Sunday, November 3, 2013

Ape Cave & Lower Falls Creek

It was a rainy weekend in the Northwest so Emily and I decided to spend a day underground out of the rain exploring Ape Cave on Mt. St. Helens on Saturday.  On Sunday we headed into the Gorge for some hiking with Leo but after some terrible directions in our guidebook and getting lost on forest service roads for 3 hours we almost ended up with our first “Sunday Drive” without actually hiking anything.  Thankfully, we found the trail and got to see a very cool waterfall with Leo before the weekend ended.

We got a late start on Saturday up to Ape Cave but since we were planning on being in a dark cave for hours with headlamps it didn’t seem much of a worry that we might have to hike in the dark a little with headlamps as well.  It was a short drive of about an hour from our place to get to Ape Cave and the entrance was just a hundred feet from the parking lot.  We put our headlamps on and some warm clothes and headed down into the cave out of the pouring rain and hail of the parking lot.  

Once in the cave we had a choice to go explore the more difficult upper cave or the easier lower cave.  Emily loves caving so she of course wanted to check out the tougher route first.  The passage way was at first huge, big enough for a car to drive through, but soon we found ourselves scrambling over giant sections where the ceiling had collapsed into massive jumbles of lava rock.  

We had plenty of light and were alone in the upper cave so we just took our time.  At one point in a safe area I asked Emily to turn off her headlamp with me.  With the light off and just the sound of water dripping down through cracks in the pitch dark, it was pretty nuts to think about how anyone would ever find their way out if their light broke.  It was definitely the right I idea to bring extra backup headlamps.  

Making our way through the 1.75 miles of the upper cave was super cool and took us nearly two hours despite the short distance.  It is amazing to think that this whole system was formed by lava rushing through these passageways.  The walls of the cave in many places were super smooth and we could tell that they hardened fast from running lava.  

There was also a lot of lichen growing on the rock and over our heads on the ceiling that lit up brightly with our headlamps.  In several spots we came across “lava falls” where the floor of the cave arched upwards and it was apparent that lava had poured smoothly over these falls in the past.  In some areas where the walls or ceiling had collapsed we could see the regular volcanic pumice and ash of the surrounding ground which was drastically different from the hard volcanic rock of the lava tube we were walking through.

At the end of the upper cave we climbed a ladder up through a skylight and found ourselves once again above ground.  From there it was about a mile hike back to the parking lot and the main cave entrance.  Along the way we passed many more smaller lava tubes and big collapsed ones in the woods.  Emily jumped down into one of them to see how far back it went and I followed but it was harder for me to fit as I’m a bit bigger than she is.  It was raining and hailing a little on our hike back but nothing severe enough to soak us.  

Back at the entrance we headed down to check out the lower cave.  It was far easier and we made our way through the massive cavern easily on flat ground.  We passed by the “meatball” which is a boulder wedged between two levels of the lava tube before making it to the dead end of the lower tube in just under a mile.  Unfortunately, some assholes had spray painted the walls the day before we got there (the date was on the wall) which just ruins the experience for everyone else.  This is why there are so many rules and regulations in our world - because some people have no morals, or common sense…..  We returned back to the main entrance and returned home for a quiet evening.

On Sunday we again slept in a bit and then headed out into the Gorge with Leo for a hike up Dog Mountain.  Half way out and driving through rain and clouds I changed my mind about doing a peak hike and we decided on a waterfall hike instead with Leo as we wouldn’t have any rewarding views at the top of anything in the crappy weather.  This decision turned out to be poor one as it meant relying on the directions of the old trail guide we had to find the trailhead… 

Unfortunately, the directions in the guide were completely wrong and we ended up driving around for nearly 3 hours looking for the parking lot.  At one point we were just 300 yards before the correct road we needed to be on when I turned around to keep looking which resulted in us taking some really crappy backroads with hunters in huge trucks all round us, and even passing through some snow!  

Finally, on our way out of the woods having given up I decided to drive up the road one last time and we found the correct access road.  We quickly drove to the parking lot, geared up with poor Leo who had been sliding around the back of the car for hours as we looked and headed down the trail.  We waked the 1.5 miles briskly to the end point which made all the trouble almost worth it.  Lower Creek Falls was massive, one of the biggest I’d seen in the Gorge, and it had a great ledge next to it for photos.  

The sun was setting quickly and I barely had enough time to snap off a few pics of Leo and Emily in front of the falls before we jogged back down the trail to the car to make it out before needing head lamps.   It had almost been a “sunday drive” of just driving around the woods without ever finding the trail.  Thankfully, we at least got to take Leo on a short hike to a cool view for all our trouble!

No comments: