As the crow flies, I live about 35 miles from Mt. St. Helens. Driving, it is 55 miles to the end of the road at Johnston Ridge Observatory on the west side — close enough to go there on a whim for an evening photo shoot. Recently, I have been toying with the play of light and shadow when the sun is low in the sky and it seemed like a fun idea to go up the mountain and see what the shadows might reveal.

I have visited the volcano, both east and west sides, on several occasions over the years, but always when the sun was high in the sky, between the hours of 11:00am and 4:00pm, in May, June, and July. The mountain and the lahar field at its base, when the sun is high, are bright. You see harsh shades of gray that are dramatic, without a doubt, and well worth the trip to the mountain.

In the evening, however, I discovered to my joy and amazement, that there are colors in the crater and shapes that I never saw before and the ravines carved by streams of meltwater are deeper than I imagined.

Mt St Helens Lava DomeThe lava dome is better-defined with the help of shadows

Mt St Helens CraterNotice the rusty streaks near the top and dark red lower down

Mt. St. HelensSee how the shadows give definition to the ravines

No matter how many times I visit Mt St Helens, I can’t just drive to one spot, shoot a couple of photos, and leave. I have to take a detour or two and see what there is to see. And there is always something to enjoy and appreciate. It is 34 years since the mountain blew it’s top and Nature is still in the process of rebirth. For one thing, wildflowers are in abundance.

Subalpine LupineSub-alpine Lupine, Lupinus latifolius

Indian PaintbrushIndian Paintbrush, Castilleja miniata

FireweedFireweed, Chamerion angustifolium

unidentified wildflowerUnidentified (can you give this beauty a name?)

Coldwater Lake is a magnet for me. I can never come to the mountain without stopping to pay tribute to Mother Nature at this beautiful spot. Watching the transformation from devastation to beauty is endlessly fascinating for me.  For a little background, I gleaned the following information and photo from the USGS website:

On May 18, 1980, a magnitude 5.1 earthquake was accompanied by a debris avalanche, which in turn unloaded the confining pressure at the top of the volcano by removing the cryptodome. This abrupt pressure release allowed hot water in the system to flash to steam, which expanded explosively, initiating a hydrothermal blast directed laterally through the landslide scar.
The top 1000 feet of the summit was gone. Traveling at least 300 miles per hour, the hot material in the blast overtook and merged with the debris avalanche. Water from melted snow and ice then mixed with loose rock debris to form lahars.
USGS Coldwater Lake outflowApproximately 6 miles from the peak, part of the debris avalanche blocked the flow of Coldwater Creek, forming Coldwater Lake. This new lake would have overtopped the blockage in late 1981 or early 1982, which probably would have resulted in serious flooding downstream. Therefore, a spillway was constructed in 1981 to stabilize the lake level and prevent an uncontrolled breach. Lake level monitoring stopped following the 1998 water year because the lake blockage was considered stable and catastrophic breakout was determined to no longer be a significant threat.

Coldwater LakeColdwater Lake 34 years later

Foxgloves on Coldwater Lake
Wild Foxgloves and greenery reflected in Coldwater Lake

Hiking trails and paths, a boat ramp, restrooms, a fish cleaning station, and pet area make Coldwater Lake an inviting place for all nature-lovers.  Birth of a Lake Interpretive Trail is a 0.6 mile wheelchair accessible paved pathway that gives visitors up-close views of Coldwater Lake.  For boating, combustion engines are prohibited on the lake, but anglers reach trophy trout by electric motors, rowing, or kicking.  Coldwater Lake is managed as a quality trout fishery. There is a one fish, 16″ minimum limit. Wild rainbow and cutthroat are in the lake.  Fishing is open year-round.  Artificial, single, barbless hooks are required.

I hope you enjoyed this little evening jaunt up the mountain with me. Let’s do it again sometime.



5 thoughts on “Coldwater Lake at Mt. St. Helens

  1. You have some of the nicest places to visit! No clue about the yellow flower, aside that it’s a pretty yellow flower… :’ )

    Why do they call it a fireweed, when it’s purple?


    1. Fireweed grows best where a fire has cleared the ground. It does best where there is plenty of open space and sunlight. As trees and brush take over, Fireweed dies out but leaves behind seeds that remain viable for many years, until a wildfire (or volcano) clears the way for them.


  2. My Dad told me that Rose Bay Willowherb was the first plant to spring up everywhere in the ruined buildings of WW2, and especially on the grounds cleared of rubble etc.

    Wonderful Blog BC. Thoroughly enjoyable.


    1. Thanks for stopping by, Andy. I’m glad you enjoyed my photo blog.

      From the ashes of WW2 bombs or volcanos, it is a lovely plant and a welcome harbinger of returning life.


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