Monday morning 7am traffic was not bad at all as I made my toward the two most important mountains in WA. First stop was Mount Ranier, the highest peak in the Cascades and the highest, most glaciated mountain in the lower 48 states. The mountain is frequently hidden behind clouds and today was no exception. I did manage to get some good views early in the day but they were from long distance. The ride itself was nice, with the roads being in good shape and nice and twisty as they wandered through the tall trees and curled around the base of the mountain.
After getting by Mount Ranier, I was a little confused on the route I was taking to get to Mount St. Helens so I stopped on the side of the road and pulled out my guide book. Having my route sorted out, I rested the guide on the back of my bike and suited up to ride. The problem I have found with being blind in your right eye and always getting on the bike from the left side is that anything placed on the back of the bike is out of my view. I had already lost a pair of gloves to this and now I hopped on my bike without noticing my guide had not been put away. Of course, I realized this when I was 60 miles down the road!!! Oh well, I only needed it until I got to Mexico anyway and I have an older one I can use so no biggie.
An hour or so later, I reached the turnoff for the dead-end road that leads to Mount St. Helens. I remember seeing the mountain exploding on the news as a young boy and my ex-wife had relayed stories of the sun disappearing during her youth given that she lived in the area where all the volcanic ash and debris traveled and settled. My curiosity was “peaked” and I looked forward to seeing the mountain. The drive up the road was beautiful and had lots of nice sharp corners as it ascended. Rounding one corner 15 miles from the mountain, I came to the edge of the blast zone and was amazed at the devastation to the trees. I had not expected to see thousands of massive dead tree trunks just laying on their sides. They didn’t seem to overlap and it was as if each one had been carefully laid to rest. Apparently, the shockwave and debris from the blast had stripped and leveled all the trees up to 23 miles out. Amazing! For an actual description of exactly what happened during the blast see my blogroll “Mount St. Helens Explodes”. It really is beyond comprehension.
I got as far up the mountain as the road would allow but unfortunately, the mountain was not in good view. However, Spirit Lake was and it was a beautiful sight. It was fairly cold at that altitude and from a distance, the lake appeared to have snow/ice covering about 10 percent of it. However, on closer inspection, the snow was actually thousands of dead trees that had been deposited there during the eruption and landslide that actually permanently raised the lake by about 300 feet.
I spoke to a guide later in the day and asked her about a US geologist monitoring the mountain who was killed in the blast. I asked her why he was there given that everyone knew an eruption was imminent. At that point, the mountain had a 300 foot “boil” on the side of it from magma rising on the inside. She said that the blast zone was a 5 mile radius and he was outside the zone but that the blast was actually a lateral eruption and not a vertical one. Apparently, there had never been a recorded lateral eruption before and so, as the guide said, “we learned something new that day”. 57 people died to learn that lesson. Sad.
This link is to award winning photographs taken shortly after the eruption. They contain probably the most famous photo taken during the aftermath. The image of Day Andrew Karr, a deceased 11 year old boy, lying in the back of his father’s pickup truck. Simply gut wrenching.
After getting off the mountain, I decided to stop at the Ape Cave, a 13,000 foot lava tube cave created about 2,000 years ago during the only known basaltic eruption of the Mount St. Helens. I got out my flashlight and head torch and spent the better part of two hours stumbling around in the darkness and confines of this lava tube. It was really quite cool and I thought how much my kids would have liked it. My camera would not take good pictures given there was no light.
After finishing the cave, I backtracked a bit and made the two hour ride to Olympia in preparation for the Olympic Peninsula loop the next day. However, I awoke to a heavy rainfall that was predicted to remain in place for the day so I bagged riding for the day and just watched movies on my laptop. It was a nice rest.