Saturday, August 22, 2015

Upper Ape Cave

Ape Cave entrance.
Going through the Upper Ape Cave is a summer adventure we love.  The Ape Cave is a lava tube at Mt. St. Helens which formed about 2,000 years ago.  At the entrance, hikers have a choice to explore either the Upper Ape Cave or the Lower Ape Cave.  

The Lower Ape Cave is the obvious choice for families with young children.  The floor of the lower cave can be somewhat uneven, but that is the worst difficulty.  This trail ends at a dead end after about 3/4 mile.  

Part of the roof of the Upper Ape Cave collapsed shortly after it formed, and much of the passage is lined with boulders that must be climbed.  It ends after about 1 1/4 miles at an exit ladder.  An aboveground trail leads back to the trailhead through some lovely woods, with holes from yet more short lava tubes here and there.  Of course some like to go through the Ape Cave in the opposite direction.  I believe I'd find this less pleasant, because I don't really notice the elevation gain as I climb over the boulders.  And it's nice to have a downhill stroll on the way back.   Roughly 3/4 of the way into the passage is a ledge about 8' high.  There are a few footholds carved into it, but they are tricky.  All the fit young whippersnappers we see flying through there seem to take this in stride.  I, for one, am kind of terrified by it and I refuse to climb it unless my husband goes first and tosses a rope down to me.  I suppose going the other way it would be easy to tie the rope onto a rock first, climb down and leave the rope there. 

A Northwest Forest Pass is required at the parking areas, which you can purchase on site when their visitor center is open or online.  The cave is cold, so jackets are a good idea.  Although we see plenty of folks who rent kerosene lanterns there, caving lights are a huge advantage because you can always have both hands free. This definitely goes for the lower cave as well, especially for young kids who might lose their footing on the uneven floor.  If you linger at the cave entrance at dusk in the summer, you will surely see little brown bats leaving the cave.  If you plan to meet friends there, we've found that by the time we get to Cougar, WA there is really no cell reception.

This time I made an effort to take more photos inside the cave.  The results were kind of surprising. The flash was far brighter than our caving lights and the colors of the rocks turned out to be interesting.  
Ape Cave entrance.
The skylight is a delightful landmark that tips you off you are nearing the exit.
Exit ladder.
A snag on the trail back.
A tiny lava tube.
Another tiny lava tube.
Ripples in the rock where lava once flowed.
Mt. St. Helens ejecting an ominous wisp of steam.

1 comment:

Heather said...

So cool! I love the "skylight" picture!