Mount Saint Helens
Oct 01 – Mount Saint Helens
Our new Thule Box has a new sticker from Mt. Saint Helens: “I Blew – 1980“. Nineteen Eighty! Now, that is recent Volcanic history. It was a scenery changing explosion witnessed (almost) in the Digital Age. I remember the reports of the eruption/explosion and observing with passing interest without fully comprehending the magnitude of the eruption. This was a massive and unexpected event — of those who perished in the eruption, 90% of them were well within designated “safety zones”; far enough, it was thought at the time, to be able to observe but not participate.
Fifty seven people lost their lives in the eruption and 1200 ft of the mountain collapsed. Think of the last hike or climb that you did with an elevation gain of 1200 ft and imagine that hill being wiped out out in less then seven minutes! At one point mud and debris was channeled into an existing Spirit Lake that, once the event was complete was lifted up 800 ft!
Unfortunately, while yesterday was crystal clear and afforded us a rare (10% of the time) clear view of Mount Rainier, we hit a rainy, windy, and cold day on Mount Saint Helens. Luckily we struck camp before the rain blew in. We headed up the winding road to the Mount Saint Helens visitor center where we attended two talks by the local rangers — one on the 1980 event from the perspective of those who witnessed it and the second with more of a geological slant (discussing different types of lava, etc.)
We would definitely recommend the Visitor Center — very informative. Also potentially very transient; the Visitor Center is well within the 1980 blast radius so we parked our car in an opportune spot with the front pointing AWAY — we were ready to roll should this have been the day of the next eruption (Not that it would have helped as the pyroclasic flows travel about 200mph and our car with Thule Box tops out around 75mph).
Due to weather (and the fact that we were feeling lazy and tired), no hiking for us today. We also never saw Mount Saint Helens proper — she peaked her snow-cap out of the mist for just a minute at one point but the view just never cleared. The scenery was surreal nonetheless. To see, on one hand, how much has healed in 36 years but, on the other hand, how affected the landscape was (and is) due to the explosion was almost a philosophical excursion. On a geologically historical scale this was a relatively small volcanic event so when Yellowstone decides to go be sure to quickly drink up that 50-yr Scotch you have in your cellar… while you can!
Check this picture of redwoods that were snapped off at the base when the mountain exploded (of course taken 36 years later…):
We ended the day with a push into Oregon and to Astoria on the coast. It was rainy and cold (with a forecast of more rainy and cold in the next few days, unfortunately) so we hit a motel for tonight.