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Mount St. Helens

August 16, 2012

The peak, yes the absolute pinnacle of our trip to the Denker and U.S. Open was the day in between the end of the Denker and the beginning of the four-day schedule of the Open, when we took Walker with us to see Mount St. Helens.

We had a view of Mount Hood from our hotel room window (which made me think of John Scalzi’s traditional game of “guess where I am” with his “view out my hotel window” photos).

I looked at some maps and assumed that finding Mount St. Helens wouldn’t be too difficult; it’s a mountain, despite the fact that it blew its top 30-some years ago.

Gary Snyder, in Danger on Peaks, writes “From the doab of the Willamette and the Columbia, slightly higher ground, three snowpeaks can be seen when it’s clear—Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, and Mt. St. Helens. A fourth, Mt. Rainier, farther away, is only visible from certain spots.”

The day we set off–Wednesday, August 8–was a cloudy morning, however, and it turned out that we couldn’t see the peak of Mount St. Helens until we were in its shadow.

The drive up the mountain was literally breathtaking. Both kids were amused at the little noises I made when the rental car got to a particularly deep overlook, often combined with a suspended highway bridge. We had a great time watching the clouds get closer and closer, and watching what we called “trippy trees” for their ability to make your eyes unfocus as they unfolded, mile after mile of what turned out to be Noble Fir. We were singing “Desolation” every time we got a glimpse of the Toutle River Valley mudslide through the trees. The part of the song we were using (Fascination) was particularly good as we wound up and up…”the word is on your lips…say the word…the Word is on your lips…say the Word….The Word is On Your Lips…Say The Word…DE-SO-LA-TION!”

Walking from the parking lot to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, we still didn’t know where to look to see Mount St. Helens, which continued to be veiled in cloud. As we got to the first overlook, however, some of the clouds parted and we got a glimpse of the mountain, even though its peak was still partly hidden by a high cloud. We hiked further and further up, getting a look at the lava dome through a telescope when the clouds parted for a second.

After a while, we descended to one of the hiking trails that follows Johnston ridge. I went down it a little ways and then started back, mindful of my knee. Eleanor and Walker walked further on, evidently having a conversation in which he was Gollum, she was Sam, and I was Frodo, because the weight of the ring had gotten too heavy to allow me to continue up the side of the volcano.* Walker was selecting rocks he wanted to take back, until they decided (it takes two fairly long flights to get from Columbus to Portland) that what he really wanted was to take back the entirety of Mount St. Helens as a lap child.

I got a look at some elk through a telescope, and by the time the kids came back from their longer hike, the clouds had cleared and the entire top of the volcano was visible. It was hard to believe that much mountain had been invisible to us as we were driving and then walking up—it had been looming over us, and we were unaware.

That is the story of how we finally found a mountain, as it did its cloud striptease.

*Ron thinks we should start a helicopter tour business for recently divorced people who want to throw their wedding ring into a volcano.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. August 16, 2012 9:05 am

    This sounds like it was such a wonderful trip. I love this post.

    • August 17, 2012 9:12 am

      I thought you might like the part about the song. We thought it was amusing how excited we would get anytime we saw some sign of desolation–it was the only sign we were on the right track looking for this mountain.

  2. August 16, 2012 10:50 am

    Ha! I like the helicopter tour business idea. 🙂

    • August 17, 2012 9:12 am

      I thought I’d see how many people might be interested! I mean, if you can’t find the literary types on the internets, where can you?

  3. August 16, 2012 2:34 pm


    • August 17, 2012 9:14 am

      It was! Have you ever been? It’s not that far from you, considering. We lived in Ohio for years before we realized that we were only one day’s drive from Niagara Falls and got ourselves up there to see it.

      • August 17, 2012 2:57 pm

        We never have 00 I was just thinking that K and i should take a trip up there this fall – – –

  4. August 16, 2012 2:49 pm

    I love this.

    • August 17, 2012 9:16 am

      I think you have a special fondness for stories about going places with teenagers!

  5. August 17, 2012 10:16 am

    *cracks up* Please start that helicopter business. I would refer any divorcing persons I know straight to y’all.

  6. August 18, 2012 9:38 pm

    We have, historically, had lots of good business ideas. Not so good at pursuing them, unfortunately.

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