Mt St Helens, a mountain with a story

This is the blog of Mark Wordsworm, the travelling worm. I’m a 25-year-old bookmark (I haven’t aged at all since I first wrote this introduction) and I proudly boast my own Hallmark serial number, 95 HBM 80-1. You’ll probably want to read all about me and my Travelling Companion (the TC).

Today’s travel notes

Me and the TC were in Seattle in the USA last week, and we took a day from our busy schedule to visit Mt St Helens. It’s about a three-hour drive from Seattle to the mountain. Well worth the trip. This mountain is more than just a pretty face. It has a story to tell. One of destruction and renewal.

Word of the day

Revival is the word of the day. According to Merriam-Webster, the word was first used in print in 1651. The same year saw the first use of highfalutin words like Tenebrae as well as the more down-to-earth stewpan.

The book I’m in

Revival, by Stephen King. I’m in the hands of the master of storytelling, the magister of horror. This book is one of his best.

Travel tip

Beware the weather. Check the forecast before you go. It’d be a pity to go all that way and then be unable to see the mountain or the views. Wear layers of clothing. The temperature around the mountain can change as you round a corner. Hot under the sun one minute, chilly in the wind the next.

The photos

Me with Mt St Helens in the background:

On 18 May 1980, Mt St Helens erupted. The blast blew the north side off the mountain, and the subsequent volcanic eruptions took out the top of the mountain too. From being a rounded, snow-capped summit, Mt St Helens became a partially hollowed shell. A little like an ice cream scoop on its side.

Forest covers the slopes on the way to the mountain:

People knew the eruption was coming. Scientists were monitoring the volcano, which had been becoming increasingly active over the previous months. Residents and holiday-makers were warned, and the area was evacuated ahead of time.

The mountain pops into view. At some distance from the scene of the eruption, verdant forest clothes the hills.

But the force of the blast, and the direction it took, caught scientists by surprise. Around 8am on 18 May 2018, an earthquake triggered a gigantic landslide that carried away the north face of the mountain. This was the largest landslide ever recorded.

The weakened north face was no match for the built-up forces of steam and gas inside the volcano. A mixture of steam, gas, and partially molten rock blasted through the side of the mountain and rolled on over the landscape, destroying everything in its path.

The mountain toys with the clouds, contemplating whether to use them as a veil or a tiara:

Immediately following the blast came the pyroclastic flow. The stream of furiously hot volcanic ash, steam, blistering hot rocks, and pumice stone moved at over 1000 km per hour, obliterating everything in its path and reforming the landscape as it went.

Tree skeletons litter the way. A harbinger of the story to be told:

The story of the mountain is interwoven with the stories of the people who lived and worked around her. Vulcanologist David Johnston was observing the mountain from a ridge ten kilometres away when the eruption occurred. He died within seconds of the start of the eruption, when the volcanic blast hit the ridge where he was located. Local resident Harry Truman decided to stay in the area he loved so much, and is assumed to have died in the pyroclastic flow. More than fifty other people died as a result of the volcanic eruption.

Closer, ever closer, and the landscape ever bleaker.

Now we see the distinctive form of the north face. What was once a more or less symmetrical dome is now a scooped-out bowl, entirely missing one side of its rim:

As well as a story of destruction, this is a story of renewal and revival. After the eruption, man and nature alike are working to rebuild the area. Perhaps even more remarkably, the mountain itself is reforming. Volcanic activity constantly pushes lava to the surface. The lava hardens and cools, forming a dome in the middle of the bowl, continuously rising and reforming.

In the middle of the bowl rises a mound that will one day form a new peak:

Round the dead tree trunks new life grows:

Hardy wildflowers bloom:

Paintbrush in bright red:

Tiny clusters of white:

Purple figwort:

Everlasting off-white flowers looking perhaps more squashed than alive. At times this worm feels a little two-dimensional too:

The Mt St Helens observation point is on the ridge where vulcanologist David Johnston was located when the volcano erupted. He was observing the mountain from a location which he and others thought was safe. The sideways eruption and the force of the blast took him and everyone else by surprise. He had time to say, “Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!” Then he disappeared from this world, along with everything else in the path of the blast and the pyroclastic flow.

It’s sobering to stand where David Johnston stood, and view the scene that is even now so different from what he saw then. Afternoon light brings the landscape into sharp relief:

We’ve reached the end of this post, and Mt St Helens takes a bow. The story is not over. The cycle of destruction and revival will continue:

That’s all for today, folks.


The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: