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Hiking to Spirit Lake ... or up to the rim of Mount St. Helens.

Hiking to Spirit Lake . . . or up to the rim of Mount St. Helens

Good news awaits visitors to Mount St.Helens National Volcanic Monument this summer. The restricted "red zone' surrounding the volcano has been scaled back, so climbers can now ascend to the 8,363-foot rim--and hikers can descend to Spirit Lake for the first time since the 1980 eruption. And another trail, about to open, leads to a bluff with superb views.

You can begin your visit at the monument'simpressive new visitor center, just 5 miles east of Interstate 5.

For climbers only. Mid-May through October,only a hundred climbers a day will be allowed above the 4,800-foot level on the mountain (70 by advance reservation, 30 on a first-come basis). By the May 4 season opening, nearly every summer weekend was fully booked, but weekdays still had plenty of openings. No wonder; a straightforward, though taxing, 5-hour ascent--coupled with the chance to peek over the rim into the steaming crater--is a chance few mountaineers can resist.

Two major routes approach the rim fromthe south and southwest; the climb is not technically difficult, but climbers should bring ropes and crampons as there are snowfields with small crevasses near the top. For a list of climbing guides, call the monument's special uses officer at (206) 247-5473.

Hiking trails. More visitors are likely tomake the 2-mile round-trip hike into Spirit Lake on a trail due to open by July 1. Harmony Falls Trail begins on Forest Road 99, just north of Cedar Creek view point on the volcano's northeast shoulder; it ends at a pumice beach with a spectacular view of the crater yawning above the lake. Huge floating logs still cover part of the lake, but don't even consider walking on them (one misstep could be fatal).

Or hike the first 1 1/4 miles of brand-newIndependence Pass Trail, which should also be open by July 1. It leads to a high bluff with exceptionally fine views of Spirit Lake and the crater.

This summer you'll have to take a shuttlebus to either trailhead, since a section of Road 99 will be closed for reconstruction (the shuttle runs about every 15 minutes from 9 to 6 daily). Don't be alarmed if you hear an explosion (more likely to startle summit climbers than hikers); road and trail crews plan to do lots of blasting.

To avoid construction hassles, considerthe Plains of Abraham Trail on the volcano's southeast slope, or two trails on the southwest that were extended last year: Butte Camp (used by climbers) and Toutle Trail, which leads north to a vantage point above Castle Lake in the blast area.

For details on climbing, hiking, or sightseeing,stop at the new visitor center (open 9 to 5 daily) on State 504, 5 miles east of Castle Rock. Hands-on exhibits cover topics ranging from plate tectonics to regional history. Most impressive is the model volcano you can walk into. A multi-image slide show helps put the mountain's turbulent recent history in perspective.

Photo: Volcano's gray summit rises to the west beyond blasted snags by Plains of Abraham Trail
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jul 1, 1987
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