|Fall colors at Norway Pass|
Access: Northwest Forest Pass required; road to trailhead paved but narrow and poorly maintained
Standing directly across Spirit Lake from Mount St. Helens and falling squarely in the blast zone from the volcano's 1980 eruption, Mount Margaret provides an extraordinary viewpoint of the devestation from the news-making eruption and of the chain of Cascade stratovolcanoes in southern Washington and northern Oregon. This hike delves into the heart of the devestated area in Mount St. Helens National Monument and gets surprisingly little traffic considering its stunning location. The hike to Norway Pass and Mount Margaret is a long drive from Seattle but is ultimately worth the trouble to see the slopes of blasted trees and the process of recovery that follows an eruption. Hikers in the area looking for a shorter hike can simply hike to Norway Pass and back to the trailhead rather than going all the way to Mount Margaret; while this abridged four-mile round trip hike misses the full view of Spirit Lake and a chance to see Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson, it does lead to a pretty view of Mount St. Helens and Spirit Lake as well as the other southern Washington volcanoes.
I visited Norway Pass and Mount Margaret on an early October day when the berry bushes scattered throughout the devestated area were turning orange and red and a light coat of fresh snow coated the slumbering volcano. I headed out from Seattle early in the morning, heading south past Puyallup, Eatonville, and Morton, taking the bumpy and pothole-filled Forest Service Road 25 south to Forest Service Road 99, which led towards the Windy Ridge area of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. NF-99 was an unpleasant drive: at points, parts of the downhill side of the road had slumped, creating somewhat dangerous driving conditions. After entering the monument, I turned right onto NF-26 leading towards Meta Lake. I passed over a gravel stretch where the road had recently collapsed before reaching the trailhead on the left side of the road. Although trailhead parking was fairly spacious, the lot was almost empty for a nice albeit partly cloudy October day.
The first thing that struck me as I stepped out of the car was the barrenness of the landscape. St. Helens was outside my line of sight from the trailhead, but it had nonetheless been able to bowl a strike over most of the trees on the surrounding slopes. The Cascades are generally lush and green, so it was remarkable to see them brown and dull instead.
I hung my Northwest Forest Pass on my dashboard and started off on the Boundary Trail (Trail #1) towards Norway Pass. The trail headed west, crossing a small stream and then climbing onto a small ridgelet. At the end of the small ridge, the trail made a broad turn to the left and then began to gradually zigzag up a slope. As I ascended, the first views of the day began poking through the scattered clouds. Meta Lake appeared below and Mount Adams gradually became visible in the distance. From this angle, Adams looked particularly massive, dominating the landscape to the east.
|Devestation from the 1980 eruption at Norway Pass|
There was some nice fall color at the pass, with many of the berry bushes turning red and yellow. Three and a half decades had passed since the eruption, but the forest on these slopes had yet to recover; vegetation was still dominated by grass and shrubs.
|Mount St. Helens and Spirit Lake from Norway Pass|
The narrow trail continued through the open slopes blown clear by the eruption. Although forest had not returned, scattered evergreens had set roots and began the first stages of recovery and ecological succession. This stretch of trail had some of the most impressive fall color along the hike, with a mix of bright yellows and dull reds in the bushes near the trail. Looking south, I found nearly continuous views of Spirit Lake and the crater of St. Helens.
|Autumn color en route to Mount Margaret|
|Mount Margaret and St. Helens|
|Boot Lake and Rainier|
The views were simply astounding. I could see five volcanoes: Rainier, Adams, St. Helens, Hood, and Jefferson. Spirit Lake lay at the foot of Mount Margaret, its surface partially covered by a raft of logs knocked over by the eruption. To the west, St. Helens Lake was nestled in a high basin in the barren ridges of the western portion of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Far away ridges were carpeted with moist Cascade forests, but all the nearby mountains remained devestated three and a half decades after the fateful May blast.
|Adams from the summit of Mount Margaret|
|St. Helens Lake and devestation|
|Mount Margaret summit block|
|Spirit Lake and St. Helens from the top of Mt. Margaret|
I recommend the hike to Mount Margaret to anyone who has a day to spend in the Mount St. Helens area. The views from the summit are superb and the desolate landscape created by the volcano's 1980 eruption is both shocking and beautiful. The hike itself is not terribly difficult, though it is a bit long; it is probably tougher to endure the long and at time bumpy drive out to the trailhead from any nearby metropolitan area.