Mount St. Helens; August 14-15, 2018

Our next destination after the Columbia River was an RV park in the vicinity of Mount St. Helens.  There are oodles in the area, but most were already booked.  We were fortunate to be able to get in to the Tower Rock U-Fish RV Park, about 13 miles south of the town of Randle.  The downside was that it was a little out of the way down paved but narrow roads into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.  Portions of the road had partially fallen away and had then been overpaved without complete leveling.  The consequence was a number of significant dips that I evidently took too fast.  When we arrived at the campground and disembarked, we could hear a loud hiss in the vicinity of the right rear wheels.  After settling into our spot, Bill peeked under and announced that he saw the problem.  The left right air bag that provides cushioning for the bus was punctured and leaking air.  Furthermore, the shock absorber at that location had failed.  

We ordered parts from Tiffin, and then combined our sightseeing with removing the bad parts:  no small task since the relevant bolts were big and stubborn.  We originally considered contracting a mobil mechanic to come with a compressed-air impact wrench, but when the campground proprietor, Peter, learned of our plans, he offered his wrench and compressor and large sockets.  It turned out his compressor wasn’t strong enough, but that the compressor on the bus was JUST barely enough.  When we got the shock and airbag off, we revised our theory as to what had gone wrong.  Originally, we assumed that the bag had failed and the shock had not been able to handle the load.  But the condition of the shock suggested that it had failed first (since its interior was wet with rusty water) and that in failing it had disintegrated and when the bottom fell off the top half punctured the airbag.

We knew we should replace both rear shocks, but were surprised when the parts arrived to see that we had also been sent two airbags.  So we used Peter’s tools and replaced both shocks and both airbags, retaining the one good airbag as a spare.  

None of this would have been possible without the efforts of my favorite gearhead: Bill Bouchard.  And the friendly generosity of Peter.

We spent two smoky days visiting Mount St. Helens.  The first day we approached from the northeast, terminating at Windy Ridge and stopping at Miner’s Car on the way back.  Here is a description of the Miner’s Car, found on a Mt. St. Helens Volcanic Monument web site:

Three days before the eruption, Donald and Natalie Parker and their nephew Rick parked their green 1972 Pontiac Grand Prix about 8-1/2 miles from the volcano and hiked to a nearby cabin to inspect their mining claim.  They were in the designated “blue zone,” which was open to businesspeople who signed liability wavers with the state, which the Parkers did.  Volcano scientists were not as worried about people in the blue zone because they were expected to survive a typical vertical eruption.  But the initial eruption of Mt. St. Helens was lateral (sideways) not vertical.  The blast killed the Parkers and flattened and seared their car, which remains as a stark reminder to the 57 people who perished that day.

On the second day we approached from the west, where we also went to the visitor center at Silver Lake, viewing impressive videos of the eruption.  Pity that the visibility was so poor outdoors.

Excerpts from Wikipedia:

On May 18, 1980, a major volcanic eruption occurred at Mount St. Helens. It has often been declared as the most disastrous volcanic eruption in U.S. history. The eruption was preceded by a two-month series of earthquakes and steam-venting episodes, caused by an injection of magma at shallow depth below the volcano that created a large bulge and a fracture system on the mountain’s north slope.

An earthquake at 8:32:17 a.m. PDT on Sunday, May 18, 1980, caused the entire weakened north face to slide away, creating the largest landslide ever recorded. This allowed the partly molten, high-pressure gas- and steam-rich rock in the volcano to suddenly explode northwards toward Spirit Lake in a hot mix of lava and pulverized older rock, overtaking the avalanching face.

An eruption column rose 80,000 feet into the atmosphere and deposited ash in 11 U.S. states. At the same time, snow, ice and several entire glaciers on the volcano melted, forming a series of large lahars (volcanic mudslides) that reached as far as the Columbia River, nearly 50 miles to the southwest. Less severe outbursts continued into the next day, only to be followed by other large, but not as destructive, eruptions later that year.

Approximately 57 people were killed directly. Hundreds of square miles were reduced to wasteland, causing over $1 billion in damage (equivalent to over $3 billion as of 2018), thousands of animals were killed, and Mount St. Helens was left with a crater on its north side. At the time of the eruption, the summit of the volcano was owned by the Burlington Northern Railroad, but afterward the land passed to the United States Forest Service. The area was later preserved, as it was, in the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.