Greetings from Ape Cave! Plus Hawt Lahar Action

We did it! We made it to the South Side! It’s tremendously awesome.

This is the first time I’ve been up Highway 503. It’s gorgeous, and I can definitely recommend it. The approach will give you some sense of what Mount St. Helens and its environs looked like before the May 18, 1980 eruption. It’s full of trees – so full that you don’t get to see much of the mountain for a long way. But if you stop by Yale Park and step out on the boat ramp on your way up the road, you’ll get a lovely little glimpse.

Image shows a mountain ridge, with the gently rounded summit of Mount St. Helens peeking over, all gray and white against the green. There is a rocky bank in the foreground.
Mount St. Helens peeks above the ridges at Yale Lake.

We made it up to Ape Cave. We parked in the overflow parking and took the trail over, which leads past a streambed full of delightful pahoehoe lava. I haven’t seen pahoehoe in years! This made me squee a lot.

Image shows a stream bank with a bit of gray pahoehoe lava emerging from it.
Pahoehoe lava near Ape Cave.

 

but although we followed the advice of the guide and brought three light sources, none of them were powerful enough to contend with the light-sucking power of the lava tube. It swallows flashlight beams whole. We decided that since we could barely see the ground we were walking over and couldn’t see features of the walls at all, we’d give it up at the entrance. We’ll return with brighter stuff. But we did get some lovely shots at the entrance.

Image shot from within shows the entrance of Ape Cave, which is a huge round hole with a staircase descending it. Light is shining down from the opening, and the light is surrounded by the darkness of the cave.
The entrance of Ape Cave.

You won’t be disappointed that we didn’t do the cave just yet. You see, it gave us time to go up the volcano vista trail, which is a sorta-steep but easily doable one mile hike to a beautiful overlook of Mount St. Helens.

The south side of Mount St. Helens is visible across a sea of trees. The volcano is covered with snow and ash. The back side wasn't blown out in the eruption, so it looks gently rounded and like a normal volcanic cone.
There’s our girl!

On the way down, we heard scrambles in the underbrush. It turned out to be an adorable woodland critter.

Image shows a wee chipmunk posing among some boulders and woodland plants.
A totes adorbs chipmunk.

After Ape Cave and the super-awesome side trip, we headed to the Trail of Two Forests. Here, a forest was buried by the same flow that created Ape Cave. It’s full of tree casts, which are hollow tubes left behind after lava engulfs a forest. One of them is big enough to crawl through. I didn’t do the crawl, but I did get a bonza picture for you.

Image shows a tunnel through lava.
A huge tree cast!

There are places where you can see the impressions left by the bark. I took many photos and will treat you to a thorough walk-through some time. For now, please content yourselves with a photo of the lava casts and an adorable little pahoehoe lavafall.

Image shows a circular hole in the lava in the bottom center. To the upper left of it, there's a ridge of lava, with a bit of ropey pahoehoe flowing down towards the cast.
Awww, a tiny lavafall!

Then we went up to Lava Canyon. To get there, you have to pass over large flats created by lahars from the May 1980 eruption. Here’s an image of Mount St. Helens from the lahar:

Image shows a flat area filled with boulders and young trees. Mount St. Helens rises in the distance. You can see the groove down the middle where the Shoestring Glacier used to be.
Mount St. Helens across a young lahar.

The lahars scoured the trees and some of the rock out of the Muddy River gorge, leaving behind the awesomesauce Lava Canyon. We did the loop trail, from which you get views like this:

Image shows a narrow whitewater river flowing down a rocky gorge.
The view from the suspension bridge.

I took this from the middle of the suspension bridge, which was a bit of a hair-raising experience. We took it slow and clung to things, and tried not to look down between the slats.

Further along the other end of the trail, there’s a lovely entabulature from an old lava flow.

Image shows me standing before a jumbled tan rock wall.
Moi standing in front of the maclargehuge entabulature.

And shortly after, there’s a tamer bridge over the gorge, from which you can see gorgeous flowing water.

Image shows water falling in a stairstep pattern through old lava.
A mini-falls before the major falls.

We’ve got lots to explore when we come back next, but that was a thoroughly satisfying initial foray. Tomorrow will be rather tamer, as we’re just going to seek out the confluence of the Toutle and Cowlitz Rivers, and then head for home. But I think you’ll agree, today makes the whole trip worth it!

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Greetings from Ape Cave! Plus Hawt Lahar Action
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4 thoughts on “Greetings from Ape Cave! Plus Hawt Lahar Action

  1. 1

    Well, once again I’m jealous. Looks like you’re having an awesome time. Great pics! I’m going to Big Bend National Park for Labor Day weekend and I’m ready to go now!!! Be safe up there and keep sending us the info and pics. Ciao

  2. rq
    2

    WOW. Wow. These are beautiful pictures, and definitely leave me looking forward to more. Lava is so awesome! Tree-casts are awesome! Caves are awesome!!! Beautiful views.
    Thanks for sharing with us. :) It’s not nearly as good as going there myself, but since that’s a long way off, this will do very nicely, thank you.

  3. 3

    That is so cool. I’ve been meaning to drive down there forever, but it’s a bit of a haul from Bellingham. I had no idea that you could see evidence of those ancient lava flows! When I do go, I’ll be sure to bring my super-bright 1300 lumen flashlight :D

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