His photos thrust him into the bright light of international attention. Getting the photos almost killed him. And, he will be coming to the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum in Stevenson to tell his story on Oct. 17 at 2 p.m. in the DeGrotte Theatre.
Vern Hodgson's series of photographs documenting the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens have been viewed by literally millions of people. Said to be of "immeasurable scientific interest," by top international volcanologists, they have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines around the world. They are considered unique because they full sequence the entire eruption as viewed from the north side of the mountain.
Others who may have had similar photos did not survive as the explosion killed more than 40 people. Hodgson barely survived.
He had planned to camp overnight on the mountain that fateful weekend but heavy snows turned him back. He spent the night at a camp twelve miles from the mountain and was heading home on a logging road the next morning when rounding a corner the mountain came into view.
"I stopped my van on impulse," said Hodgson, "and dragged out my camera gear. Nothing much was happening so I set up my camera and sat down to have a smoke. A moment later I noticed a puff of white smoke coming from the top of the mountain and took the first photo. By the time I stood up, the steam had turned darker. Seconds later the mountain began to collapse and ash rocketed skyward."
In the next minute or so, Hodgson snapped the photos that would make history. In those few seconds he captured, stage by stage, the explosion of the mountain. It was only after he ran out of film that he realized a billowing black cloud of ash was about to engulf him.
His frantic race north, and brush with certain death, is a harrowing and exciting story.
Hodgson's presentation is part of the ongoing "Sundays on the Gorge" series at the Museum, a monthly program of various topics related to Columbia River history and others areas of interest to the general public.
Attendance to the program is free with paid admission to the museum.