Growing up in Portland, Mt. St. Helens was a constant presence on the skyline. Almost perfectly symmetrical, it resembled a smaller version of Fuji-san. I attended Boy Scout outings at the BSA Camp on Spirit Lake during the summers of 1957 and 1958. In 1977, my family and I returned to Portland at the end of Navy active duty. In 1978, I completed the Mazamas Mountaineering Club Basic Climbing School and climbed Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, and Middle and South Sister.
(Click the images for a larger view)
On a brilliant sunny day, 18 May 1980, I climbed Mt. Hood for the second time with the Mazamas. About 400+ of my best friends and I were astonished to see the 60,000′ ash column to the north as St. Helens erupted. In follow-up conversations, it seems none of us had any conception of destruction, lives lost, or other long term consequences of the eruption. We just stood in awe of the event. And, no, we didn’t hear any sound from the eruption. One of our party members, Tim, carried his golf club to the summit and hit a few balls off.
The Mountain was reopened for climbing in May 1987, and three of my friends and I climbed in that summer. We reached the rim in a whiteout and had no views of the crater. I climbed to the rim several times in the next few years, sometimes to views and sometimes not. In 1998, after retiring from my marketing career at Tektronix, I started Oregon Peak Adventures (OPA) and the first permit we obtained was to climb Mt. St. Helens. We quickly expanded our permitted activities to the trails throughout the National Monument and received the only permit to guide in the Mt. Margaret Backcountry.
By 1987 the dome building activity, which began after the Mountain stopped erupting, was pretty much over. The view through the Breech on a clear day was spectacular, with the 900′ high dome in the crater, then Spirit Lake (shallower but larger) with the Pumice Plain to the west, backdropped by The Mt. Margaret Backcountry and Mt. Rainier, 85 miles (137 km) to the northeast.
In the Fall of 2004, magma started pushing up into the crater at a rate of 7 to 10 cubic meters per second. On September 24, the Forest Service closed St. Helens to climbing. The OPA climb on that day was the last “legal” climb until July 21, 2006. At this time a feature on the dome called the “slab” began growing as much as six feet (2 m) per day. Luckily, I had applied for a permit to climb on that day! Our climbing party included a newspaper reporter from the Portland Tribune, my nephew and his 12-year old son, a couple of clients, and several OPA guides who really wanted to climb the Mountain again, and we were able to summit on a perfect, sunny day. We were able to climb regularly through October and the dome was different every time. Dome growth stopped by the end of January 2008, but it is still steaming to this day. Here are a series of photos of the Dome:
Climbing Mt. St. Helens continues to be exceptionally popular, and the 100 per day climbing permits for the summer season tend to sell out.