Mount St Helens

By admin on July 15, 2010

Mountains are unpredictable beasts and I’ve lost count the number of times we have thought of visiting one only to be deterred by the weather and it’s now the time of year when, if you enjoy a comfortable time, there aren’t many suitable days to do such a trip. Not to be completely discouraged we planned a trip just over into Washington State to have a look at the famous Mount St Helens, which is notorious for it’s eruption back in 1980. It used to be a mountain but is now officially a National Volcanic Monument.

The journey from Florence would take nearly two hours, so we planned on overnighting up near Portland, some 60 miles to the southwest and then attempt a flight to it early in the morning….if the weather permitted. We chose to camp the night at Stark’s Twin Oaks, a great little family run airfield just to the south of the busy Portland-Hillsboro Airport. Parking and camping was free for the night, this included a hot shower!, we also filled up with their AVGAS at $3.99/gallon. Why can’t more airports be like this (?).

We were up sharp at 6:00am and quickly packed up camp. The previous few days had seen winds howling throughout Oregon as a low weather front passed through, today looked much better but winds and temperatures were to rise and with them turbulance was bound to follow. As we climbed out across the Hillsboro Airport traffic zone the weather looked superb, not a cloud insight and a very slight 5 knot wind from the north. Mount St Helens was clearly visible, along with Mount Adams to it’s east, Mount Rainier (tallest and baddest of the Cascade Mountains) to the north and Mount Hood to the southeast.

The only ‘problem’ with this type of early morning flight is the enevitable haze you get from flying into a low, rising sun. We needed to get around to the north/northest side of St Helens to get some clear photographs of it’s eruption area. However, heading towards it in a slow, steady climb (we needed to climb to some 9,500ft as there is a requirement for aircraft to remain 2,000ft clear of the ground in the area.) the sights were fantastic. I’ll let some pictures describe what we saw…..

10 miles out from St Helens. Each minute that went by the light changed and the mountains looked completely different.

Mount Adams to the east of St Helens. A thin halo of cloud could be seen encircling St Helens, and a thick layer of haze between the two mountains. The light streaks are the sun reflecting off the windscreen.

As we got nearer the devastated northern side of the volcano came into view. The top half of the volcano had been blown away leaving a grey barren area which looks like it is slowly recovering today as it is turning a more healthy color of green. There was still plenty of winter snow on St Helens and the surrounding mountains to add to the scenary, we will have to make an effort to get a look at the area during the winter as it must look spectacular then.

The northern side of St Helens. Mount Hood can be seen in the far background, the visibility was excellent.

Close-up of the northern side of St Helens. Must have been a big bang! Sometimes smoke can be seen venting out of the top but not today.

Close-up of the lower side showing how the surface is slowly regenerating.

Mount Hood behind the rim of the volcano.

Another sign of the devastation are thousands of trees that can still be seen floating in a vast mass on Spirit Lake which sits at the northeast corner of the volcano.

Spirit Lake.

Close-up of the trees floating in Spirit Lake.

A smaller lake next to Spirit Lake is also home to some of the blown down trees, they also litter all the hillsides.

To the north of St Helens is Coldwater Lake.

If you look closely you can see hundreds, even thousands of trees laying on the ground on this mountain next to Coldawater Lake.

….and to the northeast is Mount Whittier with it’s small alpine lakes.

All too soon the wind started to build (by now it was blowing at 20 knots from the north) and it was time to beat a hasty retreat back to Oregon for some breakfast, it was only just 7:30am.

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