Volunteers Hike to Johnston Ridge After Landslide for ‘Important’ Equipment


Fifteen volunteers with the Mount St. Helens Institute on Tuesday hiked a 10-mile round trip to the Johnston Ridge Observatory for “important USDA Forest Service equipment that was stranded” by a May 14 landslide, dubbed the “South Coldwater Slide,” according to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Currently, there is no access to the trail for the public, but agencies are working together after the slide halted activities at the Mount St. Helens National Monument. The Forest Service and nonprofit vendor Discover Your Northwest, rather than taking their posts at the observatory, will join the Mount St. Helens Institute at the Coldwater Science and Learning Center for the summer.

“It’s not 100% planned out yet, but it looks like we’re going to be sharing the space there,” said Ray Yurkewycz, the executive director of the institute. “We welcome the Forest Service and Discover Your Northwest to set up shop. … They can still operate as a visitor center and function as a place to go.”

Coldwater Lake Recreation Area, the Hummocks Trailhead and the South Coldwater Trailhead are currently inaccessible due to visitor safety concerns, but recreation chances may increase over the summer. Yurkewycz said the phenomena that caused the slide is “isolated” to one area.

“The area that slid was material that was part of the landslide from 1980 — in the 1980 eruption there was a big landslide. Some of that landslide went up and over the ridge and down the other side,” Yurkewycz said. 

There, small creek basins trapped the material, he said. This year, just four days before the 43rd anniversary of the eruption, the combination of a heavy winter snowpack and a heatwave meant a great deal of liquid moving through that area — enough to oversaturate and destabilize the soil.

“I think by welcoming more people in the facility as we're operating and sharing space as a visitor center this summer, that more people will learn about the facility, the project, about what the institute does and be excited about what's possible for the future,” Yurkewycz said. “So I really think that's the opportunity that's been created by this problem. … This is what it means to partner and support each other when times are difficult.”

Earlier this year, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe earmarked $900,000 for the institute and its long-term vision of creating a lodge and expanding the education center at Mount St. Helens. According to previous reporting by The Chronicle, despite its “amazing location and opportunity,” Yurkewycz said, there are no overnight accommodations for the national volcanic monument’s 300,000 visitors per year.

The approximately $10 million project in total is about one-fifth of the way toward being fully funded. 

“There's still high demand for the volcano when something like this (landslide) happens,” Yurkewycz said. “Our facility would not be cut off, because this is a unique phenomenon to that one particular place. Our facility is not in danger and will always be accessible.”

In a Wednesday news release, the Forest Service noted the several opportunities still available for recreation at the national volcanic monument. The landslide damaged the upper portion of state Route 504 near milepost 49 leading up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, affecting the last eight miles of the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway and some associated trailheads and recreation sites, the release stated.

The highway remains open up to milepost 43 near the Science and Learning Center at Coldwater. Multiple scenic viewpoints, including Elk Rock at milepost 37 and Castle Lake at milepost 40 are still accessible. 

The entire south side of the mountain is unaffected, including the Ape Cave Interpretive Site and the climbing route for summiting the mountain. When the road is cleared of snow, access to Windy Ridge will also likely be unaffected.