Thursday, April 17, 2014

Alone at Mount St. Helens National Park

It was the off-season, and everything was closed for the holidays. Even the Visitor Center at the Mount St. Helens National Park. And even the only restaurant near Mount St. Helens. Going off-season does have its perks, and you'll just have to live with some of the downsides. Like closed visitor centers and restaurants. And the crowds...


Having the park all to yourself is an experience in itself (see more on Mount St. Helens in my previous post at my other blog here at http://dude4food.blogspot.com/2012/02/side-views-mount-st-helens.html).


It snowed all throughout the previous night, and the sides on the route to Mount St. Helens had a pile of fresh powdery snow. Driving up the freshly plowed mountain roads was easy, thanks to the regular snowplow schedules. Then, Mount St. Helens appears to my right, with low clouds hovering over the summit. A quick stop and a quick photo, and I proceeded up the road.


On the way up, I spot a a fresh patch of powdery snow on the side of the mountain road, with a few cars parked. Seeing the powdery patch, I get the sudden urge to do snow angels, 4x4 style. I just couldn't resist making a few tracks on the fresh patch, and I switch to 4x4 mode. The smooth transition from paved roads to pure snow was exhilarating, and as I go further out on the patch of snow. And then my RAV-4 Hertz rental stops. I step on the gas again, and all I see is a spray of snow at my rear view mirror. All sense of exhilaration melts away, giving way to a minor panic. I step down to analyze the situation...and it's not good. With my rear wheels under three feet of powdery snow, this was definitely a situation. Going back inside, I make a quick check on some provisions: an unopened bottle of water, a half cup of cold coffee, and small  bag of Doritos. Not much. Not if I have to spend a night at the park. After a few minutes, I hear a dog barking, and a friendly couple, walk toward their car. One look and they knew I was stuck. As luck would have it, the couple quickly assessed the situation and got right down to help bail the tourist out. I helped at the rear to push the car as she floored the pedal. And after a few revs, my Hertz rental was free from the snow. Relieved, I hugged the couple, and the dog. No more off-road adventures on the snow for me. But it was fun...


After chatting with the friendly couple, they leave and head back to the slopes, where the rest of their friends and family were sledding. I proceed down the road, to the reservoir, for yet another view. The tranquil, frozen lake was like a mirror reflecting the mountain and the blue sky above. I follow the trail along the edge of the reservoir, with the soft powdery snow from the previous night's snowfall. And the only foot prints were mine. And with no one around, I just had to do a body flop on the snow...and it felt good.


At the water's edge, a thin sheet of ice traps bubbles. Everything is still and quiet, it's just you on the lake. Hard to believe that a serene and tranquil place such as this was the site of one of the worst volcanic eruptions in the US. Long, leisurely walks with nothing but spectacular views on all sides of the lake, and still one of the best memories I've had.  


It was late December, right after Christmas, and snow-capped pine trees lined the mountain road like a row of Christmas trees. It felt good seeing that. Adventures and misadventures, each add to the overall experience of the road trip, making this, like all my previous trips, awesome. Alone at Mount St. Helens can be a rewarding experience. Just skip the temptation to make some tracks off-road...

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