Mt. St. Helens 1980, Revisited
(I just got done packing moving and unpacking. In one of my photo-storage lockers I have some old negs and photos of a 1980 trip to Mt. St. Helens. Not too long ago I made a thumb drive of them, they are in rugged shape. This story happened and these photos were shot exactly a week before Mt. St. Helens’ famous eruption. The location, as far as my reckoning back then could tell, should have been North-East of the mountain, 10 t0 20 miles away from it. This story has a part 1 and part 2, should you spend the time reading them you will get why.)
Part 1, Like Homer Simpson To A Doghnut
I was at Jr. College in Western Washington back in 1980 when Mt. St. Helens rumbled to life. A decade earlier as a kid, my dad had taken us there, we clambered around on her slopes, we tossed pumice out onto Spirit Lake and watched amazed as it floated away. Later, in my mid ’20s I camped out under the stars on Spirit Lake where I saw a most amazing meteor shower.
Local news kept us all well informed of the daily goings on up at St. Helens, because of my prior visits, I absorbed as much news as possible. I was also just getting into photography-landscapes to be exact so it became inevitable that by hook or crook I would find a way down to where I could get photos of that volcano.
On a Friday I checked out a Nikon and a couple of lenses from our Audio/Visual Department, bought some film, packed my backpack and made ready for the trip. Saturday morning saw me at an entrance ramp to Southbound I-5 with my thumb out. What turned out to be the only ride down there, from freeway entrance to where I camped out picked me up. The guy had a van, was heading to Portland but when he heard my plans to go up to where the road block leading to Spirit Lake was and then to backtrack to an open logging road in hopes of going up it for a view of the mountain he was in.
We did just as planned, went down I-5 to the Mt. St. Helens exit, turned east and followed it up to the roadblock, turned around found us an open logging road and up a ridge we went. A few miles up we came to an old logging deck that had a great view South-Eastward. According to my calculations Mt. St. Helens should have been directly in front of us but sadly cloud cover obscured it.
Well for my ride, at least we tried. I broke out my camera and got a shot of him heading back down the hill. Then I found a place to set up my tent among some trees next to the logging road. With camp set up, I camp-stoved up a cup of coffee, lit a cigarette and walked out to that logging deck to see what I could see. Imagine my happiness when in the fading light of sunset I saw this:
Coffee and smoke done, that photo in the bag and getting dark I returned to my tent and crawled into my sleeping bag. Now for those of you not used to sleeping alone out in a wilderness, (that was and still is me), every little sound is a bear or a sasquatch. It knows EXACTLY where you are and is just waiting for you to fall asleep….. so I had a plan. On one side of the tent near my head I had my flashlight, on the other a photographers flashgun.
At some point after I had fallen asleep I did wake up to a lot more noise than expected. I quietly grabbed the flashlight, charged up the flashgun and carefully unzipped the tent. While still sitting in my sleeping bag I peered around with the beam of the flashlight…..at first I saw what looked like a bunch of boulders-boulders that I did not recall being around when I set up camp….and then one shifted a bit. It turned out that a small herd of elk had bedded down around me, the closest maybe 30 or so feet away. OK so they were not bears nor sasquatches, but a new fear of being accidently trampled lulled me back to sleep!
At some point the elk had slipped off without waking me and morning presented itself bright and blue. Mt. St. Helens looked spectacular so after coffee and breakfast I shot the photos below.
These next two are likely shot with a 100mm or better telephoto.
By lunch I packed everything up in my pack, said good-by to the smoldering mountain and walked down the logging road to the main road. This time I was not so fortunate with the rides, the first got me back to I-5 but it took two or three more to get me back to Lakewood and bit of a long walk from the freeway to our apartment near the college.
Part: 2. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Having conquered the mountain once I decided that it would be a grand idea to go back there with my girlfriend the very next weekend. The weather was supposed to be perfect and she had a Volkswagen van that she had purchased only a month or so earlier….
….but she was a whole lot less enthused about this adventure. Being the smarter of us, (she was studying accounting and me with no clue), she talked me into a far closer camping trip up at Mt. Rainier. I was not so happy about it but she pointed out the savings in gas and maybe we could get up high enough on Mt. Rainier’s trails to see St. Helens…so off to Mt. Rainier we went.
