Friday, September 23, 2011

Days 81 - 82: Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

After resupplying in Olympia, we headed for Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument.  Mount St Helens isn't a National Park so there're no campgrounds on the mountain.  There is an "official" campground in the surrounding National Forest but it didn't really offer much, so we elected to save some money and "disperse camp". 

Just up a well maintained gravel logging road was a smaller dirt road and just a short way down that road we discovered a previously used little campsite that had a firepit and some wood already gathered by whoever used it last.  Free camping!

After a restful night in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest we woke up to heavy fog.  Luckily, it burned off by mid morning and we were able to get our first glimpse of Mount St. Helens.  What a sight!

The destruction wrought by the 1980 eruption is still very visible, even 31 years later.  This small nearby lake survived because it was frozen over at the time of the eruption.  Once it thawed there were fish, mice, and other animals still alive in and around the lake.

This is Spirit Lake, at the base of Mount St. Helens.  Spirit Lake was a different story.  A landslide during the eruption pushed the water 800 feet up the opposite shore and washed all the trees that the blast had knocked down back into the lake .

31 years later, about a third of the trees still float on the surface.  Apparently Douglas Firs float the longest.  Not only that, but the lake level is 200 feet higher than it was before.  Right after the disaster the lake grew and threatened to flood downstream communities.  Steps had to be taken to safely drain some water from it since the old outlet had been buried.

The surrounding hills that took the brunt of the blast and lie within the National Monument  have been left alone to illustrate how forests heal from such disasters.

It's slowly coming back.

Hard to see but this plaque illustrates what happened during the eruption.  A mild earthquake set off a landslide, then the eruption blew about 1000 feet of rock off the top of the mountain, and then the ash cloud rose into the atmosphere.  This all took about 10 seconds.  57 people died.  We met a gentleman whose cousin was logging in the area that day and,tragically, was never found.

There's a lookout near the volcano that provided a great view if you're willing to climb a few steps.

The mountain is already rebuilding itself.  There's a lava dome growing in the crater.  Remarkably, there's also a glacier growing in the crater!

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