By Mike Senchyna
In spring 1980, I was a college student in Vancouver, Washington, studying geology, as well as a member of a volunteer search and rescue team. My friends and I climbed local peaks on every clear day to photograph volcanic activity when we weren’t in school. We witnessed several small phreatic (groundwater) eruptions. In addition, we were assigned to work roadblocks for the Skamania County Sheriff’s Office as search-and-rescue volunteers.
We saw the May 18 eruption from a mountain to the south, then descended and watched it from the fire station in Yacolt for the rest of the day, anticipating rescue assignments that never came. (Everything was done from military helicopters flying from Lewis and Cowlitz Counties, far to the northwest of us.)
In 1986, I was one of the founding members of the Volcano Rescue Team, formed as the monument was preparing for public access. We assisted the U.S. Forest Service in surveying the circumference of the mountain for future trails and spent time in the crater for a number of tasks. Later, once the monument was open, we patrolled the climbing routes and were up there year-round. I participated in a number of search-and-rescue operations on the mountain between 1986 and 1993, when I “retired” from the team to focus on being a new dad.
Finally, after retiring from my full time job in 2010, I became a US Geological Survey Volunteer for Science. I assist in maintaining volcano monitoring equipment and sites, as well as in surveying and stream gauging, on Mount St. Helens and at other Northwest volcanoes as needed. It is fun to be back up there again, albeit in a different capacity!