Saturday, April 25, 2015

V is for...Volcanoes


I tossed this one around for a while, and the only mountain I came up with was the Vinson Massif.  Which is actually totally cool. I mean, the Vinson Massif is the high point of Antarctica, at 16,050'. It's not a technically difficult climb, aside from being in Antarctica, which adds more than enough challenge. It is almost all glacier (big surprise) with a bit of rock sticking out of the top.

But right now, volcanoes are my focus. They are in the news, of course, with Chile's Calbuco volcano erupting. That volcano is part of the Ring of Fire, the circle of volcanoes (and earthquake zones--the two are, of course, related) all around the Pacific.

I grew up with volcanoes. Mt. Rainier was "our" volcano, the one we could see from our house (though happily far enough away that we'd be okay if it erupted. Probably).
Mt. Rainier from the Wonderland Trail, looking over the Winthrop Glacier to the cloud-wrapped summit.
But of course the whole range is volcanoes. If you start at Mt. Baker near the Canadian border, and count them all down to Mt. Lassen in northern California (the southernmost of the Cascades), there are about 15 major volcanoes. The range actually extends on up into British Columbia, adding 5 more.

These volcanoes are the result of plate tectonics, as three minor plates along the western edge of the continent dive beneath the North American plate. That subduction zone creates both earthquakes and places where the molten rock forces its way back up through the surface--volcanoes. In the millenia since the mountains formed, all have been shaped and carved by glaciers, as well.

Glacier Peak

And these Cascade Mountain are, for the most part, live volcanoes. The most recent eruption, of course, was Mt. St. Helens in 1980. In 2005, on our way to Seattle, we  noticed that it was a very clear day and detoured to the Clearwater Ridge Visitor's Center for a nice view of what was left of the mountain. The wind was howling so hard our kids, then only 6 & 8, couldn't stand up!

Not steam or ash this time, but clouds and blowing snow.

Before St. Helens, the most recent eruption was Lassen, in 1917. But Glacier, Baker, Rainier, Hood, and Shasta have all erupted within the last 2-400 years.

In 1989 I climbed Mt. St. Helens, or what was left of it. Lousy weather conditions made for poor visibility as well as photography, but we did see down into the crater, to where the mountain was already working at rebuilding:
This is a view out the blast zone, where the mountain vaporized its own side.
In 1988, I climbed Mt. Adams with some friends. Though 12,280', it isn't a particularly technical climb, though we did use ice axe and crampons for security on the high slopes.
Mt. Adams "Base camp", also known as The Lunchcounter. Note the high-fashion long underwear-and-shorts combo. This was the 80s, for sure (though I have to say the combo made a lot of sense in the conditions in Washington).

Mt. Adams summit. I believe that in the end we went up the bare slopes, for the most part, but came down the snow in a couple of long glissades that took the seat out of my pants!


  1. In 1989 I had a day on Mt St Helens. It was damp, misty and very eerie. I took pictures of droplets on soggy plants in grey mist. This would have been August, or possibly late July. Don't tell me we were there on the same day and missed each other in the murk?

    1. Based on the snow, I'm guessing we were there in June (planned it that way, to go when the cinder-slopes were covered with snow, which made for easier hiking). But heaven knows I could have missed the entire population of England in the fog and rain the day we went up!

  2. Hawaii's got active volcanoes too, though none on Maui. A beautiful black sand beach, Kalapana, that I visited for a school trip, got run over with lava years later. Did you really tear the seat out of your pants coming down? That must have been some intense wind to keep your kids from standing! Congrats on getting to V!

    Maui Jungalow

    1. We visited Big Island a few years ago, and enjoyed the volcano, though it refused to really erupt for us :)

      Yes, I really did remove the seat of the pants--it was a long, long glissade, and eventually the rough icy snow removed all the fabric. I think they were wool knee pants.

      And that wind at St. Helens--that has to be the strongest winds I've experienced. Hard to imagine that they are probably twice that at times on the summit of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire!

  3. Volcanoes are both beautiful and scary. As a kid I was always fascinated by the story of Pompeii. Nice post.

    1. Thanks. Growing up in the shadow of a volcano, we made a lot of jokes about what would happen when it blew. Now I live practically atop the San Andreas fault. Same smart-alec attitude. Or whistling in the dark.

  4. I always tell friends about those evacuation signs on Mt. Rainier. Out-running a volcano definitely NOT on my bucket list.

    1. And largely pointless. I suppose a small eruption might cause some slides and flooding that could be escaped--mostly by not being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Seems a dubious proposition.


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