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2017 Ape Cave Hike

Friday, August 11, 2017

In August, I took a trip to Portland with a friend and her son for a long weekend.  We made a stop on the way on the south side of Mount St. Helens, to do the Ape Cave hike!

Shelley and I sign posing

Ape Cave was formed when about 2,000 years ago lava erupted down the south side of Mount St. Helens. As the lava flowed the outer edges of the lava cooled and formed a hardened crust which kept the lava underneath in a molten state.  As a result the hot lava flowed in a lava tube and continued flowing for months during the eruption.  The Ape Cave lava tube is 13,042 feet long, the third longest lava tube in North America, and the longest in the continental United States (for people who pay attention to these sort of statistics…).  A lava tube like this is rare at Mount St. Helens because the mountain typically has thicker lava which tends not to result in lava tubes; instead it builds up pressure which then causes explosive eruptions like the eruption in 1980.

We got to Ape Cave about 1:30 in the afternoon after a several hour drive.  It was definitely time to stretch our legs and get moving.  There are two options to hike Ape Cave, the upper cave and the lower cave.  The lower Ape Cave is about 0.75 miles long with a flat floor and is considered “easy,” appropriate for kids and people that are not up for doing the upper cave.  The upper Ape Cave is 1.5 miles long, with approximately 27 boulder piles that must be climbed over.  When the lava tube finally cooled, the molten lava drained out and the ceiling began to shrink and crack.  Boulders fell from the ceiling, in some places leaving the piles and in others leaving the entrances.  Even where there aren’t boulder piles, the hardened lava is uneven to walk on.  There are also two rock wall obstacles in the cave that need to be scaled too, only one of which was in the website literature we read…

The entrance to both the lower and upper caves

We decided to do the Upper Ape Cave, because who wants to do the easy hike?!?  Pretty quickly we were absolutely alone.  In the dark…  With just our headlamps to keep us company.  We made our way through the cave, climbing up the boulders and then back down the pile on the other side.  Over lots and lots of rock piles…  Over lots of uneven lava floor.  The walls of the cave were fascinating.  There was cave slime and interesting colors on the walls and the boulders.

I mentioned before that there are two spots in the cave that are more than just moderate.  This is where the cave gets its “difficult” rating.  The first spot we came to is about a 7 foot rock wall that you had to scale.  Lucky for us, a ranger happened along at that point and let us know where the two footholds are.  They don’t seem like they are allowed to help by giving you a boost though…  The footholds help you get high enough up the wall that you can hoist yourself over, but you still need some strength to make it happen!  I had strained my knee the weekend before, so I was a little worried about it, but managed to hoist myself up and over on the second try.

It doesn’t look like much looking down, but that wall was taller than me…

The second challenge was a bit different.  You had to use a foothold to get up on a natural step – that part wasn’t hard – but then you had to scoot between the wall and and rock and then scoot your bum up and over the rock to get up to the higher level.  The other option was to just pull yourself over the rock from the foothold, but I wasn’t strong enough for that.  In short, if you don’t have the upper body strength, you have to be slender enough to scoot between the rocks.  This obstacle was the hardest part of the cave for three short weaklings!

Toward the end of the cave you reach a little garden oasis, where the ceiling has fallen in and allowed light and soil to reach into the cave.  There are ferns and other plants growing there.  We took some photos there and continued on, since we knew we were getting close to the end!

A view of the skylight – close to being done!

Due to all the climbing over rock piles, it felt like way more distance than a 1.5 mile hike.  The elevation during the hike moves from about 1,900 feet to about 2,400 feet, but you won’t notice the elevation gain with all the climbing over boulders…  We reached the end after about 2.5 hours in the cave, which the literature says is the expected time.  Admittedly, we took a lot of breaks along the way…  We were tired at the end, but we still had to climb out of the cave using a ladder.

The ladder you climb to exit the cave

 

The exit – we made it out!

Once we were back above ground, we hiked back to the trail back through ashy soil and the remnants of the 1980 eruption all around.

The surface hike back

 

Me! With a really cool dead tree

If you go…  Dress for a 45 degree cave – there’s no sun to warm you up.  Wear pants to protect your legs and closed toed shoes, preferably hiking boots or hiking shoes – trust me on this, you will appreciate the leg protection and parts of the cave are slick.  Bring a headlamp; you will want to be hands-free as you climb over the boulders.  If you can, bring someone tall and strong!  That would have made the obstacles way easier…  And lastly – you can do it, mind over matter my friends!

What a fun hike!

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Mount Si Hike

July 21, 2017

With my summer Fridays off of work, I was able to do some hikes with my girlfriend Katie, because she has Fridays off too!  We went south one day and did the Mount Si hike in the Snoqualmie Region, just outside of the town of Snoqualmie.

