Ape Caves… I heard that name and was so taken back. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was. Andy was the one who told me about them, he gave me a rundown on what they were. I was intrigued to see what more they had to offer. For those that don’t know, they’re lava tubes created when Mount Saint Helen’s blew up 1900 years ago. They were found by a group of explorers called the Ape Men. So the name of the caves came from the explorers who found them. Came from Washington’s superstition of Bigfoot.
They’ve since been turned into a tourist attraction. A hike, a place where scout troops go, a place that is approx two miles long and deep within the ground that is an interesting place to see and explore at least once in your life.
We decided to do just that. The first time we went we weren’t prepared by any means, plus Cheyenne was rather young. But to kind of get a feel for what it was like, helped us know how to be prepared. Plus it was a nice ride, not to far from home. When we got there we learned there were two different hikes, an easy (dead end) great to do with kids. Then the harder through hike. We ended up doing the easy dead end hike that first time. Gave us a great idea on how to be prepared and what to bring along. We’ve since been back a couple more time with the kids.
Summer here in Washington. Not terribly cold or too wet. Around the 60s/70s maybe 80s. Get into the cave it’s a good 20/30 degree difference. So make sure you dress accordingly. Make sure you also have good shoes. Footing in the caves is important, lots of debris to step over and on. It’s also wet. All the time. Have went at different times of the year now, and every time its been wet. Sometimes standing water depending on the season, water dripping down the walls and from the ceiling above. The caves are just that, caves. Its pitch black. No natural light at all. Bring a headlamp, flashlight, extra batteries, and if you think you have enough light bring one more. You DON’T want to get stranded without any light. There isn’t a phone signal here either. So you wont be calling out for help if you need it. Something I learned the hard way. A helmet is also a good thing to bring. The caves are not consistent in height at anytime. Hitting your head is a very high possibility. The caves walls aren’t forgiving.
The second time Andy and I went to the caves it was just us. We prepared to do the hard hike. We did tons of research and read tons of reviews because it was said to be hard. We got down to the parking lot early because we weren’t sure just how long it would take us to navigate the cave. We started our hike around 7am. The start of the caves aren’t far from the parking lot. You start into the caves by descending into a hole down two metal flights of stairs. Come to a metal cat walk and down more stairs. Your definitely a good couple hundred feet into the ground. By the time you’ve made it down that second section of stairs the light from outside is gone and your immediately relying on the light that you bring. The temperature is now cool and its damp. The color of everything in the cave is so different, vibrant reds, oranges, some purples and brown some black. There is even a type of most growth then when light hits it, it looks to glow. Lots of piles of rocks and debris all over. Piles of dried up lava, huge lava rocks and formations that hardened. To touch it’s extremely rough and bumpy. At some points of the hike you end up climbing over huge piles of rock. These rocks, some of them were the size of cars, some smaller like basketballs, but now imagine a pile of them in a cave wall to wall piled together. There are huge caverns in them. Places you could fall through. Gaps in the rocks that could hold a small car. Remember my mention of footing? This is the place it was most important. Going slow and making sure the rocks/boulders you choose to step on were in place and not rocking or would fall through under the weight of me walking on them was key.
We probably endured eight or so of these massive piles. Which we feel were collapses from the ceiling at some point. They were a different type of rock, so the piles could’ve came years after the caves were created, from weather and other volcanic activity. The piles they were a workout. And a little nerve racking at times. In the midst of these rock piles, we also had to navigate getting over a rock face/cliff. At one point looked to be a lava fall when the caves were formed. Was maybe a 10-13 foot wall that needed to be climbed. In the dark. Thankfully there was a boy scout troop that went just ahead of us and planned coming back through the cave rather than out and back the forest trail. So they left their repelling rope. Was nice, because it helped me get up the wall.
We finally got to the end of the cave. It was an extremely tall very straight and narrow ladder out. The hole out was so small that we couldn’t get out without having to pass up our pack to the ground or someone above. We opted to hike the trail back verse going back through the cave. We wanted to see what the scenery was like around the caves there. The hike back was much easier than the cave. That’s for sure. It was flat for the most part. The trees I took a lot of notice to. They were very different there. Very Tim Burton like. There were steam vent pockets all over. Some small some large enough you could get into. Piles of lava rock all over as well. The forest now is lush and full but still shows signs from the 1980 eruption.
The entire hike took us about 3 1/2 to 4 hours to completely get through. I know in the hiking world people like to rate hikes on difficulty between 1 and 5. All the reviews rate the Ape Caves a 4. I agree. The large piles of rock and the wall… It definitely is hard. I tell ya, the following day I sure felt it too. Having thick hiking boots on and lifting my legs as high as I was getting through that caves. Was a wonderful workout. I would also say kids could do this if they’re experienced in hiking. I would say 8 being the youngest to give this a shot on their own. As you see, we have taken the girls. But they have always only seen the easy side.
This is a half day hike. There is plenty other things to do in the area also if you were there camping or trying to fill a full day. Can definitely be done in this area.