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.