The Washington Cascades

The Cascade Range comprises a chain of stratovolcanoes stretching 700 miles from Northern California, through Oregon and Washington, and into southern British Columbia, Canada. During the past month, we visited three of the Washington Cascades: conical Mount Baker, monstrous Mount Rainier, and explosive Mount St. Helens.

Mount Baker from Artist Point

Our introduction to the Cascades came on an easy day-trip to Artist Point on Mount Baker. Just 15 miles from the Canadian border, Mount Baker is the northernmost and snowiest Cascade in the USA. In 1989, the Mount Baker Ski Area recorded a world record 95 feet of snowfall in a single season!

Fremont Lookout and Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

For a larger Cascade experience, we hiked for three days in Mount Rainier National Park. On the first day, we walked from the Sunrise Visitor Center to Fremont Lookout on the northeast side of the mountain. Built in the 1930s, Fremont Lookout is one of the few remaining fire watchtowers in Washington.

Wilson Glacier and Waterfall, Mount Rainier

Although wildfires remain a constant threat, Mount Rainier is also notorious as the most dangerous Cascade volcano. No major eruptions have occurred in last 500 years; but, because Rainier is the highest and most glaciated peak in the range, hazardous mud flows during an eruption could threaten Seattle and the Puget Sound.

Hoary Marmots in the Fog, Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier is also a dangerous mountain to climb. Since summit attempts require a perilous glacier traverse, we stayed on the mountain’s lower trails. On our second day in the National Park, we hiked up from the Paradise Visitor Center on Rainier’s south side. Unfortunately, we never saw the sun or the fog-shrouded mountain peak.

Mount Rainier and Wilson Glacier Falls from Skyline Loop Trail

On the third day, the fog lifted and the grandeur of Mount Rainier was revealed. From the 6-mile Skyline Loop Trail, the greatest of the Cascades stood tall, mantled in glaciers, and bathed in sunlight. Also visible on the southern horizon was our final Washington Cascade destination of Mount St. Helens.

Mount St. Helens 1980 Eruption Memorial (names of 57 lives lost)

On May 18, 1980, David A. Johnston, a 30-year-old volcanologist stationed on Mount St. Helens, radioed his last words, “Vancouver, Vancouver, This is It!” From the Johnston Ridge Observatory named in his honor, we stared into the detonated volcano and reflected on the astounding force of nature.

Exploring Ape Cave, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

At the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, we also went into Ape Cave, the longest lava tube in the continental USA. Like the local boy scout troop “The Apes” who first explored the cave, we walked through portions of the 2.5-mile underground tube in pitch darkness.

Esther Climbing Upper Ash Slope of Mount St. Helens (Mt. Hood, Oregon on the horizon)

On our final day in the Washington Cascades, in the pre-dawn darkness, we returned to Mount St. Helens to attempt to climb to the rim of the active crater. Scaling Mount St. Helens included a mile-long arduous scramble over minivan-sized boulders and a final mile-long unrelenting slog up a steep incline of volcanic ash.

View of Spirit Lake and Mount Rainier from the Mount St. Helens Crater Rim

When we finally reached the rim, we peered down into the crater and its steaming lava dome. From the top of Mount St. Helens, beyond the great void left by the horrific eruption, we could also make out monstrous Mount Rainier and conical Mount Baker, together a trio of volcanoes in the Washington Cascades.

Selfie on the Summit of Mount St. Helens (Spirit Lake and Mount Rainier in background)

Feature Photo: Mount Adams, a fourth Washington Cascade, seen from the upper slope of Mount St. Helens

13 thoughts on “The Washington Cascades

    • Hiking in the Cascades was the physically demanding part of our month in western Washington. The Mount St. Helens hike was especially taxing. In fact, it was miserable; but, the five minutes we stayed on the crater rim made the entire trip worthwhile. I’m glad you guys “limed” the post!

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    • Sorry, Mr. Scheinin. We have already moved on from Washington, and are currently in San Francisco walking around and looking at things. Besides, that schlep up Mount St. Helens nearly killed me.

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  1. We remember well our visit to st Helen’s
    Leny turning 50.
    Along with Esther we drove from the visitors center up to the view platform
    We do remember very well the impressive view only seeing miles and miles of trees all laying down like soldiers away from the crater
    There was NOTHING growing.
    That view must be different now
    Thanks
    Hand and Leny

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Hans and Leny, Esther also has fond memories of your family trip three decades ago. Since your visit to Mount St. Helens, most of the fallen trees have been removed and new trees are beginning to grow in their place. The exploded mountain is an amazing sight. You were fortunate to see it so soon after the eruption. We think about you always and wish you the very best, Esther & Joe

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    • Dear Leny, Thank you for your wonderful comment. Esther and I have been enjoying our trip very much. The highlight was our visit with Eric and Jaco in Port Angeles. We had so much fun together, boating, fishing, crabbing, hiking, and just sitting around and catching up. You are in our thoughts and hearts. Love, Esther & Joe

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  2. I’m impressed you made it to the top of Mount St. Helen’s! I’m not sure I would be strong enough for that hike, but it would be very cool to look into the crater. Your photos are fabulous…thanks for sharing!

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    • Thanks, Ann. For me, the view from the crater rim was a very moving experience. I was a first year geology student in college when Mount St. Helens blew up in 1980. The eruption only further motivated me to study earth sciences and pursue a career as a geologist. The hike to the crater was very difficult. The hiking on Mount Rainier was much easier, and the views of the greatest of the Cascades was equally impressive.

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  3. You guys are hearty! That’s a bucket list item you can now cross off, Joe! My sister-in-law and niece climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in July. Other than traveling to Tanzania during a pandemic (hmmm), they said it was a life-changing experience. Mount St. Helen’s is more my speed, me thinks! – Marty

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    • Thanks, Marty. Hiking to the crater rim of Mount St. Helens was truly a bucket-list item for me. We were lucky to secure one of only 100 permits issued per day. The hike was relatively short (8 miles round-trip) and not very high in elevation (8,300′), but very steep (average grade of over 20%). No technical experience is required but a pre-dawn start and good physical condition are beneficial. Kudos to your sister-in-law and niece! Climbing Kilimanjaro is an incredible accomplishment. I would love to have the chance to attempt it some day. – Joe

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