NFR Mt St Helens eruption. May 18th, 1980. 39 years ago. Where were you?


Go Beavs
I don't blame you folks if you don't believe this, but my little brother and I were camping at Mayfield Lake that day. I had worked at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery the summer before, and May 17, I had given a tour of the hatchery to the students in my UW fisheries class (I was in the class). We got up on May 18 and were driving to a fishing hole... drove over a hilltop... and came upon a once in a lifetime view. Smoke clouds literally as high as the eye could see. We heard nothing, from being in the car I guess. But it was quite obvious what had happened. We spent the day watching ash fall and lighting bolts between clouds, and stayed behind the roadblocks most of the day. I recall playing nerf football catch at the Mayfield Dam Overlook as ash rained down on us. My brother, who was about 11 I think, cried because we had no camera.

One of my classmates was going to go steelheading on the Toutle after the hatchery tour, and would have been there Sunday morning. He decided instead to stay on the Cowlitz. A very serendipitous move...!


Active Member
My story is a little different. I was going to drive up the river that day then go up to the Green River hatchery and park and fish upstream. Earlier in the year when the very first signs of an eruption started to occur I drove up to the mountain on dark cloudy day. The mountain looked ominous and moody in the low light and frightened my wife. Susan was part native American and somehow she sensed something about the mountain that made her uncomfortable. She asked me to take her home and said the mountain was "just evil".

Fast forward to May 17 and I got all of my gear together and stacked it by the front door. I made a lunch and got some drinks together to put in a cooler chest before I would leave in the morning. Then very early on the 18th I got up and ate breakfast and got ready to head out. As I was started to load my gear Susan came out of the bedroom in her pajamas with tears running down her cheeks. She had never protested one of my fishing trips before but on this morning she begged me not to leave. She was so upset that I decided that staying with her was the best thing I could do.

I would have been at the hatchery by the time the mountain blew, she probably saved my life. How she knew or what she knew will forever be a mystery but her instincts kept me alive on that day.


Active Member
My almost two year old daughter and I were having a serious discussion over snacks while looking out at Victory Drive (Sunnyslope). I felt rather than heard a thump and thought George Yamamoto was shooting dynamite at his quarry in Gorst a couple miles down the hill. Oh yeah, May 18, 1972 - that would be 47 years ago yesterday, when my wife and I were married.

On those rare, clear days when we're driving west on I-90 and crest Ryegrass, there's a very nice view of Mt. Rainier............................
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Well-Known Member
WFF Supporter
I didn't hear or see a thing. I was probably driving my truck up Hwy 530 on the NF Stilly when the mountain blew. Some friends and I had planned a pre-season scouting float on the NF that morning. The first I knew of the St Helens explosion was that afternoon when we stopped at the Whitehorse store for refreshments on the way to pick up my truck. People in the store told us what happened. I was sorta' stunned with disbelief. I had formerly spent a fair amount of time fishing the NF Toutle River and camping and hiking around the Spirit Lake area at the base of the mountain.

Greg Armstrong

Active Member
WFF Supporter
I lived in Magnolia at the time, and like someone else here had said I was about to wash my car when I heard that ominous low rumble way off in the distance. I had a suspicion what had just occurred and went inside to flip on the TV to watch the whole thing unfold. I did get ash on the car a couple of times as the eruptions continued in the weeks after.
I had an Aunt and Uncle living in Othello at the time and when the ash cloud reached them that afternoon things went pitch black and they were scared out of their wits not knowing what to expect next.

It should be remembered that 57 folks didn’t make it to see the next day...


Geriatric Skagit Swinger
WFF Supporter
In Denver we got a very fine dusting a few days later. If you hadn't known about the eruption you might not have even noticed the dusting on the car.

Jim Wallace

Smells like low tide.
Had just pulled onto Hwy 8 at McCleary, heading W to Westport with a surf buddy I picked up in Shelton, to go surfing. I lived on Bainbridge Isle back then, and my friend lived right along my route. We heard this loud boom, but kept going. Switched the sound system to radio and got the news. Can't remember whether or not the surf was any good. After returning home, some friends and I climbed a radio tower, in an attempt to get a better view of the plume.

Bruce Baker

Active Member
In East Lansing, Michigan. Spring quarter at Michigan State University.

I actually came out to the "area" in July. I got a summer job at the then School of Oceanography at Oregon State University for a month, then spent a month on a NOAA-NMFS research cruise from Coos Bay, OR to Westport, WA.

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