Monday, May 22, 2017

Mount St. Helens Offers Life Lessons

Above: A careful peek beyond the rim and into the crater of Mount St. Helens on May 19, 2017. Mount St. Helens, “Lawetlat’la,” pronounced Lah-weight-LOT-la, is translated as “smoker,” in the Cowlitz Indian language. Amongst the clouds, Mount Rainier can be seen in the distance.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Almost everyone of a certain age in the Pacific Northwest remembers where they were when Mount St. Helens blew on May 18, 1980.

I was in Seattle in our apartment on Beacon Hill, talking with my mom in her bedroom. We felt the earthquake and the lamp on her desk headed my way.

For thousands of years, Mount St. Helens has been a central place in the culture and mythology of the Cowlitz and Yakama Tribes, where resources were gathered and young people were sent to test themselves.

With a few members of the Olympia Mountaineers this weekend, I had the opportunity to test my preparation skills and endurance for the 12 mile roundtrip hike to its 8,366 foot summit.

Starting at the winter route trailhead near Marble Mountain Sno-Park at 5:00 a.m., it quickly became a glorious, sunny day that required ample water, food, and sunscreen. 

Glissading down thousands of feet was a thrill, and helped shave time off on the way down. Snowshoes were helpful to deal with the slushy portions.

In 2013, the area of Mount St. Helens above the tree line, just over 12,000 acres, was designated on the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property of the Cowlitz and Yakama Tribal groups.

More than 80,000 properties are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, but only twenty-three, such as Gettysburg, are traditional cultural properties. Mount St. Helens is only the second such listing in Washington. The first was Snoqualmie Falls.

“Protection of our cultural resources is one of the most important things we do. The listing of Lawetlat’la as a Traditional Cultural Property honors our relationship with one of the principal features of our traditional landscape. For millennia, the mountain has been a place to seek spiritual guidance. The mountain has erupted many times in our memory, but each time has rebuilt herself anew. She demonstrates that a slow and patient path of restoration is the successful one, a lesson we have learned long ago,” wrote Bill Iyall, chair of the Cowlitz Tribe, in the Tribe’s 2013 fall newsletter.

Iyall's words became newly relevant to me as I tested my mental and physical abilities, thought of loved ones, and made new friends along the way. Like Mount St. Helens, I'm always changing and growing.

Above: Glissading down Mount St. Helens was a blast!