May 18 is the 30th anniversary of the eruption of Washington State’s Mount Saint Helens. I was no where near it at the time, serving in the U.S. Navy, stationed in Puerto Rico, but I recall the incident nonetheless. My neighbors here in Oregon tell me about the ash that covered their roofs and cars and fell on the neighborhoods, even where we are, roughly two hours drive south of the actual volcano. It feels a little odd to refer to it as a ‘volcano’ rather than a ‘mountain.’ We tend not to think of it that way most of the time, or at least I don’t.
Before the eruption, the mountain stood 9,677 ft (2,950 m), but it literally blew the top off, and the summit is now at 8,365 ft (2,550 m). Periodically, it puffs out some steam and ash, but there have been no real serious eruptions in the thirty years since the big explosion.
(Photos are courtesy of USGS/Cascades Volcano Observatory and many more images can be found on their pages.)
I haven’t been up to the mountain in many years. My first trip there was the summer I moved here to Oregon, and we hiked part of the way down from the visitors’ center at Johnston Ridge to Spirit Lake, but my children were small at the time and got tired long before we made it all the way down. It was also a very hot day, as I recall. The road up is generally closed from October through May when snow blocks the roads. The visitor center just reopened this past weekend. There are some spectacular views from virtually any route up. My other blog, The Wandering Mind, has a widget on the right of the Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument’s VolcanoCam, with live views of the dome.
MSH is not the only volcano in the area. Much nearer to home is Mt. Hood, just east of the city of Portland. If that one blew, it could wreak some major havoc on Portland. Saint Helens is farther away from any major population centers, but Hood is like our backyard, less than an hour by car to the ski areas at Mt. Hood Meadows, Timberline Lodge, and SkiBowl. And there’s Mt. Adams. Seattle has its own volcano in Mt. Rainier. That would be some serious chaos if Rainier decided to wake up. Luckily, one of the things that came out of the eruption of 1980 was improved monitoring of volcanoes, thereby (we hope) preventing the worst. When St. Helens blew, there was only one seismometer set up on the mountain to record the earthquake activity. Now they’re using GPS and satellites to help monitor seismic activity.
There will be a commemoration of the event tomorrow, I believe at the Johnston Ridge Observatory for anyone who can make it. If you can’t the Web site invites you to join in online tomorrow. There is no link yet for a live broadcast that I could find. If anyone else knows more about it, please let me know.
I think it’s time I planned another trip up there.