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Showing posts with label Mt St Helens. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mt St Helens. Show all posts

Explore Ape Caves At Mt. St Helens National Volcanic Monument

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At 8:32 Sunday morning, May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted and blew down or scorched 230 square miles of forest. Shaken by an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale, the north face of this tall symmetrical mountain collapsed in a massive rock debris avalanche. In a few moments this slab of rock and ice slammed into Spirit Lake, crossed a ridge 1,300 feet high, and roared 14 miles down the Toutle River.

The eruption is considered to be the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in the history of the United States
In 1982 the President and Congress created the 110,000-acre National Volcanic Monument for research, recreation, and education. Inside the Monument, the environment is left to respond naturally to the disturbance.

Visitor centers along highway 504 tell the story and provide stunning crater views. Trails let visitors explore the rebirth or access areas slower to recover.

Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument is within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Numerous viewpoints and miles of trails have been created for you to explore by car and foot. During the summer Forest Interpreters lead a wide range of activities, from short walks to amphitheater presentations, to help you understand and enjoy this area.

Exploring Mt St Helens: Camping, Hiking, Caving And Enjoying The Last Days Of Summer

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Labor Day weekend means camping and cookouts for many families. We're no exception. It's become our family tradition to celebrate the official end of summer ( and that's exactly what Labor Day means to us ), with a long road trip to a far away place in search of a new and exciting adventure.

Just pitching a tent, roasting s'mores, and singing campfire songs don't work for us. We crave excitement, adventure, thrills, new experiences and lifelong unforgettable memories !

Last year, it was our first time trying "roughing it up"  a.k.a tent camping. I wanted to  make sure my 5 year old would be cozy and conformable sleeping ( almost) under the stars :) To make things more adventurous, we took a canoe across Little Kachess Lake.

But what could be more adventurous and mysterious than exploring a cave, learning about an exploded volcano, and going on a hike in a lava bed ?! Not to mention the usual camping, lake time, BBQ, and s'mores !

That's why this year, our destination was Mt St Helens area.

Though I've already explored Mt St Helens Ape Caves a few years ago, I couldn't wait to share the excitement of caving with my son !

We were very lucky to snatch a camp site right on the bank of the beautiful Yale Lake. Though the campground had a designated boat launch and a small beach, we had a privilege of swimming just a few steps away from our tent...which later turned out to be a bit ...uncomfortable...Apparently, our new family tradition was to say goodbye to summer by taking the last dip... at 7 am... in freezing morning water :)

Next day we took HWY 83 to Lava Canyon for a short hike. I couldn't believe how excited my son was walking on the rocks where lava flew just a few dozen years ago. He wanted to bring every stone as a souvenir back home.

But the highlight of the trip was, of course, exploring  the famous Ape Caves !


- If you're traveling with little ones ( 6-8 y.o ) make sure to bring warm clothes ( the cave stays cool/cold all year round )
- Bring water... though the lower cave ( the popular/touristy one ) is relatively short, it's still quite a walk for little kids, and they do get thirsty. 
- Don't skimp on little cheap flashlights... Besides the fact that you won't see much, pictures ( even with flash ) will be very low quality.

MOST IMPORTANT : There are two parts of Ape Caves - lower and upper caves.

While the lower part is relatively short, easy and accessible ( it's approximately is .75 miles long
and can be hiked down and back in an hour ), it takes up to 2-2 1/2 hours to finish the upper cave. You will climb over approximately 27 boulder piles and scale an 8-foot high lava fall !

Last time I was there, I promised myself if I would ever bring my kid here , he'd have to be at least 8 y.o and in a good fitness shape.

Many parents being unfit themselves, AND bringing along little kids, create a lot of traffic jams in upper caves, thus preventing other people from truly enjoying this unique experience.


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Skiing Mt St Helens !

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Last year I wrote about Matt Bedrin and his dream to ski all 40 of Cascadia’s tallest volcanoes in one year...Pretty ambitious...Just before writing this post I checked back on his progress...looks like after volcano #10 ( Mt Scott ) he gave up on his dream...

Well, I didn't !

My dream wasn't that big. Inspired by his video, all I wanted to do was to go back to Mt St Helens ( I hiked the volcano in the summer time two years ago ) to see the volcano under a blanket of snow, which, as we know, makes everything more beautiful ( honestly, summer hike didn't impress me at all ). Another reason was to test my "new backcountry ski gear".

