This is the fourth in a four-part series about researching my newest novel, Taylor Davis and the Flame of Findul. (Part 1: Medieval Weapons; Part 2: Tyburn Hanging Tree; Part 3: Submarine Technology.)
The climax of Flame of Findul takes place within the cone of Mount St. Helens, so I had to learn a bit about the mountain. It’s located in the southwestern corner of Washington state, in the Cascade Range, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Mount St. Helens is an active volcano that last erupted in 1980. I vaguely remember that hitting the news as a young kid.
To make my story work, I needed to become acquainted with the geological features surrounding the mountain and come up with the best way to approach it from sea. Fortunately, the Columbia River runs nearby with a tributary that practically runs over the mountain’s toes. The tributary, the Louis River, is dammed in three spots, forming three linked reservoirs. You can see them in the photo above. With a bit of imagination, this worked out very nicely for my plot.
Then I had to get my characters up the mountain. It just so happened that the reservoirs are on the south side of the mountain, not the north side that got blown to bits in the eruption, which made my characters ascent from the water much easier and more practical. In late April/early May, when this scene takes place, the most direct southern path to the peak is still closed, making it an ideal time to send my troops up (as no hikers would get in the way). I had to be aware of normal weather conditions, the trail’s physical condition, distance, and the length of time it might take to hike to the top. After that, my characters descend into the cone, which is strictly prohibited by law. Sorry, National Park Service, they went down anyway. Then my one-page journey to the center of the volcano felt much like an abbreviated version of one I traveled in a Jules Verne book last year.
It didn’t take long to track down all those details and turn them into written action. But like always, I got caught up in my research and in the story of the volcano’s last eruption. Did you know the mountain had been bulging for four weeks before it exploded? Sometimes at a rate of ten feet per day! Along with all the earthquakes hitting the area and the rumbles coming from the mountain’s belly, everyone knew she was going to blow. But the devastation was more than anyone could have imagined. I’m quoting from Wikipedia here:
Mount St. Helens is most notorious for its catastrophic eruption on May 18, 1980, at 8:32 am PDT, the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in the history of the United States. Fifty-seven people were killed; 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles (24 km) of railways, and 185 miles (298 km) of highway were destroyed. A massive debris avalanche triggered by an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale, caused an eruption, reducing the elevation of the mountain’s summit from 9,677 ft (2,950 m) to 8,365 ft (2,550 m) and replacing it with a 1 mile (1.6 km) wide horseshoe-shaped crater. The debris avalanche was up to 0.7 cubic miles (2.9 km3) in volume.
The northern side of the cone was completely obliterated. The region has since been protected as the Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument and provides a wealth of scientific data. (Interestingly enough, much of what’s been learned blows holes into geological evolutionary theory of millions of years and provides tremendous evidence for a catastrophic Flood.) The volcano remains active, and the way the region has rejuvenated is nothing less than amazing.
Here’s a 6-1/2 minute video on the eruption with some awesome slow motion footage of the blast.
Next week I should be announcing the release of Taylor Davis!