Monday, May 18, 2020


Where were you on May 18th, 1980?

On this fateful day, Mt St. Helens, a relatively little-known Cascade peak, erupted spectacularly.  The force of this blast obliterated the top 1300 feet of the mountain, spewing ash 15 miles high into the air, with the debris-laden explosion destroying forested land as far as 19 miles north of the volcano.  Instant melting of the mountain's glaciers sent a huge avalanche of mud, rock and ice hurtling down adjacent rivers, wiping out bridges and homes.  Falling ash from the eruption was so thick it turned day into night across Eastern Washington.

In honor of the eruption's 40th anniversary, I've prepared a special tribute to one of my favorite Cascade peaks.

Mt St Helens this past June

When St Helens blew, I was a high school student living in South Dakota.  I still remember the ash reaching my hometown two days later, covering everything with a thin, gray film.  The news of the blast fascinated me.  I followed the media coverage for days afterward and it kindled a life-long interest in volcanoes.  This interest continued into my college years, where I completed several geology classes (and ended up three credits short of a geology minor).

1995 climb

Years later I moved to the Pacific NW, landing in Portland, Oregon.  Although Mt St Helens is in Washington state, I didn't realize how close it was to my new hometown.  Only 52 miles away (as the crow flies), Mt St Helens' decapitated summit prominently anchored Portland's northern skyline.  Here I was now living within two hours driving distance of this famous mountain!

Lava dome in 1995

Although now close by, it took me 8 years before I finally gave MSH a proper visit.  And what a visit it was!  One of my work friends invited me to join her family on summit climb.  It was late August, and there was no snow left on the mountain.  We clambered over huge boulders, and near the summit slogged through sand-like ash fields that seemed never ending.

Summit group photo 1995

But - despite the tough climb we were successful and reached the summit by early afternoon.  Oh, what a sight it was!  Although tired and sore, all was forgotten when I gazed from my high perch.  The view of Spirit Lake and the surrounding Cascade peaks was breathtaking, and the steaming lava dome within the crater otherworldly.  I instantly fell in love with MSH and vowed to return.

MSH south side 2009

After my summit climb, I know there were other visits in the late 90's and early 2000's.  However the next photos I found were from 2009.  That year my dog and I climbed up Mt Mitchell, a nearby peak, for a picture-perfect view of MSH's south side.

Loowit Falls 2009

Also in 2009, I braved the three-hour drive to Windy Ridge, northeast of MSH, to hike the Boundary Trail to Loowit Falls, which is the closest hiking trail to the crater.

Norway Pass 2011

In the fall of 2011, I again made the long drive to Windy Ridge.  This time I hiked to Norway Pass and took in it's spectacular view of Mt St Helens and Spirit Lake.  I lucked out with a crystal-clear day and autumn colors.

Skiing down MSH 2013

After taking a ski mountaineering class, I became obsessed with summitting MSH on skis.  In 2013, my friend Katie and I attempted to reach the top, only to be thwarted by soft, unstable snow.  We did have a nice ski trip down, despite dodging rocks and some small avalanches.

Flower season June 2013

That summer I took Katie up to the base of Coldwater Peak from Johnston Ridge Observatory, which has become my number one favorite MSH hike.  If you go in late June/early July the wildflowers are incredible.

Descending the Boundary Trail 2013

The view from the Boundary Trail descending back down to Spirit Lake is one of my favorites.

Successful summit March 2014

In March of 2014 I tried once again to summit MSH on skis.  This time, joined by my friends Young and John, I was successful.  It was one of the toughest things I have ever done.

Incredible summit view 2014

But - oh - were the views from the top worth it!  I decided I liked climbing on snow much better than clambering over boulders and slippery ash slopes.  The ski down was one of the best ski runs I have ever had.

Decapitated trees - 2014

Later that summer I introduced Young and John to the trek up Coldwater Peak.  Walking through entire hillsides covered with decapitated trees never fails to impress upon me the sheer force of the blast.

Barren mountain - 2015

Most years MSH retains a tiny bit of snowcap on top.  However, 2015 was a very dry year and the poor mountain looked barren by July.  Even the wildflowers looked dried out.

Showing blogging friend Helen MSH - 2016

In 2016, my blogging friend Helen visited from Australia.  When I asked her which trail she would like to hike, she chose one near Mt St Helens.

Helen and I on Harry's Ridge - 2016

We hiked the Boundary Trail to Harry's Ridge.  Although it was a beastly hot day, Helen was lucky enough to experience the fantastic summer wildflower show at peak bloom.  I loved sharing one of my special NW places with my new friend.

South side from Ape Canyon - 2016

Although I normally stick to the trails on MSH's north side, this year I also tackled the long, steep Ape Canyon trail to check out the penstemon bloom and see the mountain's south face.

View below Coldwater Peak - 2017

In 2017 I introduced yet another hiking buddy to my fave hike- the Boundary Trail below Coldwater Peak.

