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Go prepared! - Caving Checklist
No Apes, but Plenty of Cave!
Here's a chance to walk through the longest lava tube in the Western hemisphere (according to William Sullivan in his book, "100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington"). Named after a Boy Scout group called the Mt. Saint Helens Apes, there was a supposed sighting of Bigfoot in Ape Canyon, several miles away. Pre-teens and teenagers love the adventure of being in a cave, so this is a good family outing (without the family dog).
First things first: What to bring. It is about 42 degrees year-round, so dress accordingly, and bring some gloves if you hike the upper cave, because of how abrasive the rocks are. You will also need a primary and backup illumination, preferably a flashlight and a headlamp. Some people bring lanterns, but they tend to shine too brightly in the cave. A hat or other head covering is preferable, as the cave is wet and drips a lot. Remember not to bring the items listed.
Decide whether you want to take the shorter, mile-long lower cave (best with smaller children), or the longer, mile-and-a-half upper cave. The upper cave has an opening at the other end and a return path above ground, so the total walking distance above and below ground is about 3 miles. The lower cave is much easier to negotiate; I saw 7-year olds hiking this one. The upper cave includes about 30 rock fall climbs, and there is one spot that likely requires assistance from others.
The parking lot fills up quickly in Summer months and on weekends, and you must purchase a parking pass (these passes are also acceptable) at the visitor's center. If the lot is full, drive to the visitor's center and get a pass, then park, to save extra walking time. The entrance to the cave has a stairwell. At the bottom of the stairwell is a sign directing you. Keep going straight for the lower, shorter cave. Photography is a challenge since the cave is completely dark in most places. Here are some of the colorful walls and lava flows. The lower cave is easily traversed, until you reach the end where it gets a little crowded (my son is 6 feet tall).
The upper cave has many rocky and wet areas. This is the toughest part, so consider having to climb a bit before deciding to take this route. There is one hole in the roof of the cave about three-fourths of the way in. Then you emerge above ground and hike back to where you started. On this trail, don't forget to look back and get a good view of Mt. Saint Helens.
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