Mt St Helens

August 28-29, 1982

The Volcanoland trip was shortened for some participants by a front that drifted in Saturday night, but the one full day that we spent there was, in a word, magnificent.

Volcanoland had been a problem to arrange. When I made my reconnaissance trip in early August, I went in the hope that I would learn exactly where to camp and exactly where to hike. But this was only partly realized. Although my companion and I did discover the Ape Cave on our own and caught impressive glimpses of the devastated area from Highway 25, we left Washington with only the name and telephone number of the Best Person To Talk To about camping and trails. But bless Ewart Baldwin, who as co-leader was far more agreeable to flying by the seat of his pants than I was. His was a stabilizing influence. Although we were to camp at a campground that we had never seen and lead a hike into a region that we had never visited, we both downplayed it and, as it turned out, everything worked out beautifully. The minute we drove into Swift Creek Campground, for instance, we engaged three campsites in a row although it was 2:30 in the afternoon.

But, to backtrack a little. After enjoying lunch at Lava Cast Campground, the nine of us paid a visit to the Ape Cave, which takes its name from the group of outdoorsmen who explored it in 1946 — the Saint Helens Apes. Starting at the lower half of the cave, we donned winter jackets and wool hats, took flashlights in hand and descended an iron stairway into that strange and chilly cavern. If you follow this section long enough, the ceiling begins to drop until it becomes impassable, but we turned back after about twenty minutes. After all, as my co-leader observed, “When you’ve seen 300 feet of a cave, you’ve seen it all.” And he ought to know!

Ewart’s only anxious moment came later that afternoon as we were snaking along narrow and precipitous Highway 25 enroute to Independence Pass. Everything was contingent upon our finding the intersection of 25 and Highway 99. As our anxiety mounted with each passing mile, I turned to the Lone Ranger, who fortunately was riding in our car, and asked him to pinpoint our location on the topo map. To our great relief, his Predeeksian was accurate. Two miles later we found the junction and began a thrilling descent into the devastated area.

Independence Pass is a mile and a half stroll along a logging road, ending with a peek over the ridge at Spirit Lake. It is an unearthly prospect that lies before you. It resembles nothing else in this world. There are excellent vistas where you can see for miles, and in every direction there is nothing but destruction and eery silence. Spirit Lake, burnished by the sheen of the late afternoon sun, looks as though someone had sprinkled fistfuls of straw over one third of its surface. Yet it isn’t straw: it is the fallen timber gathered up in her arms as Spirit Lake rushed 860 feet up the hillside under the driving force of the 1980 explosion. Looming above her was the ruined visage of Mt. St. Helens, the torn outline of the crater just visible through the haze, steam rising solemnly into the sky. I could not help, but think of Psalm 46 which reads, “Come, and behold the works of the. Lord, who has wrought desolations in the earth.”

This new generation of St. Helens apes consisted of Ewart and Margie Baldwin, John and Dallas Cole, Tom and Helene Johnston, Janet Landers, Dave Predeek and leader Karen Houglum.


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