Sunday, August 21, 2005

Mt. St. Helens is about an hour drive from here

and most of the trip is spent on treacherous mountain passes in the foothills of Mt. St. Helens. There’s been all kinds of volcanic activity lately, so everyone's been closely monitoring it. The most it has done is sent plumes of ash up into the sky, and it has a pulsing slow lava drip going on inside the crater, slowly building the volcano's peak. Every now and then the news channels dominate with various coverage of the latest activity and opinions from experts. They’ve said on the news that nearby communities to Mt. St. Helens, such as Cougar, WA, has had such an explosion in tourism they don’t know what to do with all their prosperity. I’ve been through Cougar a bunch of times, and it’s definitely a one-horse town.

I don’t know at what point they are not letting people further up the mountain, I know they’re not allowing spectators near the crater opening. At least I don’t think anyone is. I know they fly helicopters around it every now and then and we can see the glowing pulsing lava cracked like orange lightning over the dark and light gray surface. I know they are letting people go to the observatory; I’ve never been there, but it’s on the north side of the mountain, facing south. I think that’s the side of the mountain that blew out back in 1981.

I’ve been on a couple of hikes on Mt. St. Helen's and I’ve been there just to see snow. We’d drive to where the snow made it impossible for the car to go any further, then get out and tromp up the hill in the snow, thigh deep in parts. The snow up there is fun because it is all clean, and when you get tired, you leave, it’s warm at home, and you don’t have to shovel snow or be cold. I’ve been through the Ape Caves on Mt. St. Helens. They are caves formed by lava from the 1981 eruption, very long and very dark; you need to bring flashlights with you.

When we were exploring through the cave, I was starting to feel freaked out. I felt like we were going to be trapped, or there was no way out. Some parts of the caves it seemed as if the ceiling collapsed, and to continue on the path through the cave you need to traverse a pile of large rubble, boulders and rocks. While scaling this mass, at the highest point you can easily touch the ceiling, which is usually unreachable, if even visible in the darkness beyond the beam of your flashlight. When I went to the Ape Caves, I went with Ric, my brother, and his friend Jeremy. The only person who owned a flashlight was Jeremy, and it was a small one you’d find in a gimmicky car safety kit. It looked like a glorified pen light. My brother, Ric and I bought flashlights from this discount and stolen tool place, called “The Tool Shed.” We got three flashlights, complete with many D batteries for a great low price. We teased Jeremy about his flashlight, and when we first set out our lights were clearly illuminating the way. About half way through, my brother’s flashlight unexplainably stopped working. A little while later, Ric’s flashlight stopped working. We became concerned, especially since we didn’t’ know how long the cave was, or if it even came out somewhere. We carried on at a hurried pace, and my light flickered. We quickened, and my light died. Huddling around Jeremy, we made our way down the path and soon we saw daylight, and the end of the cave. The cave opened up to a ladder to climb out, and was at the foot of a path through an Alpine Swamp leading back to the point of origin.

My landlord took the pictures displayed in this entry. The activity you see started about 5:15 PM on March 8th, 2005. It has been occuring on and off since. The last picture (beside this paragraph) is a still saved from the Oregonlive Volcano Cam. I'm not sure if I know where the pictures of the cave excursion are. This cam is set up at the observatory. It's been really nice out lately. Mt. St. Helen's is really cool becase there is a whole phenomina occuring with the landscape transformation. The lava tunnels, for example, and some other unusual lava formations. There's one hike that goes through a lava field, and it totally looks like a moonscape. And on the other side of the volcano, it's a recovering and new alpine forest, reaching through and growing from under downed fir trees and weird high altitutde brush.

1 comment:

GrapeNut said...

That's so wild! I would've been totally freaked out too.

The Northwest is so grand. Ever notice that the most beautiful places in the world are carved out with the violent force of mother nature. For example Maryland versus Big Sur...not quite the same. I have a theory about West Coast mentality. The reason for the laid back attitude is because West Coasters constantly face possible fatality from natural disaster. Although that doesn't really explain the people who live in Tornado ally. Or may be it does, since they have to spend quite a bit of time hiding in dark cellars.

Thanks for sharing. I love stories about treks like that.