Sunday, August 16, 2009
Ape Caves: Don't forget the Icy Heat
Last Saturday, my cub scout son's troop slogged through the upper portion of the Ape Caves, some 6 miles south of Mt. St. Helens. And my hubby and I and our two youngest children tagged along. The Ape Caves is actually more than 2 miles of old lava tube - a long time ago, lava from the volcano ran through there and the upper layers cooled to form a tube and the rest of the lava flowed out and left all kinds of ripply, scraped, geologic atherosclerosis and boulder deposits behind. Then cracks and holes let water in drip by drip and instead of stalactites and stalagmites, there are dimples and depressions, golf-ball-like textured boulders, mosses and other weird stuff down there. It's also one of the orneriest obstacle courses you will ever encounter (and this from a girl who has been down the Narrows in Southern Utah)!
This 1 1/2 mile hike/scramblefest is not for the faint of heart, the claustrophic, the out of shape (me), the clumsy, the too young to go anywhere without a stroller or a piggyback ride (my three year old), or those who have bad night vision, or who are scared of the dark. It's perfect for people who like to climb without equipment, get dirty, cold, wet, and who like to cheat death and sprained ankles.
It was fun!
But I'm not going to think of going back unless I lose 50 pounds and become a contortionist. Every time I sit down, my thighs scream in pain and they make sure I do too. Once I'm down I'm okay. Nursery was torture today, LET ME TELL YOU, it gives you the feeling that the composer of "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" was a sadist.
These pictures were all taken with a flash. The camera saw more than I did, as most of the time all I had was one headlamp to light a one foot square spot in front of my feet. When the guys with the lantern were in front of me, I had to look down so as not to be blinded. When the lanterns were behind me, I could see more of the caves, but at best in a state of twilight. The pictures do not do the caves justice. It's better to go experience it. BUT if you want to just look at the pictures, then keep scrolling down while I go snarf another ibuprofen.
The cave is 45 degrees F year round. That's almost cold enough to be a refridgerator. I was glad I brought the kids' winter coats. All I had was my hoodie, but after we got over some heavily bouldered sections, it was more than enough. I do wish I had given my kids gloves. It was dry to start, but then there were areas that the rocks were wet and wet plus cold hands are miserable. They survived - no frost bite - I think we were all working pretty hard in there. Still gloves would have been useful.
Did I mention it was cold in there? That white stuff is water vapor from the guy next to me. Sometimes I couldn't see where I was stepping for the stuff I was breathing out.
My little started okay, then needed some help getting over some rocks, then needed more help, then...well you know what happened then. I gave him a piggyback, then Dad did, then one of the cub leaders, then another, etc. I would definitely not try this cave again with this young of a child. Bad ju-ju. We got through but not without LOTS of help (thanks guys!).
Sometimes the walls would be arms-length apart, and sometimes they would be several yards apart. Sometimes you had to be careful not to knock your head, and sometimes the roof would be as high as another story or too on a building.
We started at the lower cave entrance. Two thirds of the way to the upper entrance, there is "the skylight", a spot where there is a large hole in the roof of the tube. There are some fallen trees at this spot, sand on the floor, and a welcome break from all the darkness. You can't really get out at this point but it does make you want to hurry and get to the end. That's my little boy sitting on the shoulders of one of the cub leaders. What a friend!
Finally, you see a light at the end of the tunnel. You just have to get over the last ankle-busting rocks and logs.
There's a metal ladder to get you out of the lava tube, but it's still a steep incline to get out of the pit once you hit sunshine.
This is a look back at the upper entrance.
The kids were glad to be out of there.
Once everybody was out, we tore into our lunches. Here are our wonderful cavemen.
Our little guy didn't forget to thank his packhorses. He gave Bro. B a big hug. He gave Bro. M a big kiss on the cheek and Bro. J got a "I can curl my tongue" demonstration.
We took the surface trail back to the lower entrance. It was a LOT easier to get down than it was to go up. And there were little caves by the trail. You'd think the kids had had enough of caves, but they had to explore the little ones too.
So that was our trip to the Ape Caves. The lower caves are supposed to be a LOT less challenging; more sandy floors, not much climbing. I would have preferred that route, but the cub scouts voted for the upper route (boy were THEY sorry, tee hee). Naw. It was okay. When they were complaining half way through, I told them there weren't any bragging rights for doing the lower section. The cub scout leader agreed (but he's done the upper route at three times, so he can outbrag all of us). My kids had better well get a good grade on their "What I Did This Summer" paper or I'm going to have to take them up there again. What am I saying?!?!