St. Helens 8 years later, asleep and approachable.
St. Helens 8 years later, asleep and approachable An outing to
Spirit Lake, at the heart of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic
Monument, not far from Interstate 5 in Washington, seems about as
difficult and dangerous as a trip to the zoo. A brand-new 1-mile hiking
trail leads down to the lake, where blue-green waves lap at a pumice beach scattered with driftwood. Beyond it, the gray volcano rises, its
crater yawning benignly. Eight years ago, it was a different scene.
The earthquake-triggered avalanche that ripped down the volcano on May
18, 1980, and the subsequent volcanic eruption left the lake doubled in
size and mired with mud and timber, the surrounding forest flattened and
blanketed in a thick layer of mud and ash. Today, the lake appears to
have regained most of its clarity; there's even talk of restocking
it with trout. And only at a distance do the hills in the blast zone
now look barren; up close you can see fireweed, alder, even young
Douglas fir emerging through the ash between downed logs. Most
significantly, the volcano itself seems to have fallen back to sleep
(what looks like thick steam in our picture is actually dust blowing off
the snowless summit). More than a year has passed with no rumblings
save a few small earthquakes. While experts don't consider St.
Helens dormant, they're confident enough to let climbers go clear
to the summit and hikers to Spirit Lake, both off-limits until last
year. Part of the monument is still restricted, mostly to protect the
ecologically fragile "new" terrain in the Spirit Lake basin.
With the volcano's cooperation, the "red zone" should
disappear by 1991, the same year Spirit Lake Memorial Highway up the
Toutle River is due to be completed. If all goes as planned, in only 11
years a natural disaster will have become a fully accessible national