EXPLORE MORE!: ABOUT MOUNT ST. HELENS, OTHER VOLCANOES
About Mount St. Helens
What is Mount St. Helens up to now?
Check out daily updates at the Cascades Volcano Observatory website:
Watch earthquakes on Mount St. Helens right now!
Link below to view up-to-the-minute seismograms from the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network. Pick a seismic station and click to refresh every couple minutes.
What other volcanoes are erupting around the world?
Find out about ANY volcano in the world, active or inactive at the Smithsonian’s amazing Volcanoes of the World website.
Visit Mount St. Helens
Learn all about the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument at:
Climb Mount St. Helens
The climb to the summit rim is tiring but not technical. Find out if you're up for seeing a volcanic eruption up close at: http://www.fs.fed.us/gpnf/recreation/mount-st-helens/
Obsess about Mount St. Helens
The Cascades Volcano Observatory website is amazing. You could spend hours viewing photos, watching time-lapse films of the growing dome, reading about volcano monitoring…
How did you get interested in Mount St. Helens?
I first became fascinated with Mount St. Helens watching the 1980 eruption on TV from the safety of my home in Guilford, Connecticut. I was 12, in awe, but somehow clueless that this volcano was even in our country. I figured it was somewhere really far away, like in Greenland.
Now I know better. I see Mount St. Helens from the Thurman Street bridge a few blocks from my house — and from hills all over Portland.
So when Mount St. Helens started spitting steam in 2004, I grabbed my 4-year-old son and hauled him up there for a closer look.
While we were at the Coldwater Ridge Visitor's Center someone screamed: "We're having an event! We're having an event!" Everyone inside froze. Do we crawl under the chairs? Run for our cars? Or press our noses up to the window to watch?
The rangers coaxed us outside to the deck to witness a real steam and ash eruption. My son Cobi was fascinated. I was in awe.
Later, the ranger handed my son a piece of lava that scientists had brought from the crater the day before. "Brand new rock, just born yesterday," she said. "It was still warm when he brought it to me." Cobi's eyes got wide. They almost popped out of his head. He was hooked on Mount St. Helens and so was I.
Have you ever climbed to the top of Mount St. Helens?
You bet. The 5-mile, 5,000-foot climb with my husband Craig and our friends Chris and Annie was awesome!
The first two miles wound gently though a forest. At tree line, fields of reddish-brown lava rocks rose to a blue sky. We scrambled over the porous boulders, using our hands and feet. I bent down to pick up smaller lava rocks — throwing them back again until I found pumice — as light as Styrofoam.
The ash fields lay ahead. The ground was soft and loose like white sand on a beach–but steep. Wind roared as we trudged through the volcanic powder. We rose above the clouds and spotted Mount Hood and the jagged point of Mount Jefferson to the south. Mount Adams appeared briefly before being engulfed in whirling clouds.
Steps ahead lay the sharp edge of the crater rim. Yellowish steam rose from the crater and our nostrils filled with the rotten-egg stench of hydrogen sulfide. It smelled like burning and death, but I knew from the volcanologists that a sulfur stink was a good sign, a sign that gas was flowing freely out the vent, not trapped like before the 1980 eruption.
I dropped to my knees and crawled through the ash toward the precipice.
“Liz, back up, you’re scaring me,” Annie whispered.
I was scaring me, too. But I had to see as much as I could. Mount St. Helens was growing back, shaping our very landscape. I could witness geologic history in the making.
I peered over the rim. The new dome was massive, a steaming, jagged arrow, pointed toward the heavens. Hissing fumaroles leaked billowing white and yellowish gas. Good God.
We heard a rumble.
Annie looked panicked, like she was going to choke on her gorp.
“It's not an explosion,” I told her. “It's a rock fall.”
The scientists told me about rock falls. When new lava shoves up from below, rubble at the top of the pile tumbles off, knocking other rocks down and kicking up ash. I pictured how the rock fall would be registered on a seismogram at the scientists’ monitoring station in Vancouver — its little squiggles, growing bigger and bigger, then petering out. Not at all like the dramatic spike of a large magnitude earthquake. Not at all like the rhythmic up and down of a harmonic tremor, the signature of magma on the move and a precursor to an explosion.
I felt safer knowing the Volcano Detectives were watching our backs.
“There's nothing to worry about,” I told Annie.
But that wasn't completely true. With an active volcano there are no guarantees. That's why I both love and fear Mount St. Helens. But most of all, I respect it.