Words and photos by Mark Longman
The summer weekends are slowly disappearing, folks are starting to ramp up for cyclocross and all we can think of is getting back to the mountains. With that in mind, knowing we had to get one more alpine adventure in our back pocket, we made plans to head up to Mt. St. Helens via Windy Ridge. We had already rode Mt. St. Helens via the Johnston Ridge Observatory approach earlier this year, but we had yet to see it from a different angle.
We started our morning off in typical fashion; making coffee, cooking breakfast and general relaxation. We had spent the previous night at the Shady Firs campground in Randle, Washington, just under a mile from where we were starting from the next morning. Our plan was to meet up with our friends from Seattle at 9:30am for the ride. The morning ride was perfect with evenly warm temperatures and sunny skies above. We wanted to keep the pace mellow since it was going to be a climb of over 6,000 feet and limited water resources.
One of the first sites we came across was a long valley that was littered with broken trees from the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. They looked to be white, petrified and all pointing away from the volcano. The next major scenic item we came across was Spirit Lake, which had logs piled up along the south shore, like an extension of the land; it was quite a sight to see. It made you think about the massive force that was behind that eruption which picked up those trees and tossed them into the lake like matchsticks. As we meandered along further, we came across our first view of Mount St. Helen’s and eventually reaching the Windy Ridge observatory. We saw a trail that continued past the parking lot and without hesitation we continued past the other visitors that had travelled by other means. I was surprised that the adventure wasn’t over but others knew what was laid ahead, the Plains of Abraham. It was breathtaking. The landscape contained hardly any plant life and it looked like a sandy/rocky desert. We took a few photos, enjoyed the scenery and headed back to the parking lot to see if we could find water, but unfortunately, there wasn’t any. I’d felt a bit nervous, as I looked at my half-full bottle and knew we had some mileage to cover, but we continued on.
After a few more miles of climbing, my Garmin was telling me we had some great descending ahead of us and sure enough a perfect pitch starting to come alive. The wind started to cool us off and the threat of running out of water became less of a worry. The descents became fast and technical (cornering plus occasional road deterioration) but extremely fun with a perfect amount of tree cover above.
After the descending was over, we knew we still had a few more miles to go, so we ducked into the Iron Creek campground to refill our bottles, where the camp hosts were very gracious.
If this is the last alpine trip of the season, I’m satisfied; it was a perfect day.Strava Link
Underneath a canopy of firs at the Shady Firs campground in Randle, WA. $23 gets you a spot for the night plus a pile of dry firewood.
Plenty of tree cover for the first 10-15 miles.