Kaboom (A Somber Anniversary)

Thirty-one years ago today, Mount St. Helens erupted.

I was not living here at the time, and was pretty young anyway, but I remember being awestruck by the news reports. As a kid, I thought volcanoes were “cool” and used to draw pictures of them erupting molten lava into the air. Mount St. Helens claimed the lives of 57 people that day, so it isn’t really appropriate to glamorize the eruption, but one can still be in awe of the immense power of nature’s fury.

When I moved up here in the mid-90s, I made it a point to visit the Mount St. Helens National Monument as soon as possible, and have returned many times since over the years. Sometimes I’ll visit the Johnston Ridge Observatory, and other times, I’ll make the trek to the more desolate, less touristy Windy Ridge Viewpoint. A couple of years ago, I hiked across the pumice plain to Loowit Falls, a waterfall that spills out of the crater. That was a hot and dusty hike, and ended up being one of the most incredible I’ve ever been on. It felt like walking across the surface of the moon at times, the landscape was so barren. And yet, it continues to change; it’s already much more lush and green than it was the first time I visited, some 16 years ago. I consider it a beautiful and sacred place, and a wonderful day trip.

I was there a week before it rumbled back to life in 2004, and over the next few years bore witness to several spectacular steam and ash eruptions, clearly visible on the northern horizon. Mount St. Helens is about 45 miles away from where I live, and on clear days it’s visible all over town. It is always there, a hulking background presence, its peak covered in snow most of the year. The mountain is quiet now, having finished its latest eruptive cycle in 2008, but the lava dome in the crater is still steaming, and we all know that one day…maybe 100 years from now, but maybe tomorrow…it will awaken once again.

Today, on the 31st anniversary of the eruption, I drove up there again. Here are some photos from my day.

The sleeping giant. 31 years ago today, a column of ash rose 5 miles into the sky as the mountain erupted violently.
The drive to Mount St. Helens offers stunning vistas (and scary bridges traversing canyons).
Beyond this point, you would’ve been toast in 1980.
Johnston Ridge Observatory
Snow is still piled high in the parking lot of the Johnston Ridge Observatory.
Johnston Ridge Observatory
Note to Mother Nature: summer is only a month away!
Lava Dome
Steam still escapes from the lava dome in the crater of Mount St. Helens.
Yours truly, shielding his eyes from the blinding glare of the sun and snow.
Snow-capped mountains receding in the distance as I return home.

Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

24 thoughts on “Kaboom (A Somber Anniversary)

  1. Mark, I’m in total AWE of your spectacular photos!

    OMG, that first one took my breath away! And I love the last one through your side-view mirror.

    Oh man, I would have loved to seen Mount Helen in person; up close. I would have also enjoyed seeing all that snow. WOW…snow in MAY!

    Thanks for sharing, bud!


  2. Looks amazing, Mark. I’d love to see it in person. When I lived in Japan we used to take regular trips to Lake Towada. It’s a volcanic crater lake inside a dormant volcano and it is spectacular.


  3. I remember where I was and what I was going like it was yesterday. Scrambling around covering bunny cages and bringing animals in out of the ashy air. Lived here all my life and never been up there. Shhh….don’t tell anyone. It’s horribly embarrassing. 🙂


    1. I still can’t believe you’ve never been there, Caryn! And I’m jealous that you were around for the actual eruption. I would have loved to have been living here then and experiencing it.


  4. If the powers-that-be at WordPress are even remotely paying attention (hi WordPress powers-that-be! Love ya!), I have my money on the fact that this post will be Freshly Pressed.

    But now that I’ve jinxed it…

    Very cool topic, photos, time hook, personalization, writing, regional interest and walk down memory lane.

    I remember the Mt. Saint Helen’s eruption too … I was 6, but still old enough to be aware that the sky was falling a few states away. I also remember the subsequent nightmares!


    1. Aww…thanks, Mikalee. That would be pretty cool (even though this post isn’t my usual “style”). Lately the WordPress powers-that-be have been looking back at old posts for their Freshly Pressed, I’ve noticed. Making it Not-So-Freshly-Pressed (but still fun to read).


  5. Mark,
    I was 13 when it erupted, and we were sailing over the weekend on Puget Sound. We woke on Sunday morning, that sailboat was covered in fine, gray ash. We had no idea what had happened–maybe soot from one of the paper mills…it was several hours later, once we docked and made our way home, that we found out.

    We visit there (and, if you want a totally fun day trip, pack your kids, tons of flashlights and all your courage, and go to Ape Caves–on the other side of the mountain–then take the cave entrance that goes UP the hill, not the one that goes down the hill) and while I think it is beautiful…I am always happy when we crest that last hill on our return trip, and see all the abundant life…and leave the devastation behind.

    It’s eerie up there.

    And this has always given me goosebumps, the last thing David Johnston said, as the volacono blew, moments before he lost his life to the blast:

    “Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!”
    then the radio went silent.

    Such fury, Nature.



    1. Everybody in my family has been to Ape Cave multiple times. Except me. Odd, considering I’m such an outdoor enthusiast.

      Then again, it’s a cave…so it’s really more like being indoors…

      Poor David Johnston. He wasn’t even supposed to be there that day. Small consolation, having a ridge and observatory named after him.


  6. Awesome photos, Mark! I really hope to make it back to Portland someday, and if we’re talking big dreams, I’d love to move there someday. This site will be a must see on that trip! Very mighty. Thanks for sharing.


  7. You shaved!!!

    My dad was at a hotel near the mountain when it erupted in the 80’s. He brought home ash from his balcony. I never tire of seeing Mt Shasta either.

    When are you coming down? Heh


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