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/089886884X/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=211189&creative=373489&creativeASIN=089886884X&link_code=as3&tag=paulslinks-20Snowshoe Routes Washington ( my trusted snowshoe guide ) describes "Mt St Helens Summit" as:

Rating: Backcountry
Round trip: 8 miles
Hiking time : 9 hours
Best season: late December through early February

First of all, I wouldn't call it "Backcountry" , as it doesn't require any navigation/path finding skills, and avalanche danger ( comparing to Alpental or any other "true" backcoutry ) is minimum to non-existing. That's why, this trip is perfect for novice snowshoers who are looking for a challenge, minus all the danger associated with backcounty travel.

When it comes to "best season", immediately after watching the video ( beginning of February 2010 ) I made my first trip to Mt St Helens. The weather was horrible, and the road to Marble Mountain Sno-Park parking lot was closed. That's why this time, I had to to keep a close eye on the weather and snow conditions.

Thanks to La Nina, this year, we've had lots of snow in the mountains. Though it was in the middle of the spring, with more daylight, warm weather, lot's of sun and plenty of snow, the conditions were perfect for this epic trip !
On this climb up Mt St Helens, snowshoers can simply walk straight up the deep snow piled on the flanks of the big volcano, taking a direct approach to the rim of the massive crater.
That's pretty much the whole description of the route. Before you leave treeline, you follow xc ski trail # 244 which is perfectly marked. So, chances to get lot are slim to none.

Regardless of whether you want to snowshoe or ski Mt St Helens, this trip is VERY DOABLE FOR ANYBODY IN GOOD PHYSICAL SHAPE.
I got to share the mountain with a great group of people who call themselves " Wednesday Grandmas", whose oldest member was...58 !

So, if you proudly call yourself "outdoorsy", visiting Mt St Helens in winter is a must.

Next year goal : " Running to the top of Mt St Helens ...barefoot "

Guided snowshoe walks at Mt St Helens

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Last year I wrote a post about guided snowshoe trips at Snoqualmie with Forest Service rangers. Along with guided snowshoe trips at the Mount Rainier National Park, these two are the most popular ( and I'd have to add - cheapest !) snowshoe tours in our state. But not many people know that the Mount St. Helens Institute offers five guided hikes as part of its winter Sunday Snowshoe Adventures.

Institute staff members and volunteers will lead participants through the winter wilderness on a snowshoe tour and provide interpretive information along the way. This will be a chance to explore the trails of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, stay fit through the winter and maybe meet new friends, organizers said in a news release.

No experience is necessary. Most of the adventures are family friendly. All participants under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Each trip is limited to 20 people.

Unlike the Snoqualmie trips, here, you are given more choices :

Jan. 24: June Lake. Length: 5 miles. Difficulty: Easy. Follow snow covered lava flows to a cascading waterfall and a towering white volcano, ending up at June Lake.

Feb. 7: Red Rock Pass. Length: 5 miles. Difficulty: Easy. This groomed road meanders through green forests and 1980 mudflows. There are great views of Mount St. Helens.

Feb. 21: Ape Cave. Length: 3.5 miles and cave walking. Difficulty: Moderate. Meander from the Trail of Two Forests to the Ape Cave exploring the forest. Bring a flashlight for a trip into the cave.

March 7: Oldman Pass. Length: 5.7 miles. Difficulty: Moderate. This is a trail for the more experienced snowshoer. It meanders through forest, meadows and features views of Mount Adams.

March 21: Trapper Creek Length: 5.6 miles. Difficulty: Difficult. Climb up through an ancient Douglas fir and hemlock forest. The reward at the top is a view of Mount Adams.

Each snowshoe trip costs $10 per person. One disadvantage - snowshoes are NOT PROVIDED.

For details and online registration, visit http://www.mshinstitute.org/.

Inside look of Ape Caves ( cool video).

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To extend my audience (and make extra few bucks ) ,recently I started contributing my posts to Examiner.com (a news site that allows local citizen journalists to share their city-based knowledge on a blog-like platform, in over 60 cities in the United States). It's an awesome site that delivers news, reports and insights in 6 different categories, with interests that range from local entertainment to news and politics. It's not just another web site, it's a community of people who share their interests and passion.

