We're reading Richard Waitt's excellent In the Path of Destruction. We're past all the grim stuff, and into the happy fun survivors' tales. Huzzah!

Chapter 10: West

Different humans see the same situation quite differently. For instance:

The Kearneys, 7.5 miles west of the summit, watch Mount St. Helens erupt. The blast cloud rolls into the South Fork Toutle River valley, headed their way.

Ty Kearney: Run away!! *grabs tripod, leaps into van*

Marianna Kearney: Oh. Okay. *nonchalantly touches up sketch of the volcano, packs up equipment, looks round for other items. Oh, hey, honey, here's all the propane tanks and stuff.


You guys really have to read this section, though. Marianna's an artist and she paints the eruption with words as if she's wielding oils and brushes. You can get a copy here - purchases help support more blogging!


Robert Rogers, Francisco Valenzuela, and the Kearneys had to drive TOWARD the mountain at first. That must have been concerning...

Poor Valenzuela got stuck in the mud. Good thing for him Rogers was able to stop and pick him up. The two men paused shortly after to watch the eruption, and saw a lightning bolt set a tree on fire. Rogers says the volcanic haze "blocked the sun, an ominous feeling like an eclipse." The two stare dumbfounded when the eruption cloud clears enough to see the planed-off summit and the downed forests.

Valenzuela to passing loggers: Hey, can you help me get my car unstuck?

Loggers: LOL NOPE. *zoom*

Later, they get stuck in ashfall and can't find their way out. They end up back where they'd camped. They stand together as the ground steams and ash rains down, listening to radio stations that broadcast music or chitchat, unaware of the hell that St. Helens has unleashed. Imagine standing in the midst of something that looks very much like the world's end, while the outside world continues as if absolutely nothing has happened.


When it's clear they're gonna have to wait until the ashfall has stopped, the boys get out all the fixings to make some sammiches. Just as they're putting them together, a rescue chopper spots them. It tries to land nearby, but the rotors kick up a huge ash cloud and it's impossible to land. It flies off, probably assuming the guys making lunch will survive until it's safe to collect them.

Valenzuela: "Ash-and-cheese sandwiches we had now."


(They drove out safely later that afternoon.)


Dennis Smith and friends, Sunday morning: Darn it, Mount St. Helens, y u no do anything?

Pat: "The mountain's vibrating!"

Mount St. Helens falls down and goes ba-boom.

St. Helens: U happy nao?

The guys: *run away screaming*

St. Helens: Heh heh heh.


The Sullivans and Mark Dahl watch the eruption begin.

Joe Sullivan: Neato!

Mark: Cool, man!

Moments later, the lateral blast rolls toward them.

Joe: Not cool!

They flee, which involves driving toward the volcano for a stretch in order to stay on high ground. The blast pulls back before it reaches them, and they make it out of the immediate area. On Forest Service roads along the Kalama, they see fishermen in boats.

Joe: Mountain go boom! Top gone! U get off river nao.

Fishermen: Pfft, whatevs. *continue fishing*

People: when a frantic family tells you the top of the mountain just came off, and that mountain happens to be the source of the river you're on, stop fishing and go to high ground immediately, before you get stuck in a lahar. We're about to find out how very much it sucks. Don’t find out firsthand.


Next up is David Crockett. We've done his story! We even have video! Woo-hoo! Incidentally, if you stop at Hoffstadt Bluffs on your way up to the volcano, you can now see his car on display. It's super great!

Image shows me standing beside the car, hands raised in the heavy metal salute position.
Heck yeah, KOMO car! Image courtesy Dana Hunter and Suzanne Buck.


So. If you're camping on a riverbank 26 miles downstream of an active volcano, you may hear tranquil water become rapids.

Don’t stop to grab your stuff. Just flee to the highest ground you can find, as fast as you can go.

Roald Reitan and Venus Dergan were caught in a lahar on the South Fork Toutle River. As they grabbed their stuff and hoofed it to the car, they got to see:

1. Small logs flowing down a river that was suddenly full of rapids and the color of chocolate milk. The logs fill it from bank to bank.

2. Those logs are followed by larger and larger logs as the river rises.

3. Two minutes later, a bloody great railroad trestle comes bopping around the river bend.

4. The trestle is being pushed by a ginormous mass of logs, "huge as Greyhound buses," piled ten feet higher than it.

5. While the flood behind merrily mows trees off the bank for nearly a dozen yards on either side.

6. And then the trestle breaks, the logs go, "Whee! Freedom!" and proceed to spill all over the place, blocking in the car you've been so frantically trying to pack.

This happens in a few minutes. Stuff is just stuff. Flees for your lives, which cannot be replaced.

And, just in case you doubt bus-sized trees, here is a local specimen. We grow 'em big here in the PNW.


Roald and Venus climb to the roof of their car, but it’s no good: they get swept up in the lahar. Even 26 miles from the volcano, it's warm, almost hot - around 80 degrees F. They try to cling to logs, but it’s nearly impossible. For five terrifying minutes, they get rolled, rocked, battered, bruised, crushed, and skinned by logs, and Venus almost drowns in the mud. Roald finally gets properly balanced on his log and, after several attempts, pulls her up. They ride their log, watch their car float by, and eventually are able to scramble over logjams to shore. They use the depths to which various chemical toilets are buried to gauge where the mud is shallow enough to slog out. They get to higher ground and hike, barefoot and injured, back toward the bridge, where people see them and are able to rescue them.

It takes three washes at the hospital before staff can get enough mud off to find and treat Venus's wounds. Both of them survive with just a few strains, breaks, and severe scrapes.

Really, really try not to ever get stuck in a lahar, though...


Photo of my copy of Richard Waitt's In the Path of Destruction, which has a black and white photo of Mount St. Helens erupting.

That's it for this installment of ITPOD liveblogging for the whole year! If you want to forge ahead, you can pick up your own copy of In the Path of Destruction here. Purchases through that link help support my blogging, so thank you!

Happy New Year, my awesome readers!