Where were you 40 years ago today, May 18, 1980?
I was 14, at school in an 8th grade classroom in Decatur, Texas anxiously awaiting for summer to begin. At 8:32 am Pacific Time | 10:32 am Central Time (the time of the eruption), we were completely into our lessons. By the time our afternoon classes were in full swing, word was spreading through the classrooms about this massive eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington. I had no idea what this meant as I had never been around an active volcano, but when I saw the explosion on television that evening, I was in awe! The main thing that was going on in my mind was how many people would suffer or die because of this. Only months before, I visited the museum in Fort Worth that had the Pompeii exhibit from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. I was horrified and could envision the entombed bodies like I had seen at the exhibit!
Frank, on the other hand was living in Arizona at the time and this is his story….in his words.
I was 24 years old and managing a branch office for a national company. They had transferred me from Florida to Phoenix, Arizona that past Christmas and I was excited to be living around the mountains. I spent as much time in the mountains as I could and anything mountain or geologically related fascinated me.
That day, May 18th, I was sitting across the street from the office having lunch when I saw the news on Mt. St. Helens. To say I was enthralled would be an understatement. The truth is, I’ve been in love with Mt. St. Helens ever since. I had no idea at that time, that in the next 30 years, I would end up living around the Seattle area twice, and that I would be lucky enough to spend so many hours exploring Louwala-Clough (smoking mountain) the Native American name for this incredible volcano.
Mt St. Helens became and is, one of my favorite places to visit. I spent nights in it’s treeless environment watching meteor showers. I went to Spirit Lake and saw the millions of huge logs floating in it’s crystal clear waters. I did some spelunking and hiked the ancient lava tubes coming off the mountain, called the Ape Caves. This is a must, especially in the summer. If it’s unseasonably hot in August, (one of the years I went, it was approaching 100 degrees) it’s always in the 50’s in the Ape Caves. I even was lucky enough to back-country ski in the monument during the winter time. I wasn’t lucky enough to get a permit to hike to the rim but, I hope that’s an adventure I can undertake with Lisa when we visit the Evergreen State in the near future.
Of the considerable time I was fortunate enough to spend at Mt. St. Helens, the picture above depicts my favorite. It was in the middle of July 2000. I took off from Johnston Ridge Visitors Center (another absolute must see) around 5pm. I was going to be spending the night inside the monument so time was a non factor. That year, they had opened up the trail that went through the blast zone right in front of the volcano. I had waited years to have a chance to hike this trail. A couple of hours later, I was standing on the remains of the largest recorded landslide in history, staring into this amazing crater. With only wild flowers, sparse shrubs and very young trees to keep me company, it was a perfect moment of solitude and togetherness with nature.
I took out my snack and one of two ice cold beers, that had been frozen when I started my hike, and had myself a picnic and happy hour. Two beers and two hours later, the light was fading and it was time to head back. I had only seen two people on the trail out from the visitors center. On the trail back, I didn’t see a single soul.
Hiking up the ridge about two miles from the visitors center parking lot, I heard my first coyote howl. It was like he gave everybody else permission to start singing. I have no idea how many coyotes there were that night and I never saw a single one. But during the last hour of my hike, the howling was constant and from every direction. Somewhere amongst all the howling, I heard the lone bugling of a bull elk. He was probably saying “you can howl all you want but don’t even think about bringing your butt over here”. All the sound echoing through the mountains and valleys of this national treasure was incredibly cool and really eerie at the same time.
Back at the parking lot, I opened up the tailgate of my little Toyota pickup, sat down and cracked open my last beer. As the coyotes continued their serenade, I finished my beer crawled into my camper shell, unrolled my thermarest, opened my sleeping bag and got ready for bed. I celebrated how wondrously wild the monument can be and fell asleep to the sound of coyotes howling.