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Where were you in 1980?

Posted by tsherr at May 18, 2010 12:15 AM |
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Thirty years ago today, one of the most significant geologic events of the 20th century took place here in Washington.

On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted. In a big way.

The largest terrestrial landslide in recorded history knocked 1,300 feet off the summit and triggered a lateral blast. Within 3 minutes, that lateral blast, traveling at more than 300 miles per hour, had scorched more than 200 square miles of forest. Within 15 minutes, a vertical plume of volcanic ash reached 80,000 feet into the sky.

That’s three facts. You can read 27 more facts about Mount St. Helens here:

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument was established in 1982 to preserve a landscape changed forever by the raw power of the earth. Today, a visit to the Monument confirms the remarkable ability of plants and animals to recover from such dramatic events. It is a place for people to witness change and be changed, too. Take part in one of WTA’s work parties on the Loowit Trail this summer and you’ll get a whole new perspective on the mountain.

  • Did you climb the mountain before it erupted?
  • Where were you on May 18, 1980?
  • Do you have plans to visit the mountain this summer?

Share your St. Helens story with us.


Where were you on May 18, 1980?

I remember waiting for my dad to get home because he just finished logging down there...he made it home along with a very dirty log truck covered in ash.
We had ash all the way up in Arlington, WA

Posted by:

tsherr on May 18, 2010 10:15 AM

Mt St Helens (1978, 1980)

I had climbed St Helens in 1978, from the north side. Up through the Sugar Bowl, dodging the rocks kicked off by a group up on Dogs Head, and then up the Forsythe glacier. The descent was via Dogs Head to avoid the whizzing rocks in the lower Sugar Bowl area. Great views from the top.

On May 17, 1980, I went on an overnight trip up past Bluff Lake (Trail #65) to a point high on a ridge NW of Coal Creek Mountain. I could not see St Helens from my snowcamp, but on May 18, I climbed about 100ft up the ridge and took a picture of the mountain at about 7:30am in the morning sun. After breakfast, I had a providential urge to hike out, rather than take a morning hike farther along the ridge to the southeast.

During the hike out, it started getting darker and I could hear thunder - very strange for a sunny morning. The trail is in the forest most of the way out so there are not many clear views. I started seeing flashes of pink lightning and hearing "hail" falling through the trees. By the time I reached my car, it was more like twilight, but I was able to see that the "hail" was actually 1/2 inch shards of obsidian. Now I knew that St Helens had erupted. After a short while, the obsidian "hail" changed to gray ash "snow" and the view of Mt Rainier to the north disappeared into the darkness created by the ash cloud.

It was a slow and carefull drive down the logging road in the dark to Hwy 12 and then on to Seattle.

Posted by:

Rolan on May 18, 2010 12:19 PM

5/18/80, 8 AM, Sh-Shi Beach

I awoke to a very loud, sharp, stacatto BOOM - BOOM - KABOOM - BOOM. Apparently, some sort of atmospheric reflection/refraction had separated the report into distinct fragments.
A first, I thought, "Thunder?" No, clear blue sky. "Naval practice gunfire," I concluded, recalling an obscure note about a naval gunnery range on one of the offshore islets and a piece of spent ordnance I'd found once inside a sea cave.
I heard of someone on Whidbey who saw the ash cloud and thought, "They've bombed Seattle!"
Two weeks earlier, foiled in an reach to reach Mt. Adams, we went looking for St. Helens in the maze of new logging roads that were not on my map. Suddenly, we saw a jet of black ash and steam shoot vertically, hundreds of feet, and begin turning white as it drifted northwards on the wind and the ash and rock fell out of it. This repeated at 55 minute intervals, like a regular geyser; we watched 3 such jets. Still not sure exactly where we were, but we'd have been in trouble if we'd been there 2 weeks later. It was a strangely profound sight.
As a boy, I'd gone through the usual volcano fascination period -- in Minnesota, about as far from a mountain as you can get -- but I'd never dreamed I'd ever actually see one erupting.

Posted by:

Cascade Liberation Organization on May 19, 2010 04:58 PM

Mount St. Helens 1967, 1980

I climbed Mt St Helens in 1967, in early June, with a small group from the Inter-Mountain Alpine Club (Tri-Cities.) We camped the night before at Spirit Lake Campground, right at the snow line, where only a few sites were free of snow. I recall campers in a nearby site, with their loud radio, serenaded us late into the evening. But they no doubt heard us when we arose at 2 AM to prepare for our climb. The weather and snow conditions were perfect, and we reached the summit around 8 AM. After a leisurely snack and photo break we descended, and on the way down enjoyed a very long glissade off the Dog's Head. Back at Spirit Lake we rented canoes, no doubt from the venerable Harry Truman, for a paddle around the lake.

On May 18, 1980, I still was living in the Tri-Cities (Richland) and, during Sunday brunch noted the gray mamelian clouds blowing in from the west. I did not immediately recognize them as volcanic, but a neighbor soon reported hearing on the radio that St Helens was having a major eruption. Over the next couple of hours, the sky became increasingly darker and eventually, by noon, it was as black as midnight. In spite of the threatening appearance, the ash from the eruption had risen so high into the atmosphere that almost none came down in the Tri-Cities. We had only a light dusting, an amount similar to what we often found after a local dust storm. Folks many miles to the east and north did not fare as well, and experienced much greater amounts of ash fall.

Posted by:

Quantum Guru on May 20, 2010 10:25 AM

Post & prior Mt. St. Helens

 I had never climbed St. Helens before it erupted but from 1967 to 1980 we had visited Spirit Lake a couple of times. Unfortunated as a teenager I never took it all in as you would as an adult. As soon as it opened after the eruption a half dozen of us were some of the first climbers to summit it on a hot May day. That will go down as one of those days that one never ever forgets. I don't think there are words to describe what you felt when looking straight out the blast zone. Of corse everyone roped up and walked out to the edge of the 40' cornice. My heart must have been going triple time at that point.

Posted by:

Roobug on May 20, 2010 07:06 PM