As you might guess, my interest is " Recreation and Travel". I was happy to see that there were a lot of people, who shared their insights on almost every outdoor adventure and activity in Washington state. Among my favorite examiners are Casey Knopik and his travel buddies or as they call themselves "the Northern Rangers".

You've already seen my pictures of Ape Caves and read a short description, but this video ,shot by the Rangers, will give you a "live " look inside the caves. It's really well edited, narrative and even funny.

Have a look at it, and who knows ,may be you will change your mind about that trip to the caves.

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Mt St Helens : hiking, mountain biking, caving, camping.

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This weekend was my second time at Mt St Helens area ( ex 21 off I-5 ). Last year I made a short trip to Ape Caves, and ,frankly, wasn't impressed neither with the caves nor with the area. I blame two factors : weather and the lack of time. The latter is the crucial one. If you are planing a trip down there ( assuming you are coming from Seattle area ), make sure you give yourself at least a couple days to explore that area, because there are just too many things to do in one day.

If this is your first time in the area, make sure you stop by the Woodland Chamber of Commerce's Tourist Information Center just west off I-5 on your way to HWY 503. Here you can get the latest updates on road conditions, campgrounds, free maps and area information.

Next - where to camp ? While there is abundant number of campgrounds along the Lewis River Road (HWY 503), there is one that remains a hidden jewel of the area - Lake Merril Campground. On a hot, sunny summer weekend ( like the one we just had) it's hard to find a vacant spot even at a major 45-tents campground like Cougar Camp, but when I arrived at Lake Merril Campground ( which has only 8 spots ( meaning- less crowd, quieter )), I found a spot ! by the lake ! And the surroundings were breathtaking. The most amazing perk ? It was FREE !

Camping at Lake Merril Campground

The area's two most visited attractions are - Ape Caves and ... well.. Mt St Helens ,of course !

The Crater

Sitting on Volcano

80% who made it to the top.

Climbing a volcano ! Exciting ? It was OK for me...According to the statistics:
In past years ,between 11,000 and 12,000 people have received climbing permits ( yes, you need one -$ 22 ). More than 80% make it to the summit ( where the hell the other 20% go?), making it one of the most- climbed peaks in the world !


For me the hardest part of the climb was getting to the trailhead ( Climber's Bivouac ), the gravel road was horrible. I really got scared for my car suspension system ( though I am driving Subaru Forester ). Once at 3,700 feet (Climber's Bivouac ) I found a cool thing - Climber's Bivouac is also a campground ( official), so if you want to get a good night sleep ( instead of driving for 2 hours and then hiking), come here the night before. As usual I am not gonna describe the hike and ruin it for you, just will say that it's a lot of fun scrambling on big andesite boulders and hiking in the smooth, sandy lava ash.

One funny fact about "climbing" Mt St Helens:
Though USGS scientists believe that "climbing" is safe...rangers suggest carrying goggles, a hamlet and an ash mask.

And I did see somebody wearing a helmet ! Not sure if it was a safety concern or something a doctor prescribed.

Mt St Helens is a great mountain biking destination ( according to the authors of
" Mountain Biking Washington ". I swear, I use this book for the last time. It's the worst guidebook I've ever used). Two trails ( from that book) I wanted to try: Plains of Abraham and Kalama Loop.

Note to myself ( and others) - don't hike Mt St Helens and mountain bike the same mountain on the same day. Tha's what I did. After my hike, I drove to the Lava Canyon and tried to MB Plains of Abraham.
Needless to say I didn't make too far. And it wasn't even the difficulty of the trail. Late in the afternoon, those flies become notorious. If your insect repellent doesn't work, you are done.

Mountain Biking on Plains of Abraham

Back at the camp, I took a nice relaxing sunset paddle around the beautiful Lake Merril and called it a day.

Next morning I decided to give MB here another chance. Kalama Loop Trailhead at the Kalama Horse Campgrounds is about 6 miles away. According to the book:
The popular route skirts the base on the southwest side of Mt St Helens and is frequently used by horseback riders.

My description: Do you like riding your bike in horse crap? Do I need to continue?

All in all, I really like the area. It's a great family destination as well as for those interested in multi sport outdoor activities.