This was my second attempt to reach Mt. Venus in less than a week. I had recuperated only four days before going back and beating myself up again to reach this not-so-noteworthy bump in the Mt. St. Helens blast zone. I paid a price for that indiscretion, making this more like a death march than a nice outing in the woods, at least on the way back when I had to hurry to beat the setting sun. I had a light, of course, but hiking in darkness on a rocky trail when you are very tired isn’t a good idea. My first attempt was from the Norway Pass trail head (TH) on the east side of the area. This time, I tackled it from the west, at the Coldwater Lake TH. Both routes are similar elevation gain (EG) and similar mileages. One advantage of coming in from the west is it’s about two hours less driving time out and back to the TH.
Mt. Venus is the last of the named peaks I hadn’t climbed in the area plus this would have been my 218th peak of 300′ or more prominence in Skamania County. It has 640′ of prominence and rises to 5820′ elevation, just 63′ lower than the highest peaks of the area, Mt. Whittier.
I got a good early start, hitting the trail at 8:11 under clear skies and a temperature of 50 degrees. A nice change from the never-ending heat we’ve been dealing with on this endless summer.
A view of Coldwater Lake at the start of the Lakes Trail: On the horizon in the center is Minnie Peak.
The first 4.1 miles of the trail skirts the north shore of this 42-year-old lake, formed when a debris dam from the 1980 eruption blocked Coldwater Creek. The trail appears level on maps but has seemingly interminable little ups-and-downs for that four miles. Not a lot for any one of the rises, but they add up. About a quarter mile past the lake, the trail starts a relentless, but very scenic grade for another 3.6 miles to Snow Lake.
I stopped for a couple of minutes at one of the waterfalls on Coldwater Cr. to admire this impressive basalt ridge. The ridge doesn’t seem to have a name but the flat-topped bump to its left is called Blastzone Butte.
Here’s the view looking the other way (to the east). The rocky ridge left of center is Mt. Whittier and the dark saddle-shaped peak right of center is commonly known as Mt. Teragram (Margaret backwards, since it is the same height plus or minus a few inches) or alternately as Mt. Tomroy after one of my now departed hiking friends.
Farther up the canyon there are a few places where persistent rock slides have made the trail a bit difficult to navigate. Piece of cake!
Farther up the trail, views of the ridge separating this valley from Spirit Lake and Mt. St. Helens come into view. Another trail runs along that ridge, just a few feet to a few hundred feet over to the south side. That’s Coldwater Peak in the center and a better view of Blastzone Butte on the far right.
Here’s a view the other way, looking up the canyon:
I saw no huckleberries until I was less than a half mile from Snow Lake and as I rounded a corner on the trail, voila, there they were. Fat, delicious and conspiring to slow me down and keep me from my goal. I did my best to ignore them – didn’t work!
Snow Lake, 8 miles from the start. Coincidently, eight years ago I passed by here on the way to Minnie Peak and took a photo from the exact same spot. See the next photo after this one.
Oct. 1, 2022
Sept. 10, 2014: Note how much the foliage has grown in those eight years and how many of the burned snags have fallen from time and windstorms.
There’s a nice camping area on the other side of the lake:
At this point, I needed to go off-trail to get to my goal. Eight years ago, I found a halfway decent game trail on the way to Minnie Peak and followed it for miles. I could only use it for about a quarter mile this time as it didn’t go in the right direction after that. Since that Minnie Peak trip, I’ve found that it started out as a maintained trail but was abandoned and never re-built after the 1980 eruption. I thought it looked too good for a game trail! The trouble is, it’s covered in deep sand from the eruption and talented as they are, the elk do not clear logs from their trails. Still, it was better that an out-and-out bushwhack. The photo below is of the best section I noted.
Another old trail, now game trail, view:
I could now see that there was no way I could get this job done and get back before complete darkness. I went ahead far enough to at least see my goal: Mt. Venus is the left -hand bump of the two on the horizon.
Too many logs to climb over and too much sand to wallow through! Only about 2 1/2 miles to go, up and back and another 1,300′ EG. Time to admit defeat and turn around.
A few more views on the way back:
Below: the final rays of the setting sun on Minnie Peak, in the distance.
It’s amazing how much the forest has recovered in the years since the 1980 eruption. This terrain looked like the surface of the moon for years, except for the downed trees.
Hike # 95 for 2022, 17.0 miles, 4,062′ EG
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