It was nice to celebrate Father’s Day with my daughter and oldest son. Scott is also a father, so we were both able to choose what we would like to eat. We all met at our campsite at Camp Murray Beach, where we had a great view of American Lake.
The next day we drove to the southern part of the Mount Saint Helens Volcanic Park to hike through Ape Cave. My first thought was, “Why is it called Apr Cave?” Ape Cave is actually a lava tube. A lava tube is a cylindrical cave formed by flowing lava from a volcanic vent that moves beneath the hardened surface of a lava flow. As the lava in the tube empties, it creates a cave.
This particular lava tube was discovered by Lawrence Johnson in late 1951 when he almost drove his tractor into it. He told his friend, Harry Reese. Over the next few years Reese and his sons explored the cavern. The Reese boys were members of the Mount St. Helens Apes, a local outdoor club, and they led many visitors through the tube during the 1950s. Eventually the lava tube was named the “Apr Cave” to honor these early explorers.
What makes Ape Cave unique from other caves we have explored was that there are no artificial lights in this cave system. The only light is provided by your own flashlights and headlamps. We began with the Lower Cave. It’s a broad lava tube that descends gently to its end. The floor is flat (though a bit uneven at first), then sandy later on from a mud flow that filled the lower portion centuries ago. The end of the cave now is where the sand has filled in to within a couple feet of the ceiling. The Lower Cave is an easy walk, for a 1.5 mile round trip.
From the end of the Lower Cave we retraced our steps to the Upper Cave. It’s a 1.5 rugged miles one way, requiring significantly more time, caution, and some physical agility. It is a more interesting route, with the lava tube shape, size, and geology changing frequently. The passage encounters many rock piles. You must climb up, over, or around the rocks, taking care not to twist an ankle or, in some places, bump your head. After the first rock pile most of us had had enough, but our granddaughter, Sierra, wanted to continue. She and her parents finished the journey, overcoming the many rock piles and obstacles along the way. Some day, I want to go back and hike this part of the cave system.