40 years ago, a historic event occurred that would change Washington’s landscape forever. On May 18th, 1980, the ground shook as a powerful earthquake caused Mount St. Helens to erupt, blowing its top off and releasing 2 billion tons of rock, snow, and glacial ice into the atmosphere, prompting the largest landslide recorded in human history. The eruption lasted for nine hours and killed 57 people. When it was finally over, Mount St. Helens was 1,314′ shorter, its summit now standing at 8,366′.
Below left: 1980 eruption (Photo credit: The Atlantic)
Below right: today
The towering plume of smoke was so thick that it actually blocked the sun and dusted 17 states with black ash. In just 15 days, it had completely circled the Earth. Anything that stood within miles of the eruption, was completely decimated, burnt or knocked over. Scientists thought that it would take years for life to sprout up again in the area, but their doubts proved incorrect. Just a few weeks after the eruption, scientists discovered the first sign of life…plants! Fireweed (a neon pinkish-red plant) and lupine (a beautiful purple flower) were the first plants to grow back, proving that the soil underneath the ash was still fertile as ever, ready to put the past behind them and begin anew.
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One man, a strong-willed die-hard local of the Mt. Saint Helens area, refused to heed warnings to evacuate when it was clear that a major eruption threatened to blow. His name was Harry Truman, 83-year-old owner of Mount St. Helens Lodge at Spirit Lake. Needless to say, Mr. Truman did indeed “die hard” in the blast, along with his lodge and 16 cats (starting to grasp this man’s personality type?), their bones buried deep under the humus (not to be confused with the delicious Mediterranean spread made of chickpeas, spelled with an extra “M”) of the Earth.
There are many options for hiking around the Mount Saint Helens area that don’t require you to summit. Mount Saint Helens is just a three-hour drive South of Seattle near the border of Portland, Oregon. The trail we hiked is called Harry’s Ridge, and was named after the aforementioned cantankerous Harry Truman who refused to leave his home and perished in the eruption.
July is the month for wildflowers! We were treated to clear skies and views of Mt. Adams and even Mt. Hood in Oregon. We saw a chipmunk and ate the most delicious tiny wild strawberries, which grow prolifically along the sides of the trail, which one must look very closely to spot. The top of this trail is a little over 5,000′ elevation, so we enjoyed a nice cool breeze and hiked back just before sunset. Being able to see such a massive volcano up so close and personal was remarkable, and we were surprised to see the snow still covered in ash, giving it a dirty look, like it needed a “volcano wash” if there were such a thing. Hiking amongst such vibrant nature, wildlife and greenery, it was hard to believe that only 40 years ago this place was a barren semblance to hell.
We were surprised to see the debris of logs and fallen trees from 40 years ago still floating in the lake. Nature is fascinating to say the least! Without any way to remove the logs from the lake, they will likely remain in their place until the end of time.
Hiking Harry’s Ridge Trail
Length: 8.5 miles RT
Elevation Gain: 1,830′ (610 meters)
Time: Approximately 3 hours RT
Recommended Month to Visit: Summer (June – August)
Recommended Time of Day to Hike: Early morning (to avoid crowds in the beginning part of the trail) or early evening (start by 3 or 4PM) to catch the sunset
You’ll start at the large car park at Johnston Ridge Visitor’s Center and begin the trail, which is well marked and completely exposed, so be sure to wear a hat and sunscreen. Very early on in the hike (within the first 15 minutes), you’ll be treated to these gorgeous views up close of Mount Saint Helens.
There are multiple trails that connect here, but for Harry’s Ridge, keep left at the Truman trail junction, follow the trail for one more mile, then stay left at the junction with Harry’s Ridge Trail #1E. This will take you to the slope overlooking Spirit Lake, where logs still crowd the lake’s surface, congregating like tourists waiting to cross Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo.
In the summer months of July – August, you’ll be treated to the most succulent, juicy and delicious wild strawberries you’ll ever taste. They’re tiny, but pack a mighty punch! You have to look closely to spot them, but they’re all along the trail’s edge, so if you see people bending over looking intently towards the ground, that’s what they’re doing. You’ll also see heaps of moth nests in the bushes.
Once you reach the slope, on a clear day you’ll be treated to views of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams and even Mt. Hood in Oregon.
On this slope, you’ll be up close and personal, facing straight into the crater that collapsed into itself 40 years ago. Humbling, to say the least.
If you’re a photographer, be sure to bring your zoom lens and your wide angle lens to capture all these beautiful peaks up close! The craters within the volcano are incredible.
For more great hikes around the Mount Saint Helens area, check out this post: 16 Best Mount St. Helens Hikes.
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