Geologically, I barely escaped with my life …

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I took this photograph of the summit of Mt. St. Helens during my other, younger, secret life. The text below is from a post I wrote for Scholars & Rogues. It explains the circumstances. The photograph of the eruption was taken by Robert Krimmel of the U.S. Geological Survey.

• • •

I am 33 years old. Dawn has hinted its coming as Lefty and I gear up for ice. We’ve got 7,000 vertical feet defying us, most of it a tiring one-foot-after-the-other, mindless march until we hit the glacier. We move steadily up the south slope and reach the ice, shorn of crevasse-hiding snow by the August sun. We rest a bit on a volcanic bulge, then try to thread our way among the crevasses, moving laterally until one thins enough to safely step or jump over, then up to the next, then laterally again. Time passes too quickly. We make poor route-finding decisions. We make too little vertical progress.

We retreat, losing the 2,000 vertical feet gained. We circle below the glacier, moving a third of the way around the peak, looking for a route up. We find one, free of ice. We foot-after-foot our way up, moving a helluva lot more slowly than we did at dawn.

Fatigue wins (after a total ascent of 9,000 vertical feet) and we collapse on our butts 600 feet below the summit. What? you say. You didn’t dig deep and crawl hand over hand up those last few feet? Nope.

As we share a tin of pineapple, we hear noise. A troop of Cub Scouts, roped together behind their leader, trots past us. “You guys been to the summit yet?” one little punk asks. Lefty just glares at him. Moments later, a white-haired woman easily in her 60s moves past us solo, planting glacier wands every few hundred feet. That impresses us.

We give up and head for the low ground, taking pictures of the great Northwest forest, a patchwork of clear-cuts, below and around us. The Back-off Brigade of the Dynamic Descenders Division of the Someday We’ll Learn Society claims another non-victory.

Nine months later, on May 18, 1980, at 8:32 a.m. local time, Mount St. Helens blows one cubic mile of rock 80,000 feet into the stratosphere, killing 57 people and lowering the mountain by 1,300 vertical feet. Sitting at my newsroom desk 2,500 miles away, reading the story as it comes over the wire, I shiver.

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2 comments

  1. So the subject of this picture is now in orbit. Or its atoms are, anyway. Damn. Yeah, you know, I think in some way this is sort of like remembering my senior year in high school, when I stood on the roof of the World Trade Center.

    Or better, maybe it’s like what George Willig thinks when HE remembers the WTC….

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