Adventures in the Pacific Northwest: Mount St. Helens

‘At the same time, there’s something magnificent about volcanoes; they created the atmosphere that we need for breathing.’-Werner Herzog

If you have read my blog, you will know that I have a fascination with volcanoes. This dates back to when I was quite small and watched a National Geographic video on the ‘Ring of Fire’ (the IMAX film of the same name is fantastic). I’m just in awe of the stunning beauty which covers unimaginable destruction. I remember seeing ‘Dante’s Peak’ in theaters with my dad and B and watching in hundreds of times since (it’s currently steaming on HBO Max and I may have watched in once or twice since it arrived). Other than visiting Hawaii, Pompeii, and my most recent add, returning to Iceland to see the current eruption, seeing Mount St. Helens was top of my list of places to visit.

When B decided to visit and we were going to road trip, St. Helens became the thing I looked forward to most. I had planned on visiting over Thanksgiving but Covid restrictions put a halt to this but it worked out. Getting to visit with B was worth the wait!

The volcano is just over the Oregon border and coming from Oregon, the mountain looks ‘normal.’ Well, mostly, it kind of looks a bit squat…like a cupcake in which the box tipped over. But looks can be deceiving. The backside (Oregon side) is visible from the Visitor’s Center. It is very peaceful sans the construction noise from the VC renovation. This is the beginning of a long road to the main viewing. It is about an hour and a half from the entrance to the final stop (where the observatory is). There are lookouts throughout (including a nice rest stop with facilities) as you hug the valley. The drive is quite green but as you approach, the scars of 1980 become apparent. You go around the bend and you can see the gapping hole in the middle of the mountain. It is shocking, even as someone in which volcanoes are an area of interest.

One of the first points of view is a lake with a nature trail. It was quite peaceful with glimpses of Mount St. Helens and peak-a-boos of Mount Rainer in the distance. It was a great place to get out and stretch your legs. It was also very green, which in this case, was quite ominous.

The magnitude of destruction is overwhelming. That after 40 years the effects of the explosion are still so deeply felt. It reminded me of what it would be like to visit Mordor on a sunny day. You can see the canyons where pyroclastic material flowed into the surrounding areas. A massive v at the summit…it sort of reminded me of a hoagie bun. The very best views are from the final lookout. I will tell you, it is VERY windy! It was a hot day, was grateful for the out shell of my North Face triclimate jacket I got for my New Zealand/Australia trip! I walked a bit up the trail which is a skinny ridge. The wind got too bad and the trail is very narrow with a far drop, so I turned back.

You can see the ‘cap’ that is of such great concern…Mount St. Helens will erupt again and there is grave concerns that the cap in the center is more significant than the one in 1980. That the pressure will be too great…the eruption catastrophic. The mountain, much like Mount Rainier and Mount Hood, is being closely watched.

The scorched Earth of St. Helens becomes even more apparent when you visit Mount Rainier. The area surrounding that volcano is lush and very green, it is what I presume St. Helens looked like before May 18, 1980. It was a powerful day.

2 thoughts on “Adventures in the Pacific Northwest: Mount St. Helens

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