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Exploring Mount St. Helens

Mount St. Helens

                    Mount St. Helens

Mount St. Helens is an active and recharging Volcano nestled in the Cascade Mountain Range of Washington State. Washington State has five major volcanoes including Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Adams. These volcanoes are all a part of the Cascade Range. The Cascade Range runs for almost 1,200-miles from British Columbia, Canada to Northern California.

Before that fateful day in 1980, Mount Saint Helens was an awesome place to spend the day, hiking through her many forests and camping in her shadows. Then came May 18, 1980, and the mountain and it’s neighborhood changed for many years to come. A major volcanic eruption occurred on the mountain spewing ash on anything in its way.  This was the last of the Washington volcanos to erupt.  There are many other Northwest volcanoes that are active and ready to go, but as of the date of this article, they have yet to erupt. The eruption of Mount St. Helens was the only major volcanic eruption to occur in the lower 48 states since 1915 when Lassen Peak in California erupted.

Each of the five Washington State volcanoes have erupted in the last 250 years. Many of them are today busy with recharging and getting ready for the next big eruption. As for Mount St. Helens, she also is busy recharging. It has been over 35 years and Mount St. Helens is once again the perfect place for an outstanding adventure or a beautiful hike in the woods. Yes, the old growth forests are gone, but there is beautiful new life to discover and enjoy.

                 Journey Into The Past

“A Journey into the past” towards Mount St. Helens through Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington. As you journey into the past, you can not help but see the present.  The mountain is getting greener every year. It has been more than 35 years and the trees are starting to be tall, green, and sturdy. The shrubs are green and thick. Mount St. Helens is alive with new growth! The wildlife is returning to the mountain. Everywhere you turn there are signs of a renewed and vibrate forest. Life has returned to Mount St. Helens!

                    The Cowlitz Tribe

The Cowlitz Tribe is a small tribe living north of the Columbia river in the state of Washington. There they have made their way for centuries living in small houses constructed of wooden planks. The Tribe was already declining in number at the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition. As epidemics spread through the Tribe, their decline accelerated throughout the 19th century. Epidemics destroyed a large part of the Cowlitz Tribe. During the 19th Century only about 500 natives were left.The population has slowly grown and is recovering. Now there are 1,400 making their recovery on this, their ancestral land in Washington.  Unfortunately their language seems to be lost. It has been intermingled with other tribes and the pure language is no longer alive. 

What is not lost is the folklore that surrounds their beloved mountain. Referred to as “Mountain of Fire.” There are many versions to the story of Mountain of Fire, I am sharing one that is often related in local powwows.

     Folklore From The Cowlitz Tribe

Depending on which version of the Cowlitz story is being told , Tah-one-lat-clah , “The Mountain Of Fire”, was the home of an old woman. Her name was Loowit. Before the Europeans came, the Cowlitz would cross the Columbia River on dry ground, as did many other tribes. Like men often do, the tribes became greedy and declared war. The Great Coyote had to take drastic steps. The bridges that connected them together were destroyed. Gone were all the domestic fires. Only the one fire, the Loowit fire, remained burning. Members of all the tribes came in great numbers wanting to rekindle their fires.  The Great White Spirit then asked Loowit what she wanted for restoring the peaceful sharing of the kindled fire. She asked that the mountain be rejuvenated  That it once again be beautiful. So it was rejuvenated many times throughout the centuries and it is rejuvenating once again,  today. (This is a story that I heard told after the 1980’s eruption. I have only paraphrased and retold a traditional story.)

A different version from the Cowlitz Tribe tells of a time Mount Rainier had a headed discussion with his two wives, Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams. Mount St. Helens became the jealous wife and exploded out of control taking off the head of Mount Rainier. Another version for the name of Mount St. Helens, is “Lavelatla,” meaning “Smoking Mountain.) (Another story from the Cowlitz Tribe.)

