The catastrophic eruption of Mount Saint Helens is something that has fascinated me since I was a kid. This stratovolcano in the Cascade Volcanic Arc began rumbling in March of 1980. Small earthquakes, steam explosions, and cratering warned of impending doom. Suddenly on the morning of May 18, 1980, the volcano exploded. Over 1300 feet of rock was blown off of the summit. The blast obliterated over 230 square miles of the surrounding countryside, leveling over four billion board feet of timber while killing 57 people, about 7000 big-game animals, and countless other organisms.
While on business near Portland, Oregon, I found myself with a little free time. I made a beeline for this famous volcano, now designated as a national monument. Although it was January at a high elevation, I was not disappointed with what I saw. The weather was clear and I was able to get a great view of the crater left behind from the infamous eruption.
The scene was a lot more serene than it was back in 1980. The ecosystem has largely recovered over the last 32 years. Big pines were again abundant, and signs suggested the presence of large elk herds in the Toutle River Valley below.
I really got lucky visiting this spot in January. Not only did the weather cooperate, but the crowds were nonexistent in the depths of winter:
Winter visits to high elevations are a crap-shoot though. My business partner came here in November 2011 and was unable to see anything…it was socked in with clouds, fog, and rain. I imagine it was still preferable to the lahars and pyroclastic flows of 1980 though.