By Michael Mouat
This story began in 1975 with two guys who wanted to get away from the daily grind of work and thought a monthly outing would do the trick. So we started at what’s called Third Beach on our coast.
After enduring a day hike along the beach that featured rain, wind, hail, and a rising tide, we took shelter under a hollowed-out tree. We had to wait till the tide receded to get back to our campsite. We were sold. This was a great experience that we could do next month.
Fast forward to April 1980. Bill Lovy, Rick Ray, Warren Johnson and I formed a backpacking troop we call the JATOs (Jet-Assisted Take-Offs). Our group extended to other friends, as they saw the wisdom of getting out to Mother Nature monthly.
My hiking buddy, Bill Lovy, and I wanted to get as close as we could get to Mount St. Helens, as it had been steaming for months, and everyone knew an eruption was imminent. We wanted to be there when it did. So young and brave, we headed to the St. Helens area with Rick Ray and Warren Johnson.
The governor, Dixy Lee Ray, had set up a Red Zone by then, but circumvented it. We got to the Juniper Ridge area to try to get a view and hiked in. Bill and I had gone on monthly backpacking trips, and this was number 64. We hiked and climbed and never did get a view, so we camped on the snow. A great tent party ensued, and a plan for next month was hatched.
That next month, number 65, dawned clear and cool on Saturday, May 17, 1980. But for some reason, I just wasn’t up for that long drive back to St. Helens. We decided the Goat Lakes area in the North Cascades was closer. The day was beautiful, clear skies, clear water and good friends. We headed up the trail to camp at Goat Lake.
The next morning, May 18, again dawned clear and cool. Everyone was lingering in their tents when we were jolted out of our sleeping bags with the sounds of what we thought was rolling thunder. But outside was clear, not a cloud in the sky. How could it be thunder? It wasn’t till we got back to our trucks and turned on the news that we learned that St. Helens had erupted. We had heard the echo of the blast.
After several days, we also learned that the area we had been in the month before had been destroyed. Glad we didn’t go back as previously planned. Hike number 66 was to Lake George on Mount Rainier. That hike was memorable for all the ash we kicked up on the trail.
No one died, but for the grace of God we could have. The JATOs went on hiking for more than 200 consecutive months. During our career, our members summitted Mount Adams and Mount Rainier. We climbed to the rim of St. Helens in 1987 to look down into the forming crater, hike number 150.