White Pass and Mt St Helens

22/8/18.  Jake’s father took the hikers back to where they had finished on Monday morning and they set off into the wilderness for two days before they crossed a road again at a place called White Pass where there is a convenience store and gas station, a small hotel and some ski lifts. At the moment there is also a large tented village with food and sanitation trucks for the firefighters who are battling a couple of wildfires in the area.

We had arranged to meet Eleri there so that we could hand over the rest of her supplies (after White Pass it is 5 days’ walk to the next resupply point) and her replacement shoes which were due to be delivered to Cascade Locks on Monday. We had a lovely scenic drive up the Columbia Gorge, picking the shoes up on the way, before turning north into the Yakama Indian Reservation and the Yakima River valley where 75% of the US’s hops are grown.

At the town of Yakima we joined the White Pass Scenic Byway and climbed up through the forested Tieton valley to the eponymous pass which is at 4,500 feet where we hoped to meet Eleri either late the next afternoon or the following morning. We found a basic campsite (drop toilets, no running water but only $8) which was almost empty but could not really be described as “quiet” given its proximity to the road which has a significant number of large trucks passing along it. We read the next day that the road was only completed in 1951 – amazing for a road designated US12.

After checking out the convenience store at the pass we headed down the road for a day of sightseeing. Along the way there were a couple of viewpoints at which we stopped. The first looked north west to Mt Rainier, the highest mountain in Washington state at 14,400 feet and considered one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes. With visibility impaired by the smoke from the fires we could just see the mountain and the many glaciers at its summit and it looked impressive. It must be doubly so when visibility is good.

The second viewpoint faced the Palisades, a rocky cliff formed thousands of years ago when hot lava was suddenly chilled and cooled into hexagonal columns. It, too, was stunning.

We then headed for Mt St Helens which erupted in 1980 when more than 500 million tons of ash and smoke poured out of the ground killing more than 50 people. Vegetation is only slowly returning to the area to the north of the volcano and a lake at the foot of the mountain still has a huge number of trees flaring in it – the aftermath of a “tidal wave” which reached 800 feet up the surrounding slopes when a large part of the mountain slid into the lake. The surface of the lake is still 200 feet higher than it was before the eruption!  We found the whole story jaw dropping.

The next day the atmosphere was even more smokey with visibility even more impaired and a much stronger smell everywhere. After breakfast we emptied all of our belongings, including the bikes, from the car into the tent in case we were required to provide taxi services because the trail coming from the south was diverted away from the fires and emerged onto the road 3 or 4 miles down the hill. We knew that several of the people Eleri was walking with (she is currently in a group of six) had posted boxes of food and other supplies to the convenience store to save carrying them part of the way so they had to get to the Pass.

After checking that they were not already at the store we drove down to the point where the alternative route emerged and sat down to wait. After a couple of hours a hiker appeared and we offered him a lift to the store which he gratefully accepted.

After returning to the spot and waiting another half an hour for Eleri we spotted another couple of hikers getting out of a car. One of them shouted “Are you English and are you waiting for your daughter?”

It turned out that she had taken a different alternative route and spent the night in a small town another 20 miles down the road. She then hitched a lift, stopped at the point we had been waiting when we were doing the Good Samaritan thing and then gone on to the Pass whilst we were driving back down!

When we finally met up there was another round of hugs and parental purchasing of provisions for the offspring, followed by a couple of hours waiting for her friends to make their way up from the town.

All too soon it was time to wave them on their way again. We hope to meet them again tomorrow when the trail crosses another road about 25 miles away.

It turns out that the decision not to wait until Eleri reaches Canada before springing the surprise was an excellent one, as the last 20 miles of the trail are closed because of more fires there and it is not possible to walk into Canada. The hikers are all praying for rain in the coming days in the hope that it will be reopened in time for them to complete the trail.

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