The yawning crater of Mount St. Helens is obscured by clouds on an early May day as monument scientist Peter Frenzen leads a group along the Hummocks Trail through the jumbled landscape of the North Fork Toutle River’s upper watershed.
When visible, the crater is a vivid reminder of May 18, 1980 — the day the top of the volcano slid and blew apart.
Some 3.7 billion cubic yards of mountain was dislodged that morning by an earthquake beneath the summit, triggering the largest landslide in recorded history. Within minutes, a 14-mile-long stretch of the river valley and surrounding old-growth forest was buried to depths of 150 feet with sand-to-boulder-size material that once shaped the volcano’s symmetrical cone.
"We're standing on top of the missing piece of the mountain," Frenzen explained, recalling the eerie gray landscape where nothing survived the debris avalanche and ensuing explosive eruption of the volcano.
Thirty years later, the pieces are in place for ecological recovery. The plants, animals and trees that have re-established in the most barren place in the 230-square-mile blast zone are a testament to the resiliency of Mother Nature.
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