Tuesday, December 10, 2013

hikes with kids: ape caves, mount st. helens

Last Saturday, we discovered the entire day was free. We were all up early, and the day was cold and sunny. The day before Uzi had noticed Mount St. Helens on the drive home from school, and we talked about the mountain and volcanoes, and I realized we had never visited. So while the kids were drawing in the morning, I did a little research and decided we should head up to the mountain and do a little exploring. So we quickly gathered some snacks and lunch and headlamps and water and headed out.

We decided to head to the south side of the mountain to check out the Ape Caves. In the spring, when we went camping near Bend, we had tried to visit the lava tubes there but they had been closed. Uzi was thrilled that we would get a chance to visit some lava tubes that were even closer to home. Our destination for the day was the Lower Ape Cave, which is a mile hike each way through a cave that was formed by lava flowing through the earth. I am excited to one day explore the Upper Ape Caves and the Lava Canyon Trail once the kids are a little older, but the Lower Ape Cave was a perfect, easy adventure with two little ones in tow.

The day and the cave were cold, so we bundled up with our down coats and snow gloves. We brought our headlamps and flashlights and headed down in to the cave. Shoshi was mesmerized and ended up falling asleep as Josh wore her through the tunnel. Uzi was running through the cave (not that I recommend that, most of the floor of the cave is very bumpy and uneven) and finding little nooks to explore. We found a little cave in one of the walls that was filled with sparkling rocks, it was super magical. At one point, we all turned off our lights and just stood in the middle of the cave listening to the dripping water and looking out into the pitch black darkness. The flashlights and headlamps we brought were pretty dim and in fact, two of our lights went out during our hike (oops! But luckily we were prepared with many options). I recommend putting fresh batteries in your lights before you go and bringing the brightest lights you have. We actually enjoyed our dimly lit view of the cave, although I did appreciate when people hiked by that had stronger lights, as you could get a better idea of the look of the whole cave. My camera flash certainly illuminated the cave as well, so we could really see the ceiling and walls, if only for a couple seconds. 

After our hike through the cave we headed over to the Trail of Two Forests, just a tiny jaunt down the road to a short loop along a boardwalk through the forest. We stopped and had a little picnic and then headed over to the trail. The most exciting part of this walk is that you get to crawl through a tunnel on your hands and knees. The tunnels are casts of trees and were formed from the same lava flow that created the Ape Caves. The tunnels are tiny but short, so even slightly claustrophobic people should be able to make it through unscathed. Uzi encouraged me through the tunnel in a very sweet way when I (semi) pretended to be a little nervous about crawling through.

(about to enter the tunnel!)

All in all, it was a great adventure and lots of fun was had by all. We can't wait to go back sometime soon and explore more that Mount Saint Helens has to offer.