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Mount St. Helens: Still Casting a Memorable Shadow 31 Years Later

Mount St. Helens, looking tranquil in this live webcam view under a heavy snowpack, erupted on this date 31 years ago. On May 18, 1980, an earthquake (5.1 on the Richter scale) triggered a mighty lateral blast on the mountain's north face, unleashing a massive landslide that in just minutes flattened 230 square miles and claimed 57 lives. Scientists regard it as the world's largest volcanic landslide in history.

More than 3 decades after the blast, with recent floods, earthquakes and tornadoes now commanding headlines, the anniversary is beginning to feel a little like old news. Yet here in the Pacific Northwest, REI's home turf, the date still elicits memories of where people were at the moment of the eruption (8:32 a.m. PT) plus speculation on what the future holds for what remains for the mountain, which had 1,314 feet (277 meters) cropped off its original, symmetrical, 9,677-foot (2,950m) summit.

Volcanic dome-building within the crater in 2004 created enough instability to worry scientists and cause trails in and near the blast zone to be closed for a 22-month span. Trails were reopened in the summer of 2006. Since 2008, as reported in an article published in The Columbian (of Vancouver, Wash., across the Columbia River from Portland, Ore.), St. Helens has remained docile.

A scientist tells the newspaper that since 1980 St. Helens has rebuilt just 7 percent of its original mass and predicts the mountain will erupt again "within the next several decades."

Hiking in blast zoneUntil then, I consider the area, a national volcanic monument, some prime hiking territory if shadeless volcanic blast zones appeal to you. The pace of revegetation impresses me during every visit. Climbing a tough 6-mile route on St. Helens' south side leads to the crater rim, recently remeasured at 8,328 feet (2,538m). Making that trip requires a $22 permit, which can be hard to secure during summer. Managed today by the U.S. Forest Service, the monument is being studied for potential conversion into a national park, an idea unpopular with hunters and some other recreational users of the surrounding forests.

The U.S. Geological Service, which lost one of its researchers, David Johnston, during the 1980 eruption, has produced a couple of videos that recall the scientific and human impact of the fateful event. The monument's primary visitor center, the Johnston Ridge Observatory, is named in the fallen scientist's honor.

What Mount St. Helens's memory lingers largest in your mind?

Photos of Mt. St. Helens backcountry © T.D. Wood

Posted on at 8:47 PM

Tagged: Hiking, Mount St. Helens, national monuments and volcanoes

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great short blog on mt. st. helens.... thanks

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