Helicopter ride: the ultimate OMG!
By John Laird
Columbian staff writer
(condensed)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

“This is the most stunning view I’ll ever see, and I’m never going to change my mind!”

Mount St. Helens Helicopter Tours  "....offers three different rides starting at $149. My wife selected
the $249 “Awesome Combo,” a 45-minute adventure that is inadequately named and under-priced.  On
that mind-blowing Saturday afternoon, I joined two other thrill-seekers in a Bell 206B Jet Ranger piloted
by Patrick Hall, who doubled as an amiable, expert narrator.

A valley of recovery
I had ridden in a helicopter several years ago but had forgotten how the takeoffs and landings can be so
much smoother than what is experienced in airplanes. After fiddling with my head-set for a couple of
seconds, I looked up to see we were 20 feet in the air, and I hadn’t even known we had taken off.

We soared exultantly up the Toutle River (North Fork) valley, past the elk reserve, noticing how life was
returning rapidly to the pumice plain a mere 30 years after the cataclysmic blast.

Chopping our way toward the volcano, we gasped at the beauty of five snow-capped peaks, Rainier to
the north, St. Helens and Adams in front of us, Hood and Jefferson to the south.

Then came the crater and, this time, a view not from five miles but from a few hundred feet. Captain
Patrick pointed out scars of two landslides that had reshaped the crater in recent days, the growing lava
dome marking the birth of a new mountain, steam venting from both the lava dome and the west wall,
and the stark juxtaposition of a glacier tucked curiously among the smoldering, igneous formations.

Impressive, but not surprising. The surprising part came as we ventured north. Over the west shores of
the reshaped Spirit Lake, I paid my respects to Harry Truman, who, when asked about the pending
eruption by The Longview Daily News, snarled defiantly, “I think the whole damn thing is
overexaggerated!” Today ol’ Harry, his pink Cadillac and 16 cats are believed to be entombed under
150 feet of what used to be a mountain top.

Gliding over the rugged Coldwater Creek headwaters, I gained a new appreciation of the magnitude of
what happened on Sunday, May 18, 1980, the day 3 billion cubic yards of mountain moved at 600 mph,
flattening old-growth forests for miles. Only from above can one fully understand the magnitude of that
explosion.

Back down the Toutle valley we flew, past a half-dozen grazing elk. We marveled at the lush Cowlitz
River valley to the north. Then delicately we descended into that best kind of landing, the kind you walk
away from, muttering repeatedly the phrase that best defined the past 45 minutes: “Oh, my God!”

John Laird is The Columbian’s editorial page editor. His column of personal opinion appears each
Sunday. Reach him at john.laird@columbian.com.


Read more 2010 Mt. St. Helens Helicopter Tour Reviews via Webreserv.

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Grand Helicopter Adventure

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