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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Too close for comfort

Twenty-four years ago this morning, I was sleeping in a tent in a county park drive-up campground in Trout Lake, Washington. My then-girlfriend and I were both still feeling the effects of another fun Saturday night drinking and dancing at the nearby Trout Lake Tavern, which hosted such Portland bar bands as the Burnside Bombers.

As the sun came up and things got warm and bright, we rolled around in the tent, trying to catch an extra hour or so of sleep against the possibility of a bit of a hangover.

Then it got dark again. We heard a steady rumbling noise, kind of like a major thunderstorm brewing. "Oh, well," I thought. "The mountains make their own weather. There's a thunderstorm starting already. Better get up and get this tent and our gear packed up before everything gets wet."

When we got up and looked around, there was a huge cloud blackening the entire sky to the north of us, clear skies off to the south. Before we could shake off the cobwebs and figure it out, an older man came running through the campground. "Mount St. Helens is erupting!" he yelled. "They're seeing lava up there! Get out of here quick!" And he ran off.

We looked at each other and asked: "Do we have time for a quick shower?"

We hustled into the little coin-operated Klickitat County campground showers (we always brought quarters), and washed off the Burnside Bombers (or whoever the band had been the night before). Given what was going on, we decided to skip a campground breakfast and get right on the road back south to Oregon.

We didn't realize it at the time, but we were less than 35 miles southeast of the center of the devastating explosion that killed 57 people that morning.

We weren't in a resricted area. Fifty-three people who died weren't, either. Some of those who died were 13 miles away, to the north, from St. Helens. There were massive mudflows and floods that reached for many miles, but they were all generally to the north and west as well.

We drove down to Hood River and ate a big breakfast at the Hood River Inn, all the while looking over our shoulders at the unspeakably large plume of smoke and ash. It was 12 miles high. Nearby Mount Adams, which had looked like a pretty picture postcard on Saturday evening, was now a frightening, massive lump of gray, burned-out charcoal.

Then we cruised down the Columbia Gorge and hiked up to Larch Mountain, where a crowd had gathered to look over at the major geologic event in our nation's history. The scope of the damage, they said, was monumental. The top 1300 feet of the mountain had disappeared in minutes.

Only when we got a good look at it from up there did it finally dawn on us how scared we should have been that morning.

Comments (10)

I flew over Mt. St. Helens 2 weeks ago (from Seattle to PDX on a small plane). Breath-taking. Even with all of the plant- and lake-regrowth you can clearly see that >25% of the mountain got blown off the top- and north-sides.

I remember being in PDX when she blew, and how lucky it was that PDX wasn't the next Pompei. My relatives in *Spokane* told of the ash turing the noon-time sky into total darkness (that's a long ways away, check a map). If Mt. St. Helens would have erupted straight south, instead of north, I'm not sure Portland would still be populated.

If it had gone southeast, or even straight south, I seriously doubt I'd be here to tell about it.

Somewhere around here I still have the little vial of Mount St. Helens ash you sent here way back then. Scary stuff.

My sister, mother and I were at her boyfriend-of-the-month's cabin in the Cascade foothills a bit northeast-ish of Lake Chelan. We heard the boom, we knew immediately what it was, and we headed back to town. That's what I remember. That and the ash-filled skies in Brewster, a layer of gray, every object within sight drained of color and clarity.

Years later my sis and I were being temporarily fostered with an older couple who lived in Soap Lake. The stuff was everywhere. I wager you can still see ashdrifts here and there out among the sagebrush.

I remember going out in the ash fall with an umbrella and breathing mask, and the scary part was that there was at best limited TV and radio reception, so we weren't sure just how bad the situation was.

I remember watching this from my grandparent's house in the hills of south Salem during my mom's birthday party and thinking it was the coolest thing ever.

It's amazing. The top 1,300 feet of the mountain blown away. I'm from PA originally, and there 1,300 itself is considered a mountain. I don't remember when this happened (I was three) but I remember a TV movie about it that aired when i was young and probably not too long after the event itself. the eruption has always fascinated me and Mt. St. Helens was one of the first places I visited when I moved here last summer

Thank you for an early page from your memoir, Mr. Bogdanski. Nicely brought from memory to life.

Imagine surviving 16 years running down Cortland Alley at night, and you almost get killed by an exploding mountain!
The good things about New Jersey:
No volcanos
No tornados
No pollen (killed off by the dioxin)
No killer bees (killed off by killer pigeons)
No alligators (killed off for shoes for NBA draft day)
No sign of Jimmy Hoffa
We know the Sopranos

I'm planning my first climb to the top this summer -- with a group, of course. I don't want to be one of those people who expect the helicoptors and search crews to come for them. Has anyone climbed to the top? What should I do to prepare?

Great story, by the way!

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