In the Spring of 1980, one of several volcanoes in Washington State began rumbling back to life. After a small crater opened up in the ice cap with steam eruptions, it became evident that Mt St Helens was moving towards an eruption. At the time, volcanologists and other scientists believed the eruption would be a vertical blast. They had no suspicion that the subsequent lateral blast was even a possibility. Thus the eventual exclusionary "Red Zone" around the mountain was limited in scope.
Amateur Radio Operators, in conjunction with Washington State Emergency Services, volunteered to man observation posts to watch the mountain. One of these men was an acquaintance of my father, Gerry Martin. In the period before the eruption, Gerry was camped on Coldwater Ridge. Some eight miles from Mt St Helens. My father had volunteered to spend several days assisting Gerry on Coldwater Ridge, and I had agreed to take him there. However the date they chose for my Dad to come down was Armed Forces Weekend. My destroyer was one of two "visit ships" in Seattle for the Armed Forces Weekend, and I was unable to take Dad to Mt St Helens as they had planned. It was decided that I would bring Dad down on the following Monday.
When the mountain erupted, Gerry gave a description of what was happening. When the super-heated gas, rocks and debris from the blast enveloped what is now Johnston's Ridge, Gerry described it, before saying he was going to "back out of here". Seconds later Gerry came back on the air saying that "It's going to get me too. I can't get out of here." Gerry was never heard from again, and his camp trailer, vehicle, and body were never found. Had it not been Armed Forces Weekend, my Dad and I would have been there as well, and shared Gerry's fate.
Here is a link to a website with the names and information on all 57 of the victims of Mt St Helens on May 18th. Check it out, and you may find information you never knew about the people who died. If you have the opportunity some time, and want to ride up to Johnston's Ridge, simply get off I-5 at exit 49 and head east. The road you are on ends at the parking lot at the observatory. It is one of the best motorcycle roads in Washington State. Ride it and enjoy, and be prepared to be awestruck.
In 2006 Scott, a friend of mine from Astoria and I rode up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory on our motorcycles on a weekend close to the anniversary of the eruption. Every year since then, I have organized a ride to Johnston's Ridge on motorcycles. We go irregardless of the weather conditions. Rain or shine, we go and pay respects to those 57 men, women, and children who were lost. Nearly half of whose bodies were never recovered. It has brought me great pride, to be able to bring more and more people to this incredible and awe inspiring area of Washington State in memory of the 57 victims of the eruption.
We will be riding once again from Castle Rock along Highway 504 up to Johnston's Ridge Observatory on May 20th, 2017. In the 52 mile length of the ride, we will change from approximately 150 feet elevation to eventually 4,300 feet. With part of the road actually built on top of the landslide and mud flows between Coldwater Ridge and Johnston's Ridge. To give some idea of the changes the eruption has created in this area; the old highway is now under two hundred feet or more of debris, and the bottom of Spirit Lake is now two hundred feet higher in elevation than the surface of the lake was prior to the eruption.
What follows are only a few photo's from previous Mt St Helens Memorial Rides. I hope you feel the desire to come and if not join us for the ride, explore the area for yourself, and experience the awe that the devastation left even after 37 years brings to people.
Catch you on the road sometime...