Friday, July 12, 2013. Packwood RV Park, Packwood, WA. Low: 52 degrees; High: 60.
We set out for Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument with a picnic lunch… Years back we visited this park from the western entrance, but we had not been to Windy Ridge on the northeastern side of the park. We drove west on the White Pass Scenic Byway and drove south to Iron Creek Falls and Hwy 99 to Bear Meadow.
A little history…
On May 18, 1980, Mount St Helens erupted. Shaken by an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale, the north face of this tall symmetrical mountain collapsed in a massive rock debris avalanche. In a few moments this slab of rock and ice slammed into Spirit Lake, crossed a ridge 1,300 feet high, and roared 14 miles down the Toutle River.
The avalanche rapidly released pressurized gases within the volcano. A tremendous lateral explosion ripped through the avalanche and developed into a turbulent, stone-filled wind that swept over ridges and toppled trees. Nearly 150 square miles of forest was blown over or left dead and standing.
At the same time a mushroom-shaped column of ash rose thousands of feet skyward and drifted downwind, turning day into night as dark, gray ash fell over eastern Washington and beyond. Wet, cement-like slurries of rock and mud scoured all sides of the volcano. Searing flows of pumice poured from the crater. The eruption lasted 9 hours, but Mount St. Helens and the surrounding landscape were dramatically changed within moments. Nearly all vegetation and wildlife up to 6 miles north of the volcano were destroyed.
As we drove into the National Volcanic Monument from the east, we started seeing the damage, 33 years later. The blowdown area, with trees laying in the same direction on the hillside; the scorch zone, with dead trees still standing. And, beautiful mountain views as we drove the park road.
We drove deeper into the park, with views of downed trees in the blowdown area. We came upon a strange sight at Spirit Lake… an arm of the lake seemingly filled with dead floating trees, 33 years later. Before the 1980 eruption, Spirit Lake was cloaked in old growth forest. A paradise, with lodges, cabins, and camps ringing it’s 12 mile shoreline. The avalanche filled the lake with ice, snow, and rock and raised the lake level 200 feet. The water rising up the mountainside washed hundreds of feet of newly dead trees down into the lake, filling part of the lake with trees. A paradise lost… along with 57 lives.
We headed back home to the RV in Forks after a most interesting day…