Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Posts tagged “mountains


Austro-Hungarian machine gun nest in the Alps; ca. 1915-18


Gaston Rébuffat atop the aiguille du Roc, Mont Blanc massif, France; ca.1944

This was photo was chosen to be included on the Golden Record on Voyager 1 and 2.

This was photo was chosen to be included on the Golden Record on Voyager 1 and 2.

Gaston Rébuffat was actually an instructor at a military school of mountaineering run by the 27th mountain infantry. In any case, the French government clearly appreciated his contribution to history because it awarded him the Légion d’honneur in 1984.


Matterhorn – Italy/Switzerland border

Matterhorn - ItalySwitzerland border [1024x682]


Saas-Balen, Switzerland

Saas-Balen, Switzerland [1600x1200]


Great St. Bernard Pass, Valais, Switzerland


The Eruption of Mt. St. Helens

Wasn’t this Dante’s Peak?1346348

On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens, a volcano located in the Cascade Range in the state of Washington, erupted at 8:32:17 am, causing the entire weakened north face to slide away, suddenly exposing the partly molten, gas-and-steam-rich rock in the volcano to lower pressure. The rock responded by exploding a very hot mix of lava and pulverized older rock toward Spirit Lake so quickly that it avoided the avalanching north face. The explosion caused over a billion U.S. dollars in damage and resulted in 57 human deaths. (Source)


I think it’s hard to comprehend how massive of an event this was. When the north face gave way to a landslide that morning, more than 1/2 a CUBIC MILE of debris slid down the mountain at 155 mph into Spirit Lake, displacing all the water in the lake via 600 ft waves the other way. Then because of the landslide the mountain was open to blast upwards resulting in the ash cloud above.

Then, it’s pyroclastic flow time. Imagine a cloud of 1,830°F rocks, pumice, and ash accelerating down the mountain face at 670 mph obliterating trees and everything else for about 20 miles.

Oh, and all that happened in 90 seconds.


I’m glad we live in a world where there’s probably a camera filming most mega awesome events like this.

Mt St Helens eruption from 35 miles away.

Mt St Helens eruption from 35 miles away.

Cameraman: The mountain just exploded!

Observer: What mountain?

The Mount St. Helens eruption - Photos taken by Robert Landsburg before he was incinerated by the ash cloud.

The Mount St. Helens eruption – Photos taken by Robert Landsburg before he was incinerated by the ash cloud.

“When Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980, photographer Robert Landsburg was there – within a few miles from the summit, shooting away. Landsburg had spent several weeks prior to the eruption documenting the volcano, putting himself on the precipice of danger.

On May 18, Landsburg’s luck ran dry. Seeing the immanent explosion in the not-so-distant distance, Landsburg decided he could not escape the eruption in time to save his own life. And so, he used his body to save his film.

Landsburg continued to photograph the eruption until the last possible moment, leaving himself enough time to wind up his film into its case, place his camera in its bag, place that bag into his backpack, and lay his body on top of the bag as the final protective layer against the shower of magma and ash.

Landsburg’s body was found 17 days later, buried in ash with his film in tact. The photographs were published in the January 1981 issue of National Geographic…”

To continue reading: Robert Landsburg’s Brave Final Shots

(For anyone interested, here is another photo that Landsburg took that day. It’s pretty damaged, but you can still make out the image.)

He covered the camera with his own body after watching a volcano explode from a few miles away!!! He had the composure and foresight to put the camera in his backpack before shielding it from scalding hot volcanic ash with himself while he died a Pompeii style death. Whatever his last thought was, it included a life-time supply of badass.

The guy who took these shots barely got out alive. There’s amazing video he shot as he was overtaken by the ash cloud, and he is talking to the camera, describing what he thinks is his death (2:13):

(…he was surprisingly chill about thinking he was dead…)


Oh, I would like to state that due to the steadfast commitment of some of the geologists and volcanologists who were observing the area before the eruption to the safety of the public was an enormous factor in the relatively small death count. (The scientists who died on the mountain are heroes.)

“Famous for telling reporters that being on the mountain was like “standing next to a dynamite keg and the fuse is lit”, Johnston had been among the first volcanologists at the volcano when eruptive signs appeared, and shortly after was named the head of volcanic gas monitoring. Though a careful analyst, Johnston strongly believed that scientists needed to take this risk for themselves in order to prevent civilian deaths, and therefore chose to partake in dangerous on-site monitoring. He and several other volcanologists prevented people from being near the volcano during the few months of pre-eruptive activity, and successfully fought pressure to re-open the area. Their work kept the death toll at a few tens of individuals, instead of the thousands who possibly could have died had the region not been closed off. Johnston supported the lateral blast theory: he believed the explosive eruption would be ejected sideways out of the volcano, not upward. He also believed that the eruption would originate from the bulge. Because of this, he was more aware than most of the threat of a north-directed eruption.” (Source)

Pyroclastic flow is killer.

Pyroclastic flow is killer.

Fifty-seven people were killed ( including innkeeper Harry R. Truman, photographer Reid Blackburn and geologist David A. Johnston), 200 houses, 27 bridges, 15 miles (24 km) of railways and 185 miles (298 km) of highway were destroyed, and Mount St. Helens was left with a crater on its north side. U.S. President Jimmy Carter surveyed the damage and said it looked more desolate than a moonscape A film crew was dropped by helicopter on St. Helens on May 23 to document the destruction. Their compasses, however, spun in circles and they quickly became lost. A second eruption occurred the next day, but the crew survived and were rescued two days after that. The eruption ejected more than 1 cubic mile (4.2 km3) of material. A quarter of that volume was fresh lava in the form of ash, pumice and volcanic bombs while the rest was fragmented, older rock. The removal of the north side of the mountain (13% of the cone’s volume) reduced St. Helens’ height by about 1,280 feet (390 m) and left a crater 1 to 2 miles (2 to 3 km) wide and 2,100 feet (640 m) deep with its north end open in a huge breach.

