Some mountains should keep their distance or at least stay in the background, while other mountains always seem ready for prime time. And so it is with Mt. Ranier and Mt. St. Helens–two significant volcanoes within the Cascade Arc, and part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.
As the crow flies, both peaks are 50 miles from each other, yet on a sliding scale, they couldn’t be further apart.
For starters, Mt. Ranier is majestic,
lush and verdant,
powerful and dominant,
while Mt. St. Helens appears wretched,
To be clear, none of the fault belongs to Mount St. Helens. Before May 18, 1980, this was a vital volcano with a perfectly shaped cone, rising 9600 feet over Spirit Lake. But when the explosion raised the mountaintop, she was stripped down to 8366 feet without her snow bonnet.
The results were catastrophic: 300 mph force shock waves tore ancient trees from their roots, and the largest landslide in recorded history combined with glacial meltwater to create raging lahars that deposited up to 600 feet of volcanic slurry as distant as 50 miles from the eruption. Fifty-seven lives were lost in the blast, which also caused over 1 billion dollars in damage.
Thirty-seven years later, the altered landscape remains daunting and unforgiving,
By contrast, the continuing history of Mt. Ranier and the surrounding area can be told in the 8 ft. diameter cross-section of an ancient Douglas-fir beside the Longmire Museum.
Although Mt. Ranier has been sleeping since 1895, its volcanic volatility may pose a bigger risk to nearby population centers than Mt. St. Helens.
But until then, the love affair continues with visitors who pass through the gates…
…on the road to Paradise, stopping at Narada Falls…
in the hopes of finding the mountain clear of cloud cover.
If there was ever a beauty pageant for mountains, Mt. Rainer would be a contender for the glacial tiara. There are few mountains more photogenic.
While the obvious star of the park is the mountain, the bounty extends beyond the twenty-five glaciers clinging to its summit,
as the park deceptively draws its visitors into the forest where the reward is equally as impressive, and no less stunning.
Lest anyone think that Mt. St. Helens’s image can’t be salvaged, consider what a few accessories can accomplish to dress up an outfit.
While you can’t put lipstick on a mountain, there are artful techniques that offer instant gratification. For instance: point the camera a safe distance away from the subject, add a few clouds to soften the light, frame the composition with trees for a bit of mystery, then employ a spot of color for distraction, and voilà–Mt. St. Helens transformed!
Or by photographing the beauty on the edge of the ugly, makes the ugly seem more attractive by association.
Although Wrangell–St. Elias, the Great Smokies, the Rockies, Shenandoah, and Grand Tetons are recognized as jewels in the National Park Service crown, none of them is a mountain unto itself. Only Mt. Ranier and Denali command the right to be a park that bears their names. (Mt. Rushmore doesn’t qualify; it’s a National Monument.)
While Mt. Ranier and Mt. St. Helens are very much a tale of two mountains, each one (despite their appearance) commands respect for different reasons: Mt. St. Helens for the power unleashed, and Mt. Ranier for the power restrained.