Hiking & Camping at Mount St. Helens – Eruption Celebration

Our visit to the Mount St. Helens National Monument was timed to the 38th anniversary of the May 18, 1980 eruption.

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: May 2018 | Duration: 3 days | Participants: 10 | Type: Hiking, Multi-day Camping

Our group rendezvoused at the Silver Lake Visitor Center off the I-5 where we enjoyed lunch and listened to an interpretive presentation by a ranger. Osprey flew overhead. Afterward, we continued about 20 miles up the road to the sediment retention dam. This massive structure holds back a reservoir of volcanic mud 13-miles long, a half a mile wide, and 200 feet deep. Several Army Corps of Engineer Rangers were inspecting the structure and they graciously talked with us about the dam’s history. Later that afternoon we proceeded a few miles up the highway to the laid-back Eco Lodge Resort where we pitched our tents and then hiked to the reservoir. The surface looked solid, but it quickly sucked unsuspecting walkers down to their ankles. In the ash and mud, there were tracks of raccoons, elk, and footprints of some enormous birds, possibly eagles. That evening we enjoyed dinner and some down-home hospitality at the lodge’s café. Before bed, we sat around a warm campfire. The next morning we ate a hearty breakfast then drove about 25 miles to Coldwater Lake. The lake is an enormous body of water that had not existed prior to the eruption. On that day, a wall of ash and rock several hundred feet deep blocked the creek causing the newly formed basin to fill. At the Johnston Ridge Observatory, we were told the facility was closed due to a power failure. We hit the Boundary Trail and hiked several hours through the apocalypse-like blast zone. In the distance, the massive volcano began to emerge from the clouds. On top of Harry’s Ridge, we walked along the snow line until we looked directly into the crater of Mount St. Helens. Below us was the hauntingly beautiful Spirit Lake. This is the location where long-time resident Harry Truman refused to leave his home. After the blast, he would live forever as a legend. A very sinister cloud suggested it was time for us to go. Our hike had been 8.8 miles and roughly 2,000 feet of elevation gain/loss. At the visitor center, we discovered they were open, but the power went out again after about 5 minutes. In the evening, we enjoyed a tasty home-cooked meal at the café and heard stories from the lodge’s owner, Mark. He had witnessed the eruption when he was 20. We enjoyed another humorous nightfall telling jokes and stories around the campfire. In the early morning, raindrops pecked at our tents. After breakfast, we thanked Mark and his family. As we left for home the rain started to pour. We had been fortunate with the weather, and to enjoy such a great time at the volcano.

Visiting Mount St. Helens During the 2013 Government Shutdown

“Due to a lapse in federal funding this Recreation Site is CLOSED.” This was the sign that greeted us at the Johnston Ridge Observatory Visitors’ Center at the Mount St. Helens National Monument in Washington state.

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We could not believe it; our 2 families had spent months of planning, each of the parents had taken time off work, everyone managed their household budgets, 3 kids juggled school homework, plus everyone had to deal with the expenses related to lodging and traveling.

Although much was closed, we made the best of it. The children were not deterred by the closure, they were very content just to be outside, run, play and have a great time, though for them the eruption of Mount St. Helens was ancient history.

For the parents, we remembered the eruption, we understood that the younger ones needed to see the volcano, touch the exploded trees, walk on the landslides, witness a forest that had been laid flat 30 years ago.

We stayed in the area for 4 days, camping, exploring, hiking, and talking with locals – who were very eager to unleash their frustration about the shutdown and tell us how much income that had lost from canceled bookings. Even though it was the end of the season the late bookings are what helped many small businesses move into the black with their earnings for that year.

Each day we made a pilgrimage to Johnston Ridge in hopes of seeing the volcano, but a thick layer of clouds always obstructed our view. On the last day, our patience was rewarded. At first, we were in the clouds and could only see several hundred feet, then in less than 30 minutes the skies cleared and we were treated to open vistas. The views were amazing.

blog-2013-10-20-img2A view of Mount St. Helens.

blog-2013-10-20-img3A close-up of the smoldering crater.

Note: The federal government shutdown lasted from October 1-16, 2013.