One thing we’d really hoped to do on this trip but again our ever changing itinerary prevented, was hike Mount St Helen’s. Although both too young to remember the day back on May 18th 1980 when one of the most destructive volcanic eruptions of our era struck, we were both still eager to visit this notorious stratovolcano. Making the two hour drive from Portland we were in awe at the still evident destruction this now restful beauty of a beast had caused. Wikipedia says it all:
Fifty-seven people were killed; 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles (24 km) of railways, and 185 miles (298 km) of highway were destroyed. A massive debris avalanche triggered by an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale caused an eruption that reduced the elevation of the mountain’s summit from 9,677 ft (2,950 m) to 8,365 ft (2,550 m), replacing it with a 1 mile (1.6 km) wide horseshoe-shaped crater. The debris avalanche was up to 0.7 cubic miles (2.9 km3) in volume. The Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument was created to preserve the volcano and allow for its aftermath to be scientifically studied.
We were lucky enough to arrive just in time for one of the many Ranger lead talks, which at this time was about how the scientists studied the devastated summit and resulting lava cone to determine how to better predict future eruptions. These talks are well lead and worth the small fee (USD$8 at the time) and we’re happy to say the method they settled on (measuring the ever growing cracks in the lava dome) were successful to the point of being able to predict all but one of the following 10+ smaller eruptions.
Taking the time to watch the regularly screened film at the Johnston Ridge Observatory is well worth it, as once the cinematography concludes, the screen rises to give you an all encompassing view of Mount St Helen’s as it now stands, bowling you over with it’s peaceful, yet still potentially deadly, beauty.
Unable to obtain a permit to hike to the summit, we instead opted for a couple of hours hiking one of the trails from the observatory, which lead us around some narrow and precarious paths, even across a recent landslide which had covered the path, making it even narrower and even more precarious. Returning to the van hot and sweaty, we were left amazed at the power of nature to both destroy and manipulate the environment, as well as recover. The forest is slowly beginning to recover and the new rivers which have carved their way through the debris are bringing new life back to an otherwise moonscape environment.
On the drive back to Portland we had a lucky escape when a huge metal bolt flew off the back of a passing truck straight into Porkchop, luckily bouncing off where the high top meets the windscreen, saving us a shattered windscreen and potentially worse.