Adventure Of A Lifetime

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December 1, 2017 · Posted in Commentary 
By Doug Weiskopf

 

(Below is a letter and photo I just mailed to a writer for Scientific American Magazine about my experience of a lifetime on Mount St. Helens).

 

Dear Steve:

I enjoyed and was fascinated by your article in the current edition of Scientific American about Mount St. Helens, having had a decades long spiritual connection with the great volcano. As a student and resident living in the West Hills of Portland, Or. between 1969 and 1980 I had a clear view of St. Helens when it was not shrouded in clouds and was always transfixed by its beauty, looking as it did like a giant snow cone (we used to call it “the Mount Fuji of the Pacific NW”). St. Helens beckoned me for years until I decided to join The Mazamas, a local mountain climbing club, so that I could ascend the mountain and stand on its summit.

In June of 1977 I began my climb on St. Helens in the dark and cold at about 4 am with The Mazamas and began what was a long hard journey with a mostly inexperienced group of fellow climbers and guides. We proceeded to get lost a couple of times and were nearly crushed when a chuck of ice the size of a truck broke off from a sheer cliff and came crashing down a ravine in our direction, causing us to quickly scramble uphill through knee deep snow.

The photo enclosed of me holding up my ice ax (below my feet in the picture today is about 4,000 ft. of air!) from the highest point of St. Helens was a memory I’ll always remember clearly, as I was able to look around at the large bowl at the top of the mountain on which you could have landed a small plane. Below was an expanse of pristine forests and lakes such as I’d never seen! We had to go back down the mountain after a short stay, as we were behind schedule, and when we finally got back to our cars, wet & cold and out of food & water, it was nearly dark again. I was sore and exhausted from the arduous day’s climb up and down St. Helens but thrilled that I had experienced it all.

Nearly 3 years later in May 1980 I was at a friend’s house on rural Sauvie Island, west of Portland in a delta of the Columbia River, and witnessed the eruption of Mount St. Helens, which became a mushroom cloud up to 30,000 ft. We heard no explosion, nor were we aware of the utter devastation and 57 dead on the northeast side of the mountain until later in the day when we saw the news reports on TV.

Years later I drove my car on a logging road up Mount St. Helens and was able to see the ghastly remains of the once beautiful forests below the hollowed-out mountain that looked like one of the photos from the moon landing, as everything down to the bedrock had been stripped away. I felt like crying at this sight!

An incident less than 24 hours before the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens that nobody in the region, and certainly not local state officials, likes to discuss is how the owners of homes and vacation properties around the once beautiful Spirit Lake, who had been ordered to vacate that area lying just below the mountain, were furious at not being able to go back and retrieve their personal belongings. Finally the local authorities relented and gave those foolish people permission to go in an escorted convoy to gather what they could load into their vehicles and be gone in exactly 2 hours.

TV news reporters interviewed the very angry residents drove back from their hasty trip to their properties and got an earful about how heavy-handed and mean the government and its law enforcement personnel were to keep them away, saying things like “we’ve lived here for many years and know more than they or their scientists do about it!” I’ve always wished the TV reporters had re-interviewed those reckless folks right after the eruption and asked them how they felt about having recklessly risked their lives only hours before the massive eruption for just a few items of small actual worth.

I was happy to be able to read your fine update, perhaps its my distant Native American heritage that has me feeling so spiritually connected to Mount St Helens.

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