Mount St. Helens: Climbing on a time bomb
May marks the 40th anniversary of the eruption of the St. Helens volcano. On the mountain today, there is nothing left of the catastrophe of 1980 - but the greenery around it owes the landscape to the monster that is still rumbling.
Down there nature grows
You don't have to walk up there. There is a beautiful road that leads through one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth. Black asphalt shines in the morning dampness between green embankments - Mount St. Helens fascinates its visitors even if they have not yet reached it. Highway 504 takes you over a winding and well developed mountain road to Johnson Ridge Observatory, the place all visitors come to.
From here you have a perfect view of the volcano, which is still active and a time bomb. On the way you should make a stop at the Lewis & Clark State Park, where you can still find remains of the very old trees that covered large areas before the lava came and burned everything away. Also an excursion to the nature reserve Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge can be made if you have time. Here, wetlands where birds sing almost symphonically are waiting for you.
The outbreak 1980 destroyed 23 bridges
But the main destination for millions from near and far is the volcano, a 2.539 meter high peak that towers above the surrounding ridges by a full 1.100 meters. The volcanic cone has a diameter of 10 kilometers, it is more than 40,000 years old. In those days magma from the earth's interior for the first time searched for an exit under great pressure. Since then, Mt St. Helens has experienced a total of nine major eruption phases lasting between 5,000 and less than 100 years, with sleep periods of between 15,000 and around 200 years.
Healing needs time
So going up now is relatively safe, because the volcano should remain silent for the next 150 years. Once you arrive at Johnston Ridge Observatory, the best way to get there is to hike along the famous Eruption Trail. This trail offers a fantastic view of the eruption zone and the crater and is teeming with pink lupines and other flowers in summer. In other seasons the surroundings are dominated by the barren beauty of a volcanic landscape, which is burnt out and covered by pumice stone.
Nowadays Mt. St. Helens is roundabout 500 meters shorter than before
Since 1980 the volcano has been dormant - but it only sleeps. Ever since St. Helens exploded at exactly 8.32 a.m. on 18 May 40 years ago, the mountain seems to have only a small amount of steam. Just like the more than 100 years before May 1980, but then came the worst volcanic eruption in the recent history of the USA: the upper 400 meters of the that time 2949-meter-high St. Helens flew into the air, the largest avalanche of all time raced down into the valley, so that even at a distance of eleven kilometers 400-meter-high hills were no obstacle.
600 square kilometers of forest were destroyed at that time, mudslides tore away 27 bridges, 300 kilometers of road disappeared.
An ash cloud rose like the continent had never seen before: just 30 minutes after the eruption, it measured 64 by 48 kilometers and moved east at 100 kilometers per hour, to turn the day into a night.
57 people died that day on St. Helens - despite the isolated location in the sparsely populated southeast of Washington State, despite all the warnings of experts who had been observing the mountain around the clock after the first rumble three months earlier. Since then, the mountain no longer looks the same as it did when they called it "America's Fujijama". It also has torn away many traces of human settlement that had begun in the 5th millennium BC. The Klickitat and the Binnen-Salish settled here, both peoples knew how dangerous this could be. Confused Smileyie called the mountain Loo-Wit Lat-kla or Louwala-Clough (fire mountain or smoking mountain) and always expected him to be angry. But that life would go on afterwards.
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