Thar she blows!


May 18, 1980

On the 33rd anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, I harken back to where I was and what I was doing. I was 17—a junior in high school. It was a Sunday, so I can tell you for certain I was not in church. I was living on the west side of the Cascades in a Seattle suburb. To be quite honest, the eruption was a non-event if you lived on the western side of the state. But if you lived on the other side, in central or eastern WA, it was a different story altogether.

Ash plume moves east.

Ask Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler and she’ll recall a vastly different day. She was in church, and the sky turned black as the ash plume drifted over her hometown of Yakima, WA. Ash fell from the sky, blanketing the ground. There was widespread panic and anxiety. Nobody knew if the ash was harmful to the touch or toxic to breath. There was no internet for disseminating information. Kids were out of school for nearly two weeks. Deliveries were halted to area businesses so grocery stores depleted their inventory. It was serious business.

St. Helens from the visitor’s center.

Mount St. Helens: the crater

But there was no destruction per se—it was nothing like the devastation that occurred in closer proximity to the mountain itself. In the years since May 18, 1980 I’ve seen videos, films and countless still photos but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I actually visited the scene of the crime first hand. To stand at the observation point looking directly at the mountain and the course of the mud flow that followed the eruption is to be blown away by the magnitude of the scale and the shear destructive power of mother nature.

Mt. Rainier: “Hey, Tacoma—You’re toast, dude!”

Still the power of the St. Helens eruption is child’s play compared to the devastation that would will likely occur if when Mt. Rainier blows its lid. I hope that doesn’t happen in my lifetime—it would change the course of life in western Washington, very likely making Spokane the second—if not THE largest economic center of the state. Tacoma stands a very real threat of being buried under several feet of mud, for sure. Seattle as a whole probably won’t crumble physically, but some reports suggest that even parts of Washington’s largest city could be devastated as the lahar (mud tsunami) hurtles rapidly down Rainier’s many river drainages toward Puget Sound. The damage to the local economy would have its effects. Like I said, I hope this happens long after I’m gone.

But it could be worse.

image courtesy

One night several years ago while drinking beer in a bar in West Yellowstone, a local “character” (who appeared to be medicated) began to tell of the Yellowstone Supervolcano and the effects it would have on not only the greater Yellowstone area, but the entire region and in fact the world. I’ve no doubt he was medicated but his words were not far from the truth. It’s no surprise to visitors of the park that Yellowstone is all about volcanic activity.  Check out the general information provided by our friends over at Wikipedia. Of particular note is the paragraph that includes Seismic Hazards and Hydromthermal Exlosion Hazards.

Bubbling pot of hot water.

Warming one’s, um—hands—by a steam vent…

A good place to be.

My intent with this blog post is not to scare you. No, that’s what THIS ARTICLE is for.  Nor do I want to deter you from visiting Yellowstone and fishing the Firehole. In fact, put it on your bucket list because it’s a fascinating river to fish for reasons well beyond the fishing.

But if you’re like me, when the Yellowstone Supervolcano does blow—and eventually it will—you do not want to be sitting at home several hundreds of miles away, where you’ll have time to hear about the eruption on the news and panic before you’re wiped out.

No, I want to be standing knee deep in the Firehole—essentially right on top of the caldera—when she blows.

I hope it doesn’t erupt next week, but if it does I’ll be there.





  1. Howard Levett

    Oh my! I need to gather my thoughts and pack a bag for the East coast.

  2. Patrick

    Having been, Mt. St. Helens and the various visitor centers are well worth a couple of days. As for me, Howard, I’ll gladly stick with unpredictable earthquakes and fires here in California rather than the annual inevitability of hurricanes and tropical storms of the East Coast, or the just as inevitable tornadoes of the Midwest. Between you and me, I don’t believe that UA is not trying to scare folks away from the Firehole; fewer fisherman improves the chance of walking away feeling less unaccomplished next/this week.

  3. Goosemaster

    I’m with you Kirk, just like in the movie Dr. Strangelove when Slim Pickens rides the Atom bomb down, I will have no regrets if Yellowstone blows while we are there this weekend.

  4. The River Damsel

    Sorry I missed this post earlier… I haven’t been home much! Hey, I better reschedule my Yellowstone trip and get up there this summer. You never know what’s cookin’ up there, do you?! Great photos and thanks for the ARTICLE.

  5. mike doughty

    the affects up in burlington weren’t to bad. i was only in 6th grade but i do remember sweeping all the ash off of our cars and putting some away in a jar which i no longer have.

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