A nice day despite no view of St. Helens
Leaving Bob's vehicle parked at the Ranger station in Randle, fellow SP'er Bob Bolton and myself drove the 21 miles south from Randle to the Goat Mtn trailhead. To get to that point, you need to turn to the right about a mile south of Randle on Road 25 and follow it 7 miles or so to Road 26. Take a right uphill on paved road that narrows considerably but is paved almost all the way to the trailhead. The sign for Road 26 is almost hidden by weeds and if you miss it you will see the Iron Creek Campground on your left. Turn around and go back one mile and find Road 26. Road 26 does get narrow in spots but there are turnouts that allow other cars to pass or be passed.
As Road 26 enters the Mt. St. Helens proper, a gravel road (signed) takes off to the right just before you reach Ryan Lake's turnout. The gravel road goes a bit uphill and then downhill to the Trailhead (3/10th mile). Plenty of area to park. It is signed as the Goat Mtn Trail - 217. The trail takes right off and goes through the recovering devastated area for awhile before the improved trail takes a big turn to the east and makes a LONG switchback before it turns back towards where you want to go. A few switchbacks later and you find yourself atop the ridgeline, east of the eastern summit.
Once Bob and I gained the ridgeline, about two miles into the hike and 1800 feet of elevation higher, we really began to enjoy the hike.
It was amazing to look down on the devastation that still was evident from the 1980 blast, with trees still littering the hillsides like so many matchsticks that had just been dumped willy nilly. It really has to be seen to be believed and even my pics of it don't carry the same impact that you get with your own eyes. The incredible forces that were brought to play on May 18, 1980 was beyond our comprehension. Further on along the ridgeline, there were places where the blast had knocked trees over and on hillsides to the north of us. Incredible.
One of the things we had really hoped for was to be able to see Mt. St. Helens and see into the crater and the building lava dome. We had a pretty decent view of it even from Huffaker Mtn that we had climbed back in May but our hoped for lifting of the clouds was not to be for this day as the cloud level remained low enough to obscure any view of St. Helens.
One thing we did notice was the amount of elk tracks that were everywhere.
After we left the trail to head up towards the summit ridge of Goat Mtn, we noticed that the areas we walked through smelled heavily of elk urine and you had to watch where you stepped. We had followed the trail along the south side of the eastern and middle summits and just beyond where the ridgeline dropped down from the middle summit to make a saddle, the trail drops over as it continues on its way to Deadman Lake. However, at this point, we started up cross country, following elk trails that headed up the ridge. We spent a lot of time just gawking at the trees, so many that were damaged by the blast at this part of the ridgeline and others that had been cut down for one reason or another but with the tree still laying near where it had been cut. Skeletonized trees made a perfect line along the ridge for a short distance which would be very eerie in the dark should one be up there at that time. We also enjoyed a myriad of flowers from glacier lilly's, orange indian paintbrush and beargrass to name a few.
Following the natural line of the ridge towards Goat Mtn was pleasant and
About a mile back down the trail I remarked to Bob that we must be the only people in the whole area since we hadn't seen anyone all day. I had no sooner said that when around a corner in the trail comes this guy munching on a bag of potato chips. "Where ya headed?" I asked. "Goat Mountain" was his answer.
The rest of the hike was enjoyable and we were back in Packwood in time for dinner at Peters Inn.
Three hours up, One and half down with tons of time spent gawking, snapping pictures and trying to name flowers and birds. We spent about a half hour sitting on the Eastern Summit hoping for a view of St. Helens and were rewarded with a minimal view. I'll find that picture and get it posted here ASAP.
Mileage: 7-8 or so roundtrip and perhaps 2400 feet elevation gain.