Blown awayMount Saint Helens, WA

Mount Saint Helens sketch by Chandler O'Leary

At precisely 8:32 am local time, 35 years ago today, Mount Saint Helens erupted. I wasn’t around for it—I wasn’t even quite born yet. But I’ve had a thing for volcanoes ever since I moved to the Northwest, so St. Helens has never been far off my radar.

The funny thing is, it’s taken me years to get a decent sketch of it.

I visited the St. Helens for the first time just weeks after I moved to Washington, when I got to tag along on a geology trip. I was all excited to sketch at the top of Johnston Ridge, to peer down into the massive crater. This is what I saw:

Mount Saint Helens (in fog) sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Yep, welcome to the Pacific Northwest.

After that it became sort of a running gag. I kept trying to find a time to get back to Johnston Ridge—but it’s a trip that takes commitment, since it’s a very long drive, it’s not on the way to anything, and the mountain roads are closed for much of the year. On every day that might have worked out for my schedule, the weather was bad or the way impassable.

Mount Saint Helens sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I did see St. Helens from a distance plenty of times, but even then it didn’t usually cooperate. More often than not, even on a bright sunny day, the volcano would be shrouded in its own private weather system.

So this year, I decided enough was enough. I cleared my calendar as best I could, and then just waited for a sunny day (at this time of year, one can wait a very long wait). Just a few days ago, the forecast offered up a perfect day—so I got up extra early and jumped in the car.

Mount Saint Helens sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This time, St. Helens rewarded my effort. And as a bonus, I got there a full week before the tourist season starts, so I had the mountain entirely to myself, for a whole morning.

It’s entirely possible the mountain will erupt again in my lifetime. I dearly hope it won’t…but at least I have some good “before” documentation, just in case.


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Comments (2)

  1. Kate B

    Wonderful sketches! I’ve not been there yet. I DO remember the eruption. Somewhere I have a film can full of the dust. My father-in-law as stuck in Portland and gathered it up. He couldn’t leave Portland as the dust was so thick it would clog the engine of his RV!

  2. Rebekah

    Love your sketches!! I was born 3 years after Mt. St. Helens blew, but my parents lived near there. Ash everywhere. My dad collected a lot of the ash that landed on the ground that he could and still has some today.

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