I knew my way around Rainier a bit so I chose a hike that included an illegal campsite that could put us in striking distance of some South facing views that might include St. Helens. We found a spot hidden from the trail up on an area called Rampart Ridge and set up camp. Maybe it was my snoring but we were not disturbed by bears, sasquatches or elk-herds that night.
The next morning was bright and blue, I grabbed my girlfriend’s new camera and got out of the tent intending to get a shot of her with her face peeking out….and that’s when I saw this thick dark storm-cloud off to the south. My thoughts were along the lines of; “It isn’t supposed to rain…that damned weatherman said it was supposed to be bright and sunny all weekend…there is no way I will be able to see St. Helens through that stuff….and it is definitely heading this way!!!”
So we decided not to wait out that storm, that it was best to pack up as quick as possible and hike back to her van at Longmire, We got everything but the ground-cloth packed away when the first drops hit…poof-poof-poof, you could hear big fat drops hitting around us as I rolled up the ground-cloth. Then I noticed that the ones hitting the ground-cloth were not splashing water…I rolled my finger through one and came away not with a wet but with a powdery feel…and then it dawned on me…MT. ST. HELENS JUST BLEW UP!!! At that moment I don’t believe that I had ever in my life been more thrilled.
The thrill was short lived, that dark ‘storm-cloud’ came over us, blotted out the entire sky so that everything took on a grey tone and then a thick ‘fog’ of ash particles floated through. We tied bandanas around our mouths, shouldered our packs and headed back to the trail. By the time we got to the trail the world had closed in around us, visibility was maybe 20 yards and everything was noticeably silent…my girlfriend pointed out that even the birds had all stopped chirping.
As we walked the fog of ash grew thicker and thicker, I did not let on but truth be told I was worried-the trail, covered in ash, was now invisible. Rampart Ridge had cliffs to our East and I hoped we were not lost, that we were heading downslope to the road between Longmire and Paradise. It took awhile but eventually we popped out of the woods onto an elevated trail alongside that road I was trying to locate, Longmire was down that road and I was one VERY relieved young man.
When we drew near Longmire, we encountered a Park Ranger wearing a gas mask equipped with a bullhorn. He was periodically using the bullhorn to call hikers in, he directed us into Longmire were a meeting was going on at the cafeteria. At the meeting we were told the obvious: Mt, St. Helens had just erupted. The Park Rangers did not know what damage St. Helens had caused, how big the ash cloud was or even if Tacoma and Seattle had been hit by it. They gave us two options: stay at the lodge where food and some beds would be provided or they would set up a caravan of vehicles with a ranger leading and a ranger following. They would do this out to the park’s main gate where we would be on our own. We chose the latter.
By now the ash was so thick it was difficult even finding our van, forming us all into a line was yet another problem, the ash was easily a few inches deep. I walked beside the van, holding onto the mirror while my girlfriend drove, even though the next car ahead was maybe five or six feet, I could barely make out it’s taillights. Like this our caravan worked it’s way out of the park.
For me the biggest worry was getting down off of Rampart Ridge earlier, walking beside our van while caravanning out from under a cloud of ash never bothered me. At the Park entrance the ash-fog had lifted enough that we could all manage on our own, by the time we made Lakewood we were under bright blue sunny skies but you could see the ash-plume of to the South and East. Our friends in Lakewood could hardly believe what we went through although over the weeks to come they would get films of ash popping up periodically on their car windshields. Oh and remember my girlfriend’s Volkswagon Van that she had recently purchased? The ash fully destroyed her engine!
There is one thing that needs mentioning before I end my story, while those photos above were shot precisely one week prior to St. Helens May 18th 1980 eruption, to this day I am not sure how close that campsite-(the campsite my girlfriend talked me out of taking us back to), was to the blast-zone. It is high on my bucket-list to relocate it.twenty, Major Hogwash, Two way street and 20 othersBaba OhReally, NothingcleverjustRay, canoeist52, eridani, Enthusiast, davidthegnome, Art from Ark, zoewashburne, so far from heaven, pa28, cleverflamingo, RadicleFantast, Land of Enchantment, Satan, NV Wino, Coldmountaintrail, Pam, GloriaMundi, Johnny Rash, Marym625 like this
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