Mt. St. Helens as I knew her in the fifties.
I was a Boy Scout in the middle 1950’s. I went to camp one year at the BSA camp on Spirit Lake across the lake from Mt. St. Helens. I had a long acquaintance with the mountain and the lake; my parents held the Star route contract from Castle Rock to a point 20 mile down stream from the lake, a 140 mile route, driven six days week.
Once, upon a long time ago; far away; who knows how the plates have moved, near – far, no matter. A baby volcano began to grow; she farted, belched and spewed gas, ash and magma all about her. This behavior lasted all through her childhood. Whether she was born on the edge of the continental plates and the oceanic; or, migrated there is not relevant. She ended up growing to maturity on the confused area at the meeting of the Pacific plate as it slipped under the North American plate. She had for neighbors Mts. Rainier, Baker and Hood as they are now known. Had they names, and in what languages while they buried forest on forest, revising the landscape in ways whether designed or random will not be known.
But eventually they grew up, settled down and ceased revising the area every few years; all but the medium sized mountain that got the name in English: Mt. St. Helens; she spewed, belched and farted every hundred years or so, burying more forests and at one point, to soothe her bowels, she blocked the river running along her flank, producing a bottomless lake to cool her colic. (Really bottomless?, probably not but there was a reason for that assertion.)
As the lake rose, the water leached out the minerals of the mountain and let them flow into the wood that constantly cascaded into it from the hills and mountains. These mineral laden logs, and trees and scraps quickly sank, forming a semi-floating jumble under water. This jumble prevented efforts to plum the lakes depth; the moving wood caused plums to stop and then fall some more but never allowing them to reach dirt. At the same, throw a rock in the lake and it floats and so the Indians called it Spirit lake, avoiding the area.
There was another reason to avoid the environs of this mountain: in the millenia she had been spewing ash and lava about the area, she had created many fields of ‘tree wells’. What be a ‘tree well’, well if you’re a tree and get buried by lava or ash, your top burns off, but the rest just sits there; over the years decaying and being eaten out until the only sign of your one time existence is a cone shaped whole in the ground, small end up. The opening may be very small, or several feet across; but fall in one and you are probably lost. Depths of these wells vary from a few feet to 60′ according to the rangers. Have people fallen in, nobody knows, many have disappeared in that area but very few found. All known wells near the campsites were marked and signs warned all to stay on the paths.
As to the mountain; other than her behavior; she was just a mid-sized mountain; easy to walk, in fact if you didn’t get caught, one could drive up the jeep road to the tree line and walk from there. I never made the top, usually stopped at the snow line and played in the ice. The little depression near the top was unstable so one had to walk around it to the top.
St. Helens’ claim to fame before 1980 were her apes, real apes, quite possibly. Very early in the 20th century a circus train partially derailed near the mouth of the Toutle river, that which drains Spirit lake. The chimpanzee cage sprung and the apes escaped. Hunters with dogs followed them up the river but never found them. Thenafter, going up the mountain, people were warned not take the left fork of the jeep road; that was ape country and one could well get stoned by them; or, perhaps your friends having fun.
This state lasted until May, 1980 when the lady blew her top, literally blew the top and the north face of the mountain many miles across the lake and old growth forest, killing about 50 people and flattening the forest for miles; not making more tree wells, just blowing everything flat.
Among the fifty was Harry Truman, not the former president but a man of the same name who had lived on the mountain for time immemorial. He owned the first lodge and only lodge reachable by car, near the Toutle river outlet. In the summer he let rooms and rented fishing boats. Come October, he took his truck to town, loaded up 12 cases of whiskey, flour, potatoes, bacon, salt, sugar; whatever he needed that he couldn’t get from the forest and went home to await the snows and next April when he’d see another human.
The rangers warned him in April of 1980 that the mountain was moving and groaning and might be getting dangerous and he should maybe move to town for a while. He allegedly responded: I’ve lived on this here mountain for fifty years, and I am gonna stay for life. He did.