Mt. St. Helens blew its top 30 years ago

The landscape has been reborn-

However, the rebirth is, as you can see below, a hundred years from maturity.

Aftermath of Mt. Saint Helens in 2008. Copyright Ralph Maughan

Mount St. Helens Eruption (PHOTOS): National Geographic Marks Its 30th Anniversary

How far did the ash travel from the Mount St. Helens eruption? The Big Blog

I got caught in the aftermath of the ash. It triggered a huge snowstorm along the Idaho/Montana border, and I got snowed in for a week at my secret fishing hole there in the Beaverhead Mountains. I took the photo below as the ash clouds moved through.

Mt. Saint Helens ash cloud at nightfall over the Lemhi Valley. Photo copyright by Ralph Maughan May 19, 1980. Taken from Tenmile Creek in the Beaverhead Mountains





  1. Barb Rupers Avatar
    Barb Rupers

    Great photo, Ralph.

    In 1981 I had the opportunity to volunteer to assist with studies being started on Mt. St. Helens by a team of Pulse Scientists including Dr. Jerry Franklin. It was one of the most interesting two weeks I have experienced. After the manual work of climbing over downed trees to reach the selected spots Lisa, a graduate student in forestry, and I dug meter square pits down to the old surface that was buried under the ash from the 1980 eruptions. She was setting up to compare the difference in regeneration between the new and old soils. We were taken on a brief tour from Coldwater Ridge into the crater by helicopter. I took lots of pictures of the flight to the volcano and around the central dome. When I went to pick up the slides the store apologized for having ruined the film with the explanation “lab errors happen”, they gave me a free roll of film and processing. I hurried home to see what the slides looked like. There was nothing wrong but they did not look like “normal” pictures: lava squeeze outs, cracked domes with bright yellow sulfur deposits, landslides on the inner slopes, and recent gullys formed in the new ash. The last day we took time to drive about on the northeast side of the mountain on roads which were still passable by jeep. We got as far south as where the melted Shoestring glacier caused flooding in the valley below. It was like Christmas; what a day.

    In 1990 I volunteered again to assist the the staff of the Monument in doing map work and collecting data from some of the plots extablished back in 1981. Two location was on the first ridge directly in line of the lateral blast where we collected information on plots set out on the windward, less regeneration, and leeward side, and a third out on the pumice plain between the crater and Spirit Lake; there were other locations also; another fascinating 2 weeks.

  2. WM Avatar

    I was living in CO at the time of the blast, and had a signficant layer of volcanic dust on my car about three days later. As the crow flies this is a distance of about 900 miles. I was careful to wash it off in a stream of low pressure water, with no cloth or sponge so as not to scratch the paint job.

    My parents lived in Yakima, where I was visitin, and the day after Christmas 1980 a friend, who was a geologist and experienced mountain pilot, took me down into the crater in a Citabarea aerobatic plane (stall speed of about 50 mph). We flew from Yakima to St. Helen’s along what was basically the blast path. To this day I remember the blown down timber along the windward (blast side) laid out like tiny match sticks, either broken off or torn out by their roots, and a very debris-clogged Spirit Lake, with no green vegetation in sight for many miles. Many of these trees were 24 inches in diameter or larger, and void of their limbs. On the leeward side of ridges and small draws it was as if nothing had happened, green trees growing happily in the draws and on the east and north facing slopes.

    A small lava dome was building inside the crater (much smaller than it is now), and if I recall correctly some red-hot magma still visible. I suspect we were violating some federal law by actually flying into the crater well below the rim during this dangerous time (since I was not the pilot, nothing I could do). We flew in from the blown out side and straight toward, but well below, the rim to the west, then quickly side slipped back the way we came, as we neared the cup of the west rim (now there is a huge snow/ice cornice there. We then circled in the crater several times as we took photos, each taking turns at the controls while the other shot away.

    There was alot of heavily sulphured steam coming out of the heavily fissured dome at the bottom of the crater. As that was a particularly light snow year in December, there was very little snow on the landscape, even at higher elevations. There was even less following the blast path, because of the high heat absorption from the blackened and scortched soil and timber. It looked like what I would have imagined a nuclear bomb would have left after detonation. The Toutle River drainage off to the west was filled with the volcanic mud from the lahar, a testment to the absolute power of the debris moved away from the mountain and down the drainage. It reminded me of chocolate pudding. Absolutely amazing. I will have to dig out the photo slides I took from that time, and see if I can find a projector to view them.


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Ralph Maughan