Norwegian Farmer’s Son…August 4th


S51 1974.10.1
Elliott shot this photo of Mount St. Helens from Yale Reservoir in August 1974.  Exactly one year before he and Shirley Cass would hike up the north slope of the, then, dormant volcano.

Little did we realize that we were going to be sitting on one of the biggest “time bombs” that the United States had ever known.   In August of 1975, Mount Saint Helens, in southwest Washington State, was a pristine, conical, dormant volcano that loomed majestically over the landscape with its 9,677 foot summit pointing regally to the sky.  This sentinel of stone and ice lay 50 linear miles to the northeast of Vancouver, Washington.   For well over 100 years, the monolithic master of this region had been sleeping and we hoped our footsteps upon his northern side wouldn’t cause this giant to awaken.

#517=Elliott, Spirit Lake Wa., Aug. 1975
Elliott sits at Spirit Lake Campground in August of 1975.  Five years later, this spot was buried under hundreds of feet of mud, rock and ash when the mountain exploded.


1975 came rambling along to find me a young 21 year old buck and full of energy.  In my quest for fun, I called a new friend of mine and asked if she’d like to have an adventure with me.  Her name was Shirley Cass.  We had known each other, in the past, through attending a local church and had now been dating for about 2 months.   The plan was to enjoy the crystal blue waters of Spirit Lake and then attempt a short climb up the magnificent Mt. St. Helens.    She smilingly “bit the bait” and the date was a GO!  Like most Augusts in the Pacific Northwest, the weather was classically hot with lots of sunshine.  For us, the song lyrics played in our heads………”On A Clear Day, Rise And Look Around You”……for this was a see forever kind of day.



NFS 8.4a
Spirit Lake, looking south.

For this journey, my father graciously allowed us to use his little Ford pickup with a canopy over the cargo bed.  Everything except the “kitchen sink” went into that little canopy to feed us and help us have a thrill a minute……..well, at least we hoped for that 😉  Traveling north, on the Interstate 5 Freeway System, we eventually reached an area known as Castle Rock.  Off the freeway ramp we sailed and headed that little Ford eastward until we came upon the Spirit Lake Campgrounds.  Neither Shirley, nor myself had ever seen St. Helens from its north face.  The combination of that giant above us and the sparkling blue Spirit Lake before us was a sight to behold!!!

#514=Elliott camping at Spirit Lake with Shirley Cass, Aug. 1975
Time for grub, Bub!


At the end of our first day, the sun played peekaboo amongst the evergreen branches as it then winked goodbye and goodnight.  To fulfill societal propriety, in that we were two single folk not married to each other, I offered my lady friend the repose of the pickup truck’s canopy for her evening slumber and yours truly scrunched into the front seat of that Ford and drifted off to snoreland.



Scarlet Indian Paintbrush and Lupine
Russell Lupine and Indian Paintbrush flowers.

The next morning was almost frosty as Shirley and I climbed out of our respective sleeping quarters and, after breakfast, made the drive from Spirit Lake Campground up to the base of this immense, pumice-covered majestic mountain.  Thankfully, in beginning our vertical hike, the ascent was a gradual one from the base and we enjoyed the brisk breezes at Windy Ridge viewpoint that sent our hairstyles blowing in every direction one could imagine.  Rivulets of ice cold, pure water came trickling down that awe-inspiring mountainside as we meandered up the trail.  These refreshing waters were from the ever-present glacial snow and ice that still clung to the upper mountain side, even here in the heat of August.   Many alpine flowers, like the purple Russell Lupine and red Indian Paintbrush, were spread across the pumiced landscape with their striking beauty.   As we ascended above the “tree line”, we were refreshed with eating tiny, delicious wild strawberries that clung to the thin-aired heights of this amazing volcano.  It wasn’t too much longer and we felt that we were on top of the world.

#52=Elliott on Mt. St. Helen's (August 1975)
Silly Elliott is teasing Shirley to turn around to see Mt. St. Helens blowing up behind her.   Five years later, it really did BLOW!!!  The mountain seen to the north is Mount Rainier, near Seattle.

Other “sister volcanoes” seemed to wave at us from their own lofty perches there in Washington State.  To the north, was Mount Rainier, to our east/northeast was the broad majesty of Mount Adams and to the southeast was the regal pinnacle of Mount Hood down in the State of Oregon.

We both realized that we didn’t have enough daylight or proper climbing gear to make it all the way to the top of this volcanic monolith, so we stopped at the 6,000 foot level and began our descent to the teeny weeny pickup truck that we could see wayyyyy down below us.

S23 Mt. St. Helens 1980.4.1
Elliott took this photo of Mount Saint Helens in late March or early April of 1980.  The volcano, at this point, had just popped its cork, so to speak, and was in the early phases of venting before the cataclysmic eruption of May 18th, 1980.

It’s a good thing we left the mountain when we did, because by the time we reached the truck and made that long journey back to Battle Ground, Washington, it was late that night by the time I was able to get my lovely young date back to her family home.

NFS 8.4b
The north side of Mt. St. Helens explodes on the morning of May 18th, 1980.  Elliott and Shirley were climbing on the north side of the volcano back in August of 1975.   They sat on the exact spot that exploded five years later.

If Shirley and I had been eating mountain strawberries on that same spot five years later, we would have been blown into the sky and landed somewhere north of Seattle, Washington (tongue in cheek, of course…..we would’ve died instantly).  What a memorable time it was to stand upon the giant and not have him waken to repel this Norwegian Farmer’s Son. 😉

NFS 8.4d
This amazing photo was taken at Yale Reservoir on May 18th, 1980.   Elliott took his peaceful 1974 photo of the volcano from this same basic spot.








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