At 8:32am on May 18th, 1980, the once silent Sunday morning in the Pacific Northwest was quickly turning into the one of the most memorable natural disasters in American History. The largest recorded landslide also helped trigger a powerful eruption that sent volcanic ash across the globe. Today, we mark 35 years of this amazing eruption, and take a minute to remember the 57 people who lost their lives. 35 years ago, I wasn’t alive, but I have looked through family pictures of this day and feel like I was there.
I was born in 1981, so my earliest memory of Mt St Helens is seeing a hollowed out crater, surrounded by nothingness. I explored the mountain as a child, witnessing firsthand the return of life to the region. I summit the mountain as an eight year old, standing on the crater rim just nine years after the blast. Struggling up the ash to reach the new summit, I recall peering over into the crater, looking toward Spirit Lake and thinking to myself “This area is forever ruined.”
Throughout my life, the crater of Mt St Helens has played an important role. During recesses in elementary school, we would watch from the playground for steam, hoping for another eruption in my lifetime. While I saw nothing major, knowing an active volcano was close to me has helped shape my view of mountains.
I returned to climb Mt St Helens in 2015, and was shocked and pleased to find the return of life in the region not only occurring, but flourishing. I returned to Mt St Helens again on May 17th 2015, this time visiting Spirit Lake and Windy Ridge, an area I had not seen since 1989. The region is green, vibrant and alive. The logs that once filled 80% of Spirit Lake now only fill up 30% of the water, which is returning to a nice blue color. The landscape still looks alien, but with herds of elk frequenting the trails, and wildflowers blooming in the once devastated valleys, the Mount Saint Helens region is returning to normal.
In another 35 years, the power of the volcano will be hidden under plants, trees and animal tracks, but the memory will forever remain. 35 years ago, the Pacific Northwest was woken up by this active volcano, and not a day goes by where most of us glance toward one of the many volcanos in the state and wonder when it will blow.
35 years ago, the landscape of the Pacific Northwest changed forever, all thanks to this once picturesque mountain.