The deadliest volcano in the continental US

MSH82 st helens plume from harrys ridge 05-19-82.jpg

Plumes of steam, gas, and ash often occurred at Mount St. Helens in the early 1980s. On clear days they could be seen from Portland, Oregon, 50 mi (80 km) to the south. The plume photographed here rose nearly 3,000 ft (910 m) above the volcano’s rim. The view is from Harrys Ridge, 5 mi (8 km) north of the mountain. (Image: http://commons.wikimedia.org)

(SOURCE)  Smoke flickered on the crater rim and sulphur fumes drifted through the ashy air. We couldn’t believe we’d summited an active volcano, let alone the deadliest one in the continental United States.

My sister Sherry and I were climbing the spine of Mount St Helens, a volcano in the glorious Cascade Range about 200 miles south of Seattle. It was like scaling the spikes of a Stegosaurus. We’d scrambled for hours over massive, bone-jarring boulders, sometimes crawling on hands and knees, to summit a peak so likely to erupt, it has a live VolcanoCam.  

But the view of the Cascades from 8,363ft is worth the climb; it’s a volcano lover’s dream. The snow cones of four active peaks – Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson and Mount Adams – shimmer in the blue like fantastical ice sculptures. They soar over the clouds on the famed Pacific Ring of Fire, a string of 452 volcanoes that rims the Pacific Ocean from South America’s southern tip to North America’s Bering Strait, with side trips into Asia and New Zealand.

Mount St Helens is the most lethal of the Cascade’s volcanoes; the US Geological Survey (USGS) calls it “the most likely of the contiguous US volcanoes to erupt”. Scientists worry about the peak’s explosive power, its high activity and its proximity to the cities of Seattle and Portland. The mountain is also famous for its unpredictability. After the colossal 1980 eruption that killed 57 people and devastated 230 square miles of land, the volcano continued to explode for six years, falling into a brief slumber before roaring back in 2004, shooting ash and steam thousands of feet skyward. Minor flare-ups continued until 2008.

Now, an ominous magma chamber five miles below the surface is rebuilding. This means Mt St Helens is getting ready to erupt again, an event that could happen within years or decades from now, the USGS reports.

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