The crater carved from the tip of Mt. St. Helens, a near perfect shape as if from a giant ice cream scoop, is older than Kris and I. Barely.
Just shy of 100 miles from Seattle and nearly 40 years ago, Mt. St. Helens was shaken by an earthquake that caused the Northern face of the rock to collapse and avalanche inwards. This, in turn, punctured the tightly sealed chambers of pressurized gas that promptly exploded outwards. The trees cracked like matchsticks, and hundreds of square miles of forest were leveled in the time it takes a child to blow out the candles on a birthday cake.
This was my first camping trip during the summer of my first year in Seattle, in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It was an ideal halfway point to Mt. St. Helen to set up camp, although it turned out that our route there wasn’t going to go as planned. Despite it being the height of the summer, the highway leading directly south towards the mountain was still under several feet of snow. We ended up having to drive out of the forest, circle around Pinchot, and head towards the mountain from the south. It took us two hours out of our way, and when we eventually approached Mt. St. Helens from the southwest it was to desertous terrain as far as we could see.
When I first announced that I was moving to Seattle, almost always the first or second question I got was “You know it rains there a lot, right?” But in fact, Seattle gets less rainfall annually than New York City. Like the rest of the state, Seattle’s weather is widely diversified, although I never realized quite how much until this trip. We started in a cool city hovering around the low 80’s, and camped in the forest just 70 some miles away where the temperatures dropped and the skies cleared. The temperature declined further as the topography rose, burying the roads in snow until the land dropped back closer to sea level and the temperatures burned towards 90. It’s a phenomenon that few states in the US are host to. Washington’s size isn’t itself anything extraordinary, not when compared to the behemoth that is Texas or the seemingly endless coasts of California, but its wild topography grants it a limitless possibility of climates to explore.
We parked at the Johnson Ridge Observatory, stopping briefly to peruse the visitor center, before walking out to the main trail that bisected what is referred to as the “blast zone”, a wide expanse of forest that was completely obliterated by the explosion. Petrified wooden trees litter the land, snapped clearly at the bases of their trunks, as eerie and solemn as graves, and all eerily pointed in the exact same angle. It was as it they were blown over merely days prior, not decades.
The air was hot but not humid, and it make the trek easier. If we’d had all day, we could have gotten to the very base of the mountain. And one day we will! We’re excited to take you back again. And even more excited to see perhaps a widening blush of fresh green foliage, as new life creeps back through the natural devastation, as it always does.