Published: May 2010

Mount St. Helens

Mount St Helens

Mountain Transformed

Thirty years after the blast, Mount St. Helens is reborn again.

By McKenzie Funk
Photograph by Diane Cook and Len Jenshel

Beer cans once lay at the bottom of Spirit Lake. Mark Smith remembers them perfectly: 20-year-old Olympia flattops, their shiny gold lettering somehow preserved by the clear, cold water. He remembers ten-inch rainbow trout: planters for the tourists. He remembers a sunken rowboat from the YMCA camp, its bow resting on a submerged stump. A teenager when he began scuba diving in the shadow of Mount St. Helens, he remembers the lake as it was before the May 1980 eruption, before the top 1,300 feet of the volcano—more than three billion cubic yards of mud, ash, and melting snow—avalanched into it. Before the lake became twice as big but half as deep. Before virtually all evidence of life, animal and human—the cabins and roads and camps and cans—were obliterated. Before the lake became a stinky soup, devoid of oxygen and covered with a floating mat of tree trunks ripped from the landscape. What Smith remembers best is what he called the "petrified" forest: a ghostly stand of sunken, branchless firs, buried upright dozens of yards below the surface. The underwater forest was a mystery to him until the mountain exploded. Then it made perfect sense. The trees were evidence of a past eruption—a sign Spirit Lake has always been in the line of fire.

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