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We were both really excited to hit Mt. St. Helens.  Mike had summited the South side a few years back, but it was essentially whited out due to blowing ash, and he left with no view of anything, and broken glasses to boot.  This time, we did the North side, which turned out to be a great choice.  Because the eruption blew out sideways to the North, the drive up to Windy Ridge offers non-stops views directly into the crater and cinder cone.  While the South side bears evidence of damage, it is largely reforested, or at least reforesting, until you get beyond the timberline.  In contrast, the North side offers expansive views of huge tree trunks strewn across the landscape like toothpicks, literally in the 100,000s of thousands over a 20 square mile area.  We got the chance to take in several views of Spirit Lake, which mostly looks completely dry? because it is still so heavily littered with dead tree trunks.  Apparently, several geniuses every year try to walk over the logs, only to plunge to a freezing death - definitely Darwin Award worthy. 

In all seriousness though, the North side is completely humbling and awesome, particularly if you can imagine standing there in May, 1980.  When we arrived at Windy Ridge, we took approximately 300 steps up? to a great view point, and then took the Lewitt Falls Trail in about 3 miles toward the cinder cone.  The first mile or so looked like Los Liones (a.k.a. "Bruce Julie") in the Santa Monica Mountains, but with a massive view of Mt. St. Helens.  It got much more interesting pretty fast though.  After an initial climb, the hike descends right into the heart of the scars of the pyroclastic flows, which caused the aforementioned havoc.  The destruction is awesome in that 24 years later, most of the terrain five miles North of the volcano still looks like the moon.  This destruction lies in the shadow of a 5,000 foot tall crater with a 3,000 foot lava dome, which is still reforming, and even appeared to still be smoking (it could have just been ash blowing around).  Save for some scattered, but gorgeously colored patches of wild flowers, few signs of life remained.   If you ever want to put life in perspective, check this hike out.  You will feel insignificant enough at the base of Helens, until you realize how insignificant Helens is compared with the rest of the planet, let alone the universe.   Then of course, you will feel smaller still.  In a weird way, we found this strangely comforting.
It was probably ignorance on our part, but Rainier National Park was an unexpected surprise.  Mike was pretty excited to drive up the mountain singing Raaaaiiiiiii-nnnneeeeeeeerrrrrrr---beeeeeeeerrrrrrrr, like that sweet old early 80's Rainier beer commericial with that badass dude in the leather jacket riding his Harley towards the mountain, but we had no idea what was in store.   

Rainier is a 14,500 foot active volcano, even after losing approximately 5,000 feet in a Helen's like sideways eruption 7,000 years ago or so, though it has ganied about 3,000 of that back.  Even in late July, it was almost completely covered in snow, most of which is due to the presence of something like 30 seperate glaciers on the face of the mountain alone.  It is almost impossible to describe the sheer imposition of the mountain without being there, but we tried to get the best camera angles to convey it.  If you go, the best option (or at least the way we went) is to drive up to the Sunrise Parking lot and take the Sunrise hike about three miles to the Sunrise Visitor Center at the base of the mountain.  The hike climbs about 1,000 feet along a ridge to "Heidiesque"  views of teh mountain and the entire Cascade Mountain range.  The hike then descends towards the visitor center, which looks like a beautiful mountain lodge from above, nestled in sweeping expanses of flowers, trees, and meadows 1,000 feet below.  As we said, it was a pleasant surprise, and a summit trip to the Columbia Crest (which is actually an active caldera, and apparently still pretty warm) is a must before death, hopefully not simultaneously!!
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