Catherine and I - 2017

It was my first hike with Catherine, and it began a great friendship full of many fun outings.

Banner wildflower year - 2017

My favorite photos of MSH all involve some sort of wildflower foreground.

Wildflower season - 2018

The summer wildflower bloom is one of the best in the Pacific NW!  This volcanic soil has nurtured the return of many plants.  Having hiked many of the same trails every year, I'm noticing where there used to be short shrubs, trees are now growing tall.  Birds and small mammals are thriving in the undergrowth.  It's been fascinating to watch this devastated area recover.

Loowit Trail near Chocolate Falls - 2018

In 2018 my son and I hiked a portion of the Loowit Trail, which circles the entire mountain.  We chose a short section on the south side, and had a tough time clambering over large boulders in the hot morning sun.  Here hikers navigate by following tall poles sunk into the rocks.

June Lake snowshoe - 2019

I'd heard there was a huge network of snowshoe trails on the mountain's south side, so last winter I recruited Catherine and her daughter to join me for an exploratory trek.  We had perfect snow, weather, and even a brief sighting of MSH herself.

My favorite time of year - 2019

This past year I visited MSH four times - the most ever.  First I introduced my neighbor Cheri to the beauty of wildflower season.

One of my favorite views from Coldwater Ridge

Then I hiked the Boundary Trail past the base of Coldwater Peak to reach this fantastic view of St Helens and Spirit Lake lined up.  St Helens Lake was formed when blast debris slammed into Spirit Lake, producing a huge wave that rose over a ridge separating the two.

St Helens and Spirit Lake

Another favorite fall hike is the South Coldwater Trail to the base of Coldwater Peak.  This trail follows the top of Coldwater Ridge.  During the time of the eruption, this area was actively being logged, and some of the mangled logging equipment can still be found along this ridge.

Old logging equipment - South Coldwater Trail

Hiking along this ridge affords wide-open views of adjacent hillsides.  Seeing acres of flattened forest gives a sobering reminder of the incredible distance the blast traveled.

Fallen trees - South Coldwater Trail

Finally in October 2019 I joined a coworker and her husband to once again visit Norway Pass.

Norway Pass - October 2019

One of my favorite views of MSH, it was even better at sunset.

Spectacular sunset at Norway Pass

I'm fortunate to live so close to this unique mountain.  I've enjoyed visiting MSH's hiking trails throughout the many years I've lived in the Pacific NW and observing the mountain's slow but steady recovery.

Summit victory photo - 2014

Although the Coronavirus has kept Johnston Ridge visitor center and many hiking trails closed for this milestone anniversary, I'm looking forward to the day when I can return for more exploration on this special mountain.


  1. Hos times flies! 40 years ago I was married and going to have my second child. I do remember the MSH eruption and seeing all the destruction it caused in the area as well as sadly many deaths. Wasn't the man who owned the MSH lodge killed and his body never found? The views of the mountain over the years in your photos are so interesting and beautiful.

  2. ...I remember this well, thanks for all of these beautiful images.

  3. Wow, gorgeous Anniversary post and view of Mt. St. Helens. I love the lakes, waterfall and the gorgeous wildflowers. Beautiful collection of photos. Take care and have a great day!

  4. Amazing set of photos. i remember that eruption . It was almost a week later when the ash reached Manitoba, some 1,500 miles away. Everything was covered in this very fine layer of dust/ash.

  5. Linda thank you for including me in this anniversary post of Mt St Helens. Our hike there with the stunning views of MSH and the masses of spectacular wildflowers, will always be a very special, vivid memory for me.

    I too recall the event of 40 years ago and have read much about the destruction and havoc to lives from the eruption. This post beautifully records the areas recovery through your amazing hikes and wonderful photography.

  6. Great set of photos you've put together! It doesn't seem that long ago.

  7. Interesting post. I remember the news. It was fascinating and horrifying at the same time.

  8. That lake is beautiful. I'd like to climb there someday.

  9. Such a good journey through your photos! I recall watching the news and all the ash falling just like snow. :)

  10. Well, we were on Motorhome holiday in the Eastern US and Canada. We were near Mount Washington in New Hampshire at the time causing my sister back home some panic, confusing the mountain with the state! Like you I'm fascinated by volcanoes and always have a hankering to climb them. Do far that's Lassen Peak in California and Mount Teide in the Canaries. Some great photos and I'm particularly jealous of your ski ascent!

  11. Wow, you've really hiked this beautiful area many times! I've only hiked there once, but it was an excellent wildflower season and we hiked from the observatory to Harry;s Ridge...truly memorable! Great post!

  12. What a great set of photos of the iconic mountain. I remember the TV pictures of the eruption, especially the trees that were flattened like so many matchsticks.

  13. 1980...I was in high school too. But it was so far away it barely registered. I can't believe I've never been there! Maybe one day.


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