Lake by Mount Adams. 

Besides great exercise, the trail often provides unique wildlife watching.  The migrating birds are starting to arrive, and we heard a few western meadowlarks and warblers.  The mountain bluebirds are also returning.  Nearly every pond that we hiked past on the Hummocks Trail had a pair of buffleheads swimming side by side.  Once on the ridge, we spotted a few elk in the valley below.  On the return trip we noticed, just below the snow patches, two mountain goats.  Goats have been making a spectacular comeback at Mount St. Helens, and in the summer they can be seen in the Mount Margaret backcountry, on the volcano itself, and in the cliffs by Castle Lake.  They drop lower in the winter, and one even showed up just outside of the town of Toutle!  This is the first I've seen them on Johnston Ridge.  Goats in lower right of photo.

 

Goats on Johnston Ridge
 


 
Posted By Toutle Trekker

Most of the snow has melted and the higher trails are opening up.  One good hike for a cool, clear day, or a hot day with an very early start, is Coldwater Peak.  If you tackle this hike during the heat, remember there is no real shade so be prepared for a hot hike with the sun beating down.   Start at Johnston Ridge and head east on the Boundary Trail.  At 1.5 miles the trail now cuts behind a steep cliff known as Devil's Elbow.  Pass the Truman Trail that drops toward (but not to) Spirit Lake and climb through an alder tunnel before cresting the ridge at the "spillover" where parts of the landslide from 1980 actually topped the ridge and flowed down the other side into South Coldwater Creek.  Loop around the backside of the ridge to a saddle above Spirit Lake where you will pass the junction to Harry's Ridge trail.  This short (1 mile) but steep spur can be an alternate destination. Just past Harry's Ridge another trail (South Coldwater) comes in from the left.  With two vehicles you could make a loop.  Horned larks and mountain bluebirds are common along this stretch, and the views of Mount St. Helens, Spirit Lake, and Mount Adams are grand.  Continue on up the ridge, zigzagging past strawberries and huckleberries, to views of St. Helens Lake.  Drop down a sidehill and travel through a natural "hole-in-the-wall", then traverse a side hill with Coldwater Peak above, and St. Helens Lake below.  The lake was once a popular backpacking and fishing destination, but now only a "secret" for- scientists-only trail drops to the lake.  The deep-swimming lake trout that were planted there decades ago survived the eruption and still lurk in the depths.

 

St. Helens Lake
The 3/4 mile trail to the summit of Coldwater Peak is on the left, just above the young hiker's white hat in the photo.  At the top there are numerous scientific and weather monitors.  Before the eruption, a firelookout stood here, and bits of glass from the lookout scatter the summit.  Check the valleys below for herds of elk and watch for mountain goats, too.  Round trip 13 miles with 2000 feet elevation gain.


 

 

 
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