Ape Caves/ Mt. Saint Helens

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forestkeeper
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Ape Caves/ Mt. Saint Helens

Post by forestkeeper » July 9th, 2012, 3:34 am

Hello all. It was going to be pretty warm this weekend, so on Saturday, my son and I headed for the Mt. St. Helen's Ape Caves, just outside Cougar, WA. While I never have been here before, I was thinking that it wasn't unlike the Lava River caves south of Bend. Boy I was wrong. :o I don't think I have seen so many people in a scenic area before, except for Multnomah Falls. And I really believe there were more people at these caves than at the Falls.
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But it was fun none the less. You just had to wait quite a few times to let the droves of people pass. After descending the stairs, we decided to hit the harder cave which is about 1 1/2 miles long. There are no artificial lights in these caves so our LED flashlights were the only way to see. And the flash from my camera.
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There were quite a few of these boulder/rock piles throughout the hike. In the pitch blackness, you can't see anything except where the beam of your light goes. We actually went off trail, if you can call large boulders a trail. But we felt slightly adventurous and wanted to get away from the crowds.
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We actually found another cave off the "beaten" path. After descending/crawling downward, there was a cave about 15 feet downward of the main cave hallway. This one had a length of about 50 yards or more.
Which at the point of this pic, it basically become a pretty closed in tunnel.
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The cave floor here was basically pretty sharp lava rock and wearing shorts was a big no no. :? It kinda scraped your legs as you had to lay in the prone position and crawl through a two foot high tunnel. So we stopped and turned around with plans to return here soon with pants and knee pads.

In the blackness of the cave, the rocks and boulders, as well as anything else just comes up as a faint grey with the naked eye but with the flash of my camera, the various shades of reds really come out.
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There were a few broken off rocks from the cave ceiling that had some awesome lava drips on them.
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After about 3/4 of a mile in, and with a few gouged legs and turned ankles, we turned around and went back to the cave head and headed down the easy cave.
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This cave trail is only about 3/4 of a mile long. The tread is basically smooth and sandy, which well suits visitors with children or the elderly. But if you take time to look, you can find quite a bit of interesting things.
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Once we reached the end, we continued on, on hands and knees, and then crawling on our bellies. About 99% of the public stopped at where you had to stoop. Us, beginning to become Cave Loonies or Cave Apes, continue on.
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We went another 25 yards in, than decided to turn around after our muscles we cooling down and both of us began getting Charlie Horses in our legs and shoulders. The average temp is around 40 degrees F. but as you descend farther down, the temps go down as well. I'm sure wearing shorts didn't help either. But on the hike back, it was cold enough to make your fingers, noses and ears feel like they were gonna fall off. :lol:

Both caves are a must see. The intermediate cave is a bit harder and more enduring but still easy enough if you just hike though without going off trail. For me, exploring off of the main trail was exceptionally enduring, because you basically are flexing your legs in all directions as well as using your shoulder muscles heavily as you traverse over pretty large boulders that are sharp and odd sized. I suggest wearing good hiking boots if going off trail. My Merrels really gripped the rock surfaces well.

This last pic is of Mount Saint Helens, near the bottom of Climber's Bivouac. I actually wanted to hike the Climber's Bivouac Trail for a short distance but a male hiker was severely injured Saturday when he fell off of the trail (as reported to me from a SAR team member) and there were about 3 SAR teams on the trail as well as law enforcement vehicles plugging the parking lot, so we headed back to the bottom.
As I snapped this pic, Life Flight was just leaving the area.
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:) :) :)

Forest Keeper

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hlee
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Re: Ape Caves/ Mt. Saint Helens

Post by hlee » July 9th, 2012, 4:58 am

Interesting report. That's crazy how many people were there. :shock:

Hannah

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.
-- T.S. Eliot

payslee

Re: Ape Caves/ Mt. Saint Helens

Post by payslee » July 9th, 2012, 8:33 am

Ape cave is a fun place but sure does attract and interesting selection of visitors. One time, we did the lower cave in the morning and then came back up to the surface for lunch before doing the upper part. While we were up top, at least five groups of visitors walked up to the entrance, looked down in perplexity and said "It's dark in there!". And then turned around and went back to their cars.

I'm not sure what they were expecting a cave to be like. But it sure is a long way to drive from anywhere to get that kind of "surprise" on your arrival.

-payslee

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Re: Ape Caves/ Mt. Saint Helens

Post by Peder » July 9th, 2012, 8:36 am

Amazing how many people were there! We have always been pretty much on our own there, even in the lower cave. Maybe that is because we tend to leave Portland around 8 for excursions and arrive before the crowds.

I try to go between Memorial Day and Labor Day so that we can rent a $5 lantern from the Park Rangers - that really lights up things (as compared to head lamps). We start with the lower cave and then through hike to the upper cave exit. This makes for a good kid friendly excursion, especially when you include the "Trail of Two Forests" loop about a mile down the access road. The hike is described in Sullivan's 100 Hikes in NW Oregon and SW WA.
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The upper Ape Cave entrance/exit.
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forestkeeper
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Re: Ape Caves/ Mt. Saint Helens

Post by forestkeeper » July 10th, 2012, 4:05 am

:) We brought our Coleman lantern, but as we experienced at the Boyd Cave, a lantern is hard to hold on to traversing over large boulders. I really wanted to check out the lava falls and the rest of the upper cave, but after spending a few hours exploring those side caves that most of the people DON'T find, we ran out of time. But I'm thinking about returning Sunday and will park at the Trail of Two Forests? and do the hike as you described. I'll also leave pretty early so I can explore where drm went this weekend at Ape Canyon.
The forests are so different by Mt Saint Helens than down at the Mt Hood Nat Forest. I hardly saw any garbage along side the roads or trails which seems to be the Black Plague of the Clackamas River district that I often work in. And it was nice to see smiling rangers up there.

Will

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Re: Ape Caves/ Mt. Saint Helens

Post by Crusak » July 10th, 2012, 5:25 am

Eeeek! I've always had a fear of getting stuck in a tight spot in a cave. Gives me the heebie-jeebies. :shock:

Interesting report, ForestKeeper. I've never seen pictures of the inside of Ape Caves before.
Jim's Hikes

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forestkeeper
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Re: Ape Caves/ Mt. Saint Helens

Post by forestkeeper » July 10th, 2012, 8:53 am

:lol: Awe. I thought Loonies weren't scared of anything. ;) We need to get you, EP, and Mayhem down there to show the rest of us how to do it. Actually, last year back to my childhood, I was super claustrophobic. I couldn't even get into elevators. But I've noticed in the last 6 months, the fear is gone and I have a tremendous love for caving. Maybe not so far as taking an elevator several stories down to a coal miner's work area though. :)

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Re: Ape Caves/ Mt. Saint Helens

Post by mayhem » July 10th, 2012, 12:02 pm

ForestKeeper wrote::lol: Awe. I thought Loonies weren't scared of anything. ;) We need to get you, EP, and Mayhem down there to show the rest of us how to do it. Actually, last year back to my childhood, I was super claustrophobic. I couldn't even get into elevators. But I've noticed in the last 6 months, the fear is gone and I have a tremendous love for caving. Maybe not so far as taking an elevator several stories down to a coal miner's work area though. :)
Yes that would be Awesome!! 1 big problem :) I'm not afraid of caves & dont get claustrophobic or afraid of the dark....but I have Zero Spatial awarness, so, Whooowoooing would be in the caves forever :)
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