Spirit Lake in the Shadow of Mount St. Helens

August 04, 2021


Photographer: Robert Forest

Summary Author: Robert Forest; Cadan Cummings

Shown in the image above is Spirit Lake located at the base of Mount St. Helens in Washington. The photo was oriented looking north from directly above the volcanic crater- with Mount Rainier visible in the distance. Following the eruption of Mount St. Helens in May 1980, approximately 15 billion cubic feet (430 million cubic meters) of material was deposited into Spirit Lake. This debris flow of melt water, vegetation, and volcanic ash- called a lahar- subsequently changed the natural flow of Spirit Lake by blocking its outlet to the North Fork Toutle River valley. Evidence of the debris is still present today as thousands of felled trees from the volcanic eruption formed a log raft- the gray colored material in the image above- that covers about a quarter of the lake.

Following the eruption, Congress created the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in 1982 to allow scientific research to investigate how the surrounding landscape recovered naturally without the influences of logging or other industries. As a result, the logs in Spirit Lake and the surrounding area in the monument remains largely untouched for the past 40 years. While there has been a good regrowth of ground vegetation since the eruption, it will take a century or more for the rich forest to once again blanket the northern foothills of Mount St. Helens. Photo taken on May 29, 2021.

View Larger Map