Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!*
A few years ago I participated in a summer research program for science teachers, and one of the perks was a generous stipend that I got to spend on “educational enhancement”. I didn’t feel like going to a convention, nor did I want to sit in a classroom, so I used the money to participate in a Mt. St. Helens Institute’s “Into the Crater” hike. It ended up being one of my best educational experiences ever.

Oh, I’ll never leave Montana, brother.**
Since Mt. St. Helens is about 700 miles from Helena, my wife (Mardi) and I decided to make a little hiking vacation out of the trip. So we sandwiched my crater hike between two nice hikes that we did together – one just north of Spirit Lake the day before my crater hike, and the other on the northeast side of Mt. Rainier the day after. On the day I hiked into the crater with the institute, Mardi visited a friend in a nearby town. The weather was great and all three hikes were outstanding – Who knew there was so much beauty beyond the borders of Montana! (Photo Tour includes photos from all 3 hikes)

Some say the world will end in fire. Some say ice.***
The group of about ten “crater hikers” was guided by two scientists (an ecologist and a geologist) who took turns explaining what we saw during stops along the 12-mile hike. The trek took us across the north slope of the volcano and then up into the crater where we lunched near the toe of one of the world’s youngest glaciers. Named “Crater Glacier”, it got its start in the shade of the St. Helen’s south rim after the 1980 eruption. Since then, two lobes have grown around the lava domes and merged on the downhill (north) side of those domes, where they now flow as one. The landscape was rocky and gray with hardly any vegetation – but VERY interesting. Plus, we were treated to an “up close and personal look” at geology in action – glaciation, volcanism, and a canyon being carved by melt-water from Crater Glacier. As an Earth Science teacher, I felt like a kid in a candy store.

Mardi and I tent-camped at the Mt. St. Helens Institute field camp on Friday and Saturday nights. The institute provided meals and evening campfires. The hike was difficult (12 miles with 3,000 ft. of elevation gain), but the pace was slow with frequent stops that gave the scientists time to enlighten us. If you’re interested in this or other hikes on St. Helens, check the institute’s website (see link below). Now that I’ve been in the crater, it would be fun to climb to the summit and look down onto the crater . . . Maybe, some day.

*Last words of David Johnston (USGS geologist) moments before he was killed by the explosive eruption of St. Helens on Sunday May 18, 1980 near the current location of the Johnston Ridge Observatory. He was communicating via radio with the Cascade Volcanoes Observatory in Vancouver, WA.

**Words uttered by Brad Pitt in the movie, “A River Runs Through It” (based on a book by Norman Maclean). – Montana is indeed great, but there are many other beautiful places that I need to see.

***Robert Frost – Seeing a glacier wrapped around lava domes is one of strangest things I’ve ever seen, and was the highlight of the hike for me. NOTE: The Lava domes in the crater also formed in the decades following the famous 1980 eruption.

Links – Check these out!