Just when you think that nature and the wilderness in America is all tamed out – guess again. This post was prompted by a hike years ago to the Ape Caves near the borders of Washington and Oregon state. What you might ask are Ape Caves?
Ape Caves is an underground hike, crawl, climb in total darkness. A not so easy out and back for if I recall correctly, several miles before returning through a smaller, longer, and more rugged lava tube to an exit. Then, once out one can enjoy an easy return hike winding through a shady forest and a crusty lava formation.
What prompted this post is knowing that there are still dangers out there that our government parks and recreation advisors have not gone to great lengths to shield us from. That small percentage of the population which walks with their head in their phone and then expects the rest of society to become bumper cushions even while they attempt to jay walk. You probably know who they are.
The temperature in the lava caves are a constant 42 degrees F. The ceilings can be drippy, and there may be puddles. If entering the caves make sure to bring more than one light source. Anything can go wrong.
Is it dangerous you still might ask? Yes and no. If the chance of encountering many rock piles that you must climb up, over, or around abrasive rocks, taking care not to twist an ankle or, in some places, bump your head scare you then stay near your cell phone above ground.
Beyond the lava fall are a couple of rock formations that require some physical ability to climb over or to squeeze around. Then at about the 1.2 miles mark is the Skylight, a hole in the ceiling which allows in the first natural light since the entrance. No. This is not an exit opportunity.
The affixed metal ladder at about 1.4 miles away is the Upper Entrance, and your exit. You may choose to continue the final 500 feet beyond to the natural end of the lava tube where the ceiling is only about 6 feet high.
According to the internet Ape Cave is the third longest lava tube in North America. It is sometimes referred to as Ape Caves (plural) because the main entrance is between its two ends, referred to as the Lower Cave and Upper Cave.
Ape Cave was formed nearly 2000 years ago from lava streaming down the southern flank of Mount St. Helens. As the outer edges cooled into a hardened crust, the inner molten lava was able to drain away before it hardened, leaving behind a tube. After discovering the cave in approximately 1950, a logger told his spelunker friend. That friend explored the cave with his sons and their friends, who called themselves the Mount St. Helens Apes. Thus the name of the cave.