Boy Scout troop explores Mount St. Helens and other regions of the Great Northwest


Mount St. Helens is infamous in U.S. history for its massive eruption in the early morning hours of May 18th, 1980; but for 14 members and chaperones of a local Boy Scout troop, the site recently became a destination for exploration.

After 25 years, the site is still one of the most studied areas in the world by scientists; and it is also a wonderful area for hiking, so members of Boy Scout Troop #741 decided more than a year ago that they wanted to travel to the area for a time of camping, hiking, and exploration.

Led by scout master Bob Meyer, making the trip were scouts: Matt Johnson, Jim Abbott, Cliff Meyer, Jordan Hewitt, Clay Meyer, Nathan Hickman, Tanner Ross, Josh Hon, Cory McFarland, and Tray Meyer. Also making the trip were adults David Hickman, Danny Hon, and Fred Ross.

The trip began on June 10th when the group flew out of Cincinnati for Portland, Oregon. After landing the troop got busy right away, traveling to the Johnston Ridge Observatory — just over five miles from the volcano’s crater. The center is named for a man who died trying to relay information about the eruption .

The scouts picked up maps of the area at the observatory; and then headed out for some rest before beginning a week of hiking in the area.

On their first full day in the region, the local scouts explored Ape Cave, which is a lava tube that was formed by a previous eruption. When a deep tube of lava cooled at the surface, the molten center eventually withdrew, leaving a tube of surrounding lava that visitors can walk through and explore that is approximately two miles long.

The tube was discovered by a troop of Boy Scouts, called the “Ape Troop”, and that’s where the tube got its unusual name.

The scouts also spent time beginning their exploration of Mount Adams, a volcano near Vancouver, Washington that is known for its spectacular vistas and huge gorges. The local scouts explored an ice cave at the base of Mount Adams; and then proceeded to the Ranger’s Station, where they got the proper permits to set up camp at the base of Mount Adams, approximately 5,400 feet above sea level.

The next day the boys attacked the mountain.

“It was supposed to be in the 50s that day, but it turned out to be in the 20s,” Bob Meyer said. “We started out cold. When we woke up that morning there was snow on the tents, and water that the boys had in jugs was frozen.”

But the cold didn’t initially slow down the boys enthusiasm for exploration, and by 5 a.m. they were on the mountain. The troop split up into two groups, with Fred Ross and Bob Meyer leading the younger boys and Danny Hon and David Hickman led the older scouts.

The two squads hiked on the mountain for about three hours, and were nearing the summit when the groups were forced to turn back after four of the boys began to experience frostbite symptoms.

“All of the boys had gloves on, but it got to a point where it started getting serious, so we came back down after getting to about 10,000 feet,” Bob Meyer said. “The temperature had fallen into the teens, and the wind was gusting at about 40 miles per hour, so we made the decision to get the boys back down the mountain.”

But it wasn’t without more drama, as Cliff Meyer, climbing near his father, lost his grip and slid down the icy face of the mountain before coming to a stop. He was fine from the experience, but other boys started to experience altitude sickness. Water packs that the scouts were carrying on their backs were frozen solid.

“Two years ago we had these boys in the desert when we took them to the Grand Canyon, and this year we’ve got them in the snow,” Bob Meyer said. “It was certainly an experience.”

After packing up their gear, the scouts then headed out for June Lake, where they did some fishing for a day. They then headed to Mount St. Helens for more hiking, viewing glaciers and herds of elk along the way.

The boys were amazed at the five mile wide ring of trees that were blown down by the eruption of the volcano 25 years ago. Still in place, the trees form an eerie ring around the mountain.

“They were laid down like matchsticks,” Jim Abbott said.

After another visit to the Johnston Ridge Observatory in an attempt to get a full view of the mountain after days of cloudy conditions; the scouts then headed to the Olympic Peninsula, where they explored the La Push Indian Reservation.

They also explored the Pacific Ocean shoreline of the Olympic National Park, hiking several miles along the beach before being forced back up into the rain forest by the terrain. The group got to Strawberry Point, a series or rock formations that are surrounded by the ocean; where they saw some seals who ended up following the boys back along the coastline.

That’s when the scouts had another once-in-a-lifetime experience.

It was June 15th and again the scouts were in two groups walking back along the coastline. The first group got to their vehicles just as park officials and others were evacuating the area because of a tsunami warning that had been issued.

“We went back down the shoreline and found our other group,” Bob Meyer said. “We got them to the vehicles, and then went back and warned some other hikers that we had seen along the way. Danny Hon got everyone together and we got the kids out of there. The tsunami never did come, but it certainly was another experience.”

The group’s next stop was Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park. Deciding to hike in an area known as Obstruction Ridge, once the scouts arrived they found that the roadway had been closed — which meant a five mile hike uphill before getting to see more glaciers.

“Once we got up there, you could see the entire mountain range,” David Hickman said. “It was pretty inspiring.”

From there the group headed to Seattle, Washington, where the boys took the ferry across the sound. They also went to Boeing Field and saw some of the airplane manufacturer’s exhibits; and also saw the famous Space Needle in Seattle.

After that they boarded a plane for home, leaving with a week’s worth of sore muscles and a lifetime of special memories.


In preparation for the trip, the Boy Scouts hiked in the Splinter’s Ridge Wildlife Refuge on the Switzerland and Jefferson County border. They also spent a year working on fundraising projects to help offset the expense of the trip.

“We really want to thank the community for supporting all of our fundraising,” Bob Meyer said. “We also want to thank the United Fund of Switzerland County, who worked with our sponsoring organization, Spring Branch Baptist Church, to help us with funding.”

So, with a trip to the Grand Canyon in 2003 and Mount St. Helens this year — where is the next stop for this troop?

No one was saying, but the smiles that crossed their faces spoke that wherever it is, there’s a group of explorers ready for the challenge.