Mount Margaret Backcountry has the best views of Mt. St. Helens and the surrounding volcanoes I’ve seen! At times, Helens is so close I felt as if I could touch it. Being the closest mountain in range of the blast from the volcano, presented very real reminders of just how destructive the blast was--shown by the jagged stumps of giant pines, the barren hillsides, and the floating barges left drifting in the surrounding lakes.
My journey started at Norway Pass, halfway between Randle and Cougar, WA. The warm August weather was a near perfect temperature for the 6-miles of mountains I had to climb that day.
What I didn’t come prepared for was all the delicious offerings Mount Margaret backcountry had to offer. At half a mile in, I started noticing small bushes with little maroon colored buds… hesitating I continued on until I saw a person with a bucket just off the trail picking away. I soon broke down, and started to sample the goods. Salmonberries, Huckleberries, and Strawberries… I was in heaven! I immediately lost track of time and went into a frenzy of smashing them into my mouth by the handfuls. The blueberries and raspberries were less prevalent, and I ended up devouring the evidence in my berry drunk state!
After eating almost every berry in sight over a couple miles, I started thinking about the potential repercussions of eating too many on a hike. I didn’t want the shits on this journey, so I stopped the rampage and made for Margaret Camp. Without trees, and sitting on the ridgeline leaves little protection mother nature--that night had a few gusty blows that chilled me to bed a bit early.
The next morning came with surprises. I ran out of cooking fuel, and knew that the next few days were going to consist of cold oatmeal and ramen. I was also running low on water, and wanted to do some more hiking and exploration. The hike to Johnston Observatory provided the perfect solution, but at 14-miles and 1700 feet of elevation change one way, I knew it was going to be a long day. In the end it was totally worth it. The views, feasts, and my time spent at the observatory quickly became the highlight of the trip.
When Helens erupted it sent 300 mph wind racing towards Mount Margaret, breaking old growth trees like twigs in less than a minute! Nature can be scary, destructive, breathtaking, and a perfect example of how we should live life. Our lives can change in an instant. Like leaving a job, and adopting a new lifestyle. Change creates room for new growth as we adapt with each new experience. And rising from the ashes can only make us stronger in ways we never thought possible.
Arriving back at camp, I soon became aware of an elk across a short draw from me, when it started bugling. I watched it for some time, pacing in the same area before eventually wandering over the crest, and out of view. Dinner-time serenades are always great!
The next day was by far the easiest with only a 3-4 miles from Dome Camp to Bear Camp. I had plenty of water, cold food and berries galore. What more could a boy want! I got to Bear Camp early, found a small grove of trees to set my hammock up, got high, and did some leisure tapping on my computer until early evening. It is in these moments, making the wild my home, that I externalize my experiences. There is freedom in having less: No commute, no job, and no other responsibilities than to simply survive and be alive in such a beautiful place.
I awoke early the next morning to one of the best sunrises in recent memory. Though, a few of you may remember sharing another one this summer that was pretty fucking amazing too!
My hike out the next morning was finished in style with one more feast of berries--followed by a beautiful ride through the woods on my moto. While I was happy to get on my way to a hot shower and some awesome hospitality from some of my best of friends, I certainly would have stayed a few extra day to eat all the berries I missed the first time!