We had a rather considerable lie-in when we woke, Ads commenting that we had clearly been hitting it hard as evinced by our ever-lengthening lie-ins. Thankfully Winty was feeling a little better after a good snooze, so we nipped via a Burger King (it felt like sacrilegious betrayal of our McD tendencies) for, erm, an orange juice. As you do. Amusingly the seemingly intellectually challenged BK employee somehow misheard Winty’s order as “orange fries” (surely our accents were not that confusing!) which provoked much hilarity as we tried to stifle our sniggers and clarify the situation. Eventually, with Winty juiced up, it was my turn to order. BK dunce: “how can I help you?”. Me, tongue firmly in cheek: “can I have some orange fries please???”. Cue more laughter…
We headed over to the Mount St. Helens visitor centre, signing the visitor book with names such as Russell Brand, Wilson Ball and Tom Hanks, before checking a really interesting thirteen-minute film on the infamous 1980 eruption, including the build up to it and the ensuing fall-out. There were several intriguing exhibits dotted around the building too, notably a poster of fifty facts on the eruption that did plenty to help us understand the events of May 18th, 1980.
One large earth tremor on March 20th reawakened the volcano after 123 years of relative inactivity. As the world’s media, scientists, geologists and general volcanic enthusiasts flocked to the area, the state initiated evacuation plans as the volcano itself was displaying classic pre-eruption patterns. Most worrying was the bulge growing out of the North face as magma swelled underneath, pushing outwards at the astonishing rate of 5-7 feet per day.
Two months later, the morning after roughly 30-50 local residents had been escorted back into the danger zone, a 5.1 magnitude shake directly underneath the volcano triggered the furious explosion that has become so famous. The volcano had also been under the influence of a full moon’s gravitational pull. The north face of Mount St. Helens collapsed, with the ensuing pyroclastic flows annihilating everything within its 230square-mile radar, and the lahars transporting the best part of four billion cubic yards of material across the surrounding areas. Forests were flattened, wildlife killed (including twelve million fish and seven thousand big game animals), homes destroyed, and fifty-seven human lives lost, with a heat wave lasting several minutes felt seven miles away and 700mph pressure wave felt as far away as Maryland. It was nature in its rawest and most staggering form.
The drive up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory had afforded us stunning views of the volcano’s snow-capped peak, while the thirteen-minute film finished with footage of the eruption before the screen pulled back to reveal a stunning panoramic view of Mount St. Helens in its current guise. It was a lovely touch. Our wanderings along the nearby trails took us right through flattened forests, with thousands upon thousands of felled trees matted against the hillsides like scattered matches, all eerily facing the same direction. At one viewpoint we simply sat and stared at the volcano, trying to take in everything we had learned – we were in awe of the vivid and visual results of this powerful force of nature. It was a most humbling experience.
Later that afternoon we hit the road for Portland, eventually finding a camp that was waaaay off town centre and consequently putting paid to our night out plans. Not that this was a bad thing – it was nice to have some time to reflect on what we had just taken in.