Sunset, Kailua-Kona, The Big Island, Hawaii, March 11, 2024

Sunset, Kailua-Kona, The Big Island, Hawaii, March 11, 2024
Sunset, Kailua-Kona, The Big Island, Hawaii, March 11, 2024

Friday, June 26, 2015

Boom! What was that? - Sat., June 20, 2015

Driving up to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument two hours from Portland, Oregon, all I could think about was that spring day (May 18) in 1980 when we were just waking up and heard a huge BOOM! We had no idea what it was. A manufacturing plant explosion? A train crash? We had no idea.

It was only later that the news came out. Mount St. Helens, a dormant volcano, had thunderously exploded causing one whole side of the mountain to blow out and melt down. From south of Portland, Oregon, we could see the ash plume soaring skyward. Who knew that 540,000 tons of ash could rocket into the stratosphere. We all learned firsthand about the geologic forces that shape our earth.

 * * * * * * * *

I remembered a time in high school when our church youth group climbed Mount St. Helens. That was long before the mountain blew up. One of our church elders was an experienced climber. He wanted to take a group of us mountain climbing. I think there were about eight of us. I didn't find out about it until it was too late to get a pair of good hiking boots. Our guide offered to loan me a pair of his. Even with two or three pairs of socks, my feet were swimming in the boots. I felt like a mountain climbing clown.

Because we lived an hour from Portland, we had to leave the house around 3:00 a.m. to meet up with the group at 4:00 a.m. Our guide wanted us to start at dawn. Once at the mountain, we hiked and hiked and hiked on trails, through rockfall and across scree fields before we made it to the snow line.

Once we hit the snow, we had to put cramp-ons on our hiking boots. As the terrain got steeper, the cramp-ons would keep us from sliding down the snow/ice. We all carried an ice axe to arrest a fall if we slipped, and we were all roped together. It was getting late in the day. Glaciers with crevasses appeared. Things were getting scary. Our guide led us, using his ice axe to tap the snow in front of him to make sure there were no crevasses hidden by a covering of snow.

The later it got, the more he realized we weren't going to make it to the top. As the sun was going down, he had us glissade down a snow field so we could make time heading down. Glissading is sliding down the snow field on your butt, you use the ice axe to slow down or stop. To me, that was the most fun part of the whole day! (Although my rear end was wet and numb by the time we got off the snow field.)

At the bottom of the snow field, we came to an area of rockfall. We're talking big boulders with holes between them in which you could break a leg. It was getting dark so we had to carefully thread our way through many, many, many rocks. When we finally got to a place where we could rest it was almost dark. I leaned on a "rock" only to find it was a bush, and I fell into it.

Our guide wasn't exactly sure where on the mountain we came down, so he had to go find the car. It was cold! He left the eight of us there shivering on the mountain. He was gone a long time, but finally got back to us about midnight or 1 a.m. Our parents, we found out later, were frantic with worry.

Once in the car, we must have quickly fallen asleep because we were exhausted. We made it back to Portland around 3:30 a.m. I had been up over 24 hours. I was able to sleep at the home of one of the deacons who also had kids on the mountain climb. I remember waking up around noon and being fed 1/2 cantaloupe filled with ice cream. That really hit the spot.

 * * * * * * * *

But, back to today. The last time I had been hiking on Mount St. Helens was on the Hummocks Trail which is where we were going to do our Volksmarch today. At the time we hiked it about 20 years ago, there was mostly ash and very little in the way of plant life; maybe some wildflowers, weeds and small saplings. I was really looking forward to today's walk to see how it had changed.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Enlarge for better view of where we were
After a long drive, I was very happy to make it to Coldwater Lake, the start point for our 10k Volksmarch. Parking was limited. I checked in at the start table and was told to drive to the parking lot about 1/2 mile away for the start point. Only eight parking sites were left there, so I had to get there quickly. Susan and Darren were waiting for me and we set off on the Hummocks Trail a little before 9 a.m. Temperature was 61 degrees, weather sunny. It wasn't long before we were quite warm.

Surprise, surprise! The forest, composed mostly of alder, had sprung up over the intervening years, joined by ferns, horsetails, and wildflowers. We had shade! Bonus: wildflowers are in bloom now.

Indian paintbrush and lupine
The hummocks are massive mounds (some over 500' tall) of rock, ash and mud that were deposited around the Coldwater Lake valley by Mount St. Helens' debris flow. The ash and mud are so deep they cover massive forests (the ones that weren't carried downstream in the debris flow).

The trail winds up and down through the hummocks, past ponds, to a lookout over the Toutle River, and back into the forest where there are marshy bogs and more hummocks. Elevation gain is 100' and the highest elevation on this trail on the flank of the Cascade range is 2,500'.

Crystal clear pond amongst the hummocks
Toutle River cutting through hummocks
The trail - see how big the trees are.
Mount St. Helens from the Toutle River overlook
Volksmarchers at Toutle River overlook
We finished the 5k Hummocks Trail, then walked across the road to do the other 5k at Coldwater Lake Trail.
The road across the river to Coldwater Lake
Beautiful river, and look at those trees!
The Coldwater Lake Trail traversed the shore of Coldwater Lake. Many wildflowers lined the path. It was a very narrow trail, so we had to pass other walkers carefully or "pull over" and let them go by.

Mount St. Helens from Coldwater Lake
Viewpoint of Coldwater Lake
Coldwater Lake and Mount St. Helens
Boardwalk onto Coldwater Lake

Daisies galore.
Lupine, daisies, dandelions at Coldwater Lake
Daisies and Indian paintbrush
After we finished our Volksmarch, I told Susan and Darren they HAD to go with me to Johnston Ridge Visitor Center. We all drove up to the visitor center, watched the movie, read the true-life stories hanging on the walls and glued our eyes on the fantastic view into the crater of Mount St. Helens.

After the movie in the visitor center, the wall slides open and you see the crater of Mount St. Helens in front of you. Impressive. 

View from the window after the movie
One of the trees snapped by the force of the blast
Ranger talk with Mount St. Helens in the background
To  the east is Mount Adams, a massive mountain
After the visitor center at Johnston Ridge, Susan and Darren continued on to Olympia and Seattle. I headed to Vancouver and a late lunch at Beaches Restaurant on the Columbia River. I had a salad and a couple of glasses of wine, plus dessert. I was hungry! Then I went to Portland and saw Jurassic World in 3-D. Yikes! That movie is intense in 3-D. I screamed about three or four times.

Then I headed back to Mom's house for the night. Tomorrow, the Portland Volksmarch.

Travel Bug out


  1. We so enjoyed our time at Mt St Helens last year! We had lots of flowers too, just gorgeous! It is amazing what your guide expected you kids to accomplish all those many years ago! Sounds like you were fortunate to make it off the mountain intact!

  2. You had a great day. When I went to Mt. St. Helens a few years ago, it was fogged in and raining. What a disappointment. :c(


Please let me know what you think, your experiences, and constructive criticism to make this blog stronger.