Looking Back at Mount St. Helens

May 18, 2018

St Helens_epod from Rod

Photographer: Rod Benson 
Summary Author: Rod Benson 

The spot where this photo was taken would have been a bad place to be standing on Sunday, May 18, 1980 – the day Mount St. Helens erupted. In the weeks leading up to the historic eruption, magma created a large bulge and a fracture system on the mountain's north slope. Then at 8:32 that morning an earthquake caused the north face slide away, suddenly releasing pressure on the magma. Dissolved gases instantly formed bubbles as they do when a shaken bottle of soda is opened. The explosion on the volcano’s north side blasted millions of trees into the lake and snapped the ones shown in the foreground of this photo. This photo was taken from a vantage point over 8 miles (13 km) from the crater.

The 1980 eruption, which many consider to be the most disastrous in U.S. history, killed 57 people and thousands of animals, reduced hundreds of square miles to wasteland, and caused over a billion U.S. dollars in damage. Its column of ash rose 80,000 feet (24,000 m) into the atmosphere, depositing ash in 11 U.S. states. Snow, ice, and several entire small glaciers on the side of the mountain were melted instantly, forming a series of large mudflows that reached as the Columbia River nearly 50 miles (80 km) to the southwest.

In the summer of 2013 I had an opportunity to hike into the Crater of St. Helens with a group from the Mount St. Helens Institute. The day before that hike, my wife and I hiked in the blast zone north of Spirit Lake (Mount Margaret area). This photo was taken during that hike. The gray mass on the lake is made up of trees that were blasted into the water during the eruption. To see more photos of the area, including several from my hike into the crater, click here.

Photo Details: Camera: NIKON COOLPIX S203; Software: iPhoto 9.6.1; Exposure Time: 0.0015s (1/678); Aperture: ƒ/4.6; ISO equivalent: 80; Focal Length (35mm): 35.