    Folklore From The Yakima Tribe

Si Yett,which means Woman in the language of the Yakima Indians, is the name that the Yakima Indians gave to Mount St. Helen’s. As recorded through oral tradition, Si Yett was a beautiful  white maiden. The Great White Spirit had placed her in the Pacific Northwest to keep and protect The Bridge Of The God’s which spanned the Columbia River. Si Yett was to keep the bridge  safe from the battling brothers, Mount Hood and Mount Adams. (Taken from Oral Stories retold in the 1980’s.)

     Folklore From the Klickitat Tribe

The Klickitat Indians tell the story of two mighty braves, one was named Pahto, (Mount Adams) and the other brave was named Wyeast (Mount Hood). The two braves fought often, as they were trying to win the affections of an old ugly woman. Years before she had been turned into a beautiful maiden by the Great White Spirit.  (Told from the Oral tradition of the Klickitat Indian Tribe.)

As you can see, the language was different, but the stories of the volcanoes abound in the oral traditions of all the tribes that call this part of Washington home.  And now for a modern documentary on that great day in 1980 that changed so much. This documentary by PBS takes you through the days before and after her extraordinary eruption and devastating landslides.

PBS NOVA Presents Mount St Helens

      Hiking Mount St. Helen’s Today

More than 35 years has past and Mount St. Helens has experienced a total re-birth. If you enjoy hiking, Mount St. Helens should be on your bucket list of things to do. Most climbers that come to Mount St. Helens use the Monitor Ridge Trail to the top. This route gains more than 4,500 feet in a short 5 mile hike.  This is a climb good for experienced and novice hikers in good physical shape.  In this hike you will scramble steep boulders and the mountain is rugged. But the view from the top is amazing. Most climbers can do this hike in about 8-12 hours. While you may hike to the crater rim, you may not enter the crater. A hiking permit is required if you are going over 4,800 feet. The elevation of the rim is 8,328 feet high. The view from the rim is amazing.

Hiking permits protect the mountain, it’s rejuvenating resources, and those that climb her trails. You can secure a permit from The Mount St. Helens Institute website.

While most climbers climb the mountain from Spring through Fall, but winter adventures provide amazing options. Participate in a Winter Adventure with qualified guides and Volcano Naturalists,  Bob and Katherine Appling. See an amazing side of Mount Saint Helens that few will ever know. This is an amazing opportunity for adventure  for those who desire to see more than the ordinary.

Gear requirement for this climb can be found at the Mount Saint Helen’s Institute web page. You can sign up for this amazing winter adventure latter in the fall on their website.

     What to Do On Mount St. Helens

 Now that you have discovered this gem of a mountain, what is there to do? Volcano watching from Windy Ridge Observation Deck is an all time favorite. Photographers and amatures alike love photographing this amazing volcano. This is our volcano and we never tire of painting and photographing her in all stages of her recovery. 

Be sure to check out all the many exhibits and videos of all the different stages of this amazing American icon. Windy Ridge is one of the top places to visit. There is a gift shop in the visitors center where you can shop for many interesting small gifts, books, folklore, ect. 

Some of the other fun things  to do at the mountain include taking a helicopter tour of the mountain. Even though  when you visit Johnston Ridge and some of the other informative sites, you see and learn a lot, the helicopter tour is out of this world. Prepare to see this astonishing mountain as you have never seen her before.

There are several viewing sites where you can see all the wildlife in the area. The Elk herds can be observed best from the Forest Learning Center View point. For the fishermen,  Coldwater Lake provides excellent fishing. A perfect place to rest and relax.  From the mud flow at Echo Park, you can rent horses and enjoy a magnificent ride.

When it is time to eat, you will find good food and excellent service at Patty’s House. Be sure to save room for her famous Blackberry Cobbler. You will find this small and friendly restaurant at 19 Mile House in Toutle.

Patty’s House
15000 Spirit Lake Hwy.
Milepost 27 on WA 504
Toutle, Wa USA
(360) 274-5217

Whether you come to Mount St. Helens to explore the mountain, or to join one of the many seminars, tours, and workshops, an amazing adventure awaits. No passport is needed for American’s or complicated visas. This is America’s very own active volcano. She is spectacular! Mount St. Helens  is in your own backyard.

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