By Ambassador Kyla Forsberg
40 years ago, Mt St Helens in Washington State erupted. The eruption was the deadliest and most destructive volcano event in US history, killing 57 people, and thousands of animals. The earthquake that preceded the blast caused the largest recorded landslide in history. Hot rocks and gas melted some of the snow and ice capping the volcano. It formed a lahar which made its way to the Cowlitz river, taking out everything in its path. The entire landscape changed in seconds. She is still an active volcano, and new lava domes are forming on it.
Mt. St Helens is a national monument. Bikes are allowed on the trails, unlike neighboring Mt. Rainer and Mt. Adams. To celebrate one of my best friend’s birthdays we set out on a bikepacking adventure. I was pretty stoked since I had never ridden my bike near an active volcano before.
I mounted my Kona Process with a front, stem and seat bag loaded with essentials and we started out on the Ape Canyon trail. The beginning of the trail was made up of hard packed dirt, not a lot of roots or rocks but it did have some punchy climbs. With my bike fully loaded, I ended up walking and pushing my bike up. Walk/pushing gave me the opportunity to take my time and check out the landscape around me. You can still see the devastation the eruption caused. You can see the path the lahar made, filled with huge boulders, and lava rock. You can still see the blast area that toppled trees and left them looking like matchsticks over what was once thick forest.
As we made our way closer to the volcano the path changed dramatically. The hard pack dirt was replaced by loose pumice, moon dust and rock. Many parts of the trail were very exposed as the trail had eroded. Those with vertigo beware!
The views were breathtaking. I could turn 180 degrees and have a clear view of Mt. Adams. To my right, Mt. Hood, and to the left Mt. Rainier. Being in the shadow of Mt. St. Helens was eerie. A mixture of majestic, daunting, beautiful and destructive.
We found a fantastic spot to make camp. Great view and somewhat even ground. We were in full sun and our first priority was to find a water source. Looking around the landscape, we knew that would be tough. My friend Tim had arrived the night before and had found a small stream of water that was coming from a melting glacier. But when we got to that spot it was dry. We continued toward the mountain to see if we could find any stream or pool of water. As we ventured closer we came across what we think was plane wreckage. Tim spotted what may have been landing gear. Some of the metal had melted, what was left was rusty and eroded. When I got home I searched the internet looking for clues as to what may have happened but so far I’ve come up empty.
Speaking of empty, we were out of water and starting to get worried. We finally found a tiny puddle that had formed between some rocks. We all looked at each other with a look of disgust. The water was brown, full of dead and living bugs. But it was all we had. Thank God for good water filters. As we ate our dinner my buddy Nate looked up on the ridge close to us and spotted a mama bear with cub that seemed to be headed across the ridge toward us. We started making a lot of noise and thankfully it turned the other direction. Wil and Tim had camped there many times before and it was the first time they had seen anything other than mountain goats and marmots. It made my heart happy to see life coming back.
As the day came to a close mother nature stunned us with the most amazing sunset I’ve ever seen. I was expecting a golden hour moment but what I got was so much more unique. The sky was a beautiful mix of light blue and lavender. The moon was bright and you could see Venus shinning above it. I didn’t bring a rain fly for my tent since I knew we wouldn’t be getting much moisture and was able to fall asleep looking at the stars. Highly recommend.
I woke up as the sun was rising and was treated to the most amazing sunrise I’ve ever witnessed. The sun came up off the side of Mt. Adams. I watched the first light hit Mt. St Helens behind me. It’s something not everyone gets to see. I woke up to witness it by myself, as my friends were still fast asleep. I felt peace in my soul during that golden hour and was able to reflect on how lucky I was to have friends with fantastic ideas, and a bike to take me to places I might have otherwise missed.
Covid-19 has restricted many of us of the activities we like to do with the people we like to spend time with. I’ve kept my circle small, gathering only with my best friends, the “Ride yer damn bike” crew. Cheers to bikes, friends and building golden memories even during turbulent times.