More than 4,000,000,000 board feet (9,400,000 m3) of timber was damaged or destroyed, mainly by the lateral blast.At least 25% of the destroyed timber was salvaged after September 1980. Downwind of the volcano, in areas of thick ash accumulation, many agricultural crops, such as wheat, apples, potatoes and alfalfa, were destroyed. As many as 1,500 elk and 5,000 deer were killed, and an estimated 12 million Chinook and Coho salmon fingerlings died when their hatcheries were destroyed. Another estimated 40,000 young salmon were lost when they swam through turbine blades of hydroelectric generators when reservoir levels were lowered along the Lewis River to accommodate possible mudflows and flood waters.

In all, Mount St. Helens released 24 megatons of thermal energy, 7 of which was a direct result of the blast. This is equivalent to 1,600 times the size of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Mount St. Helens before and after its eruption.

Mount St. Helens before and after its eruption.

Here is a map of the blast zone. I’m always amazed by the sheer force of these eruptions.

Mt. St. Helens before the eruption.

Mt. St. Helens before the eruption.

Isn’t nature fun gang?!

(Main Source)

Lofoten – Arctic Circle Anomaly

The archipelago of Lofoten in Norway is north of the Arctic Circle.  Yet throughout the year it has temperatures which belie its position.

This is because of the largest positive temperature anomaly in the world relative to latitude.

It makes Lofoten an unexpected delight – its early settlers must have thought they had stumbled across an arctic paradise.

Prepare to have your breath taken away.

What they found there was a sea teeming with life and the largest deep water coral reef in the word.  There are literally millions of sea birds with many species represented, such as the sea eagle, the cormorant and the puffin.  Otter are common in the area and on the larger islands of the archipelago there are moose.

The settlers gave one of the islands (now known as Vestvågøya) the name Lofoten which is Norse for the foot of the lynx.  Another island (now Flakstadøya) meant the foot of the wolf and indeed the islands do resemble in their shape the tracks of these animals.  Now, however, the whole archipelago if known as Lofoten and it makes up a district in the Norwegian county of Nordland.

The first settlers must have arrived here centuries before but the archipelago, because of its climate, has been the center of huge cod fisheries for over a millennia.  Vågan is the first recorded town in the area of northern Norway and was certainly thriving in Viking times. The village of Kabelvåg is close to where it was.

People were drawn to the area mostly because of the sea life.  Cod, migrating south from the Barents Sea gather in Lofoten to spawn and the fishing industry has long capitalized on that.  For centuries Norway was the place from which large amounts of cod were exported to most of Northern Europe.

As time went on Lofoten became the name for the whole chain of islands.  Its pointed peaks certainly do look like a lynx foot when seen from the mainland.  It is sometimes also referred to as Lofotveggen or the Lofoten Wall as, when seen from the highest points on the islands, it does resemble a wall enclosing and sheltering those behind it.

In fact the line up of the islands means that a 1100 meter high wall of mountains and cliffs on the north side of the Vestfjord protect the area.  Yet what really creates the anomaly is the Gulf Streams, together with its extensions the Norwegian Current and the North Atlantic Current. The sight of gently flowing rivers is enough to make you wonder if you are indeed in the arctic cirlce.

Lofoten is well known in Norway for its outstanding natural beauty but its reputation does not seem to have really become global.  Lofoten has the potential to become a wonderful location for tourism and is as idyllic asCancun Mexico or Jamaica vacations. Located at the 68th and 69th parallels north of the Arctic Circle it must surely be one of the most incredibly beautiful natural places on the planet not to mention tranquil.

The islands of the archipelago are noted most for their mountains with their elongated peaks which look almost like something out of a fantasy novel.  One would hardly be surprised if the inhabitants of the houses turned out to be some hobbit-like race of beings.

They are also famous for the stretches of sea shore with sandy beaches which lie on the sheltered inlets.  Yet there is danger.  The infamous Malstrøm system of tidal eddies is in western Lofoten.  No guesses which word we get from that.  Yet close to the shore of the archipelago the seas are generally calm and clear.

The archipelago is the most northerly place in the world where the average temperature is above zero all year.    January is on average -1.5 C and the summer months have an average of 13C – for the whole twenty four hours of the day. The warmest temperature ever recorded there was 30.4C.  So it is not desperately warm but when you consider where it is…

The place is so far north that here you can experience the midnight sun.  From May 26 – July 17 the sun in above the horizon for twenty four hours a day.  Yet in the winter you must expect no sunlight at all from December 9 to January 4.  Neither condition is ideal for human habitation or happiness, so there is a downside to the place.

For tourists, however, the midnight sun gives ample and extra opportunities such as climbing and canoeing (or sea kayaking).  There are also cycle paths which connect many of the local communities and road traffic is generally light. In fact there is an annual Lofoten Insomnia Race for cyclists which takes place along the whole archipelago to take advantage of the midnight sun.

The three local airports each year serve only just over 100 thousand people (locals and tourists included in the figures) meaning that the archipelago is little spoiled by the trappings of tourism.  It is little wonder that the place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site or that National Geographic Traveler called the Lofoten archiplegalo the third most appealing islands in the world.

Perhaps the place’s lack of fame outside of Norway is something deliberate. After all, would you want to share this place with the rest of the world?