Mount Si, for the Snoqualmie people, was the body of the moon, fallen to the earth through the trickery of the fox and the blue jay.   It is a spiritual place, with a craggy mountain rising out of the foothills.  For those of you who watch the television show Twin Peaks, Mount Si features prominently in the show, which was filmed in and around the town of Snoqualmie.  The mountain is named for a settler named Josiah Merritt, who had a cabin at the base of the mountain in the late 1800s.

Katie and I headed down early that morning, and took the scenic route down to the mountain – off on the back roads to avoid rush hour freeway traffic.

We arrived just after 8 – we got out our packs and got ready to go.

Mount Si is a tough hike.  It is a steep hike – 8 miles round trip with over 3,100 feet of elevation gain.  Mount Si is considered a training hike for Mount Rainier; if you can summit Mount Si in less than two hours then you are considered to be ready to summit Rainier.  We headed up the mountain, which is basically 4 miles of switchbacks up the mountain.  There are parts that are steeper and parts where the switchbacks are more gentle, but it is all switchbacks, all the time on this route…

 

We took breaks when we needed and encountered several groups of millennials hiking with their phones streaming music into the air.  I don’t think I will ever understand why they want to hike with music blasting out like this.  I prefer to listen to the sound of nature when I am out hiking.

Early on, Katie and I came upon a leucistic slug – it was white!  That was far more fascinating than it might have been had we not needed at rest break! But honestly, I think it might have been the high point of Katie’s day.  She was pretty excited about that slug…

At the top of the mountain, Mount Si is a collection of boulders and rock faces – lots of climbers like to climb to the actual summit here.  We weren’t going to do that, because it is a technical climb, but enjoyed seeing it still up above us.  We did scramble around and among boulders to go see close up where the technical climb begins.

 

A Gray Jay on Mount Si

 

 

Katie and Me!

Mount Si also has a fun draw.  Now, I know I will get in trouble with some of you for this, and I hope you will be able to forgive me…  I never do this.  Katie and I fed the birds…  (hangs head in shame, but only a little…) The Gray Jays there would swoop down to grab a peanut or dried cranberry from the palm of your hand!  Surprisingly, they are very gentle.  I have to admit it was pretty fun.  And the photos I got were absolutely priceless.

Yes, these are unedited…

 

We hung out at the top and ate our lunch of nuts, granola bars and fruit, and checked out the views of Mount Rainier and the Cascade Range.  It was stunning!  Certainly worth the pain of the uphill hike!

For obvious reasons, the hike back down was faster and easier, and when we got to the bottom we were more than ready for a trip to Snoqualmie Brewery for a late lunch and a pint.  I had the Muffaletta sandwich (which while not very traditional was delicious!) and the Copperhead American Pale Ale, and got myself a pint glass to take home.

On the way home, Katie and I did a quick stop at Snoqualmie Falls.  We checked out the falls, which at 268 feet tall is the 6th highest waterfall in Washington State.  It has two powerhouses generating power for Puget Sound Energy; one is actually buried underground!  Snoqualmie Falls and the Salish Lodge that is located at the top of the falls, were both also featured in Twin Peaks, giving Katie a Twin Peaks trifecta for the day.

It was a great day!

Monte Cristo Hike

July 15, 2017

In July, I went on another hike I’d never done before, an 8 mile round-trip hike over a relatively flat route to a gold and silver mining site.  The ghost town of Monte Cristo.

Between 1890 and 1907, Monte Cristo experienced a huge boom, growing to over 1,000 people at its peak, with 13 active mines and 211 active mining claims.  It was the first mine site on the west side of the Cascade Mountain range.  John D. Rockefeller took an interest in the site and for a period of time Frederick Trump, grandfather of President Trump, operated a boom-town hotel and brothel there.

At first the town and the mines were profitable, but over-estimates of the ground’s ore potential and frequent floods took their toll.  Most of the ore was near the surface; it was rarely profitable to go more than 500 feet down below the surface.  The river also flooded several times, requiring expensive repairs to the road and the railroad line in order to keep the ore flowing out to the smelter.

After mining operations ceased in 1907, for several decades there were attempts to keep the town going as a resort destination, with only limited success.  The county road to Monte Cristo was flooded in 1980 and not rebuilt, and the only remaining business, a lodge, burned down in 1983.  Monte Cristo is a ghost town today. A few original buildings and relics remain, as well as several more cabins from the various resort town efforts. The forests have grown back, so it is tough to imagine the bare hillsides with tramways and men bringing ore down from the steep mountains.

The route follows most of the old route taken by the miners over a century ago.  Floods over the years have washed out the road alongside the South Fork of the Sauk River.  The hike starts at the Barlow Pass trailhead on the North Cascades – Mountain Loop Highway and travels along the road for about 4 miles. You have to cross over the river on a large fallen tree at one point, but it is wide and flat enough that it doesn’t feel treacherous.

A view of the mountains on the hike in

There is a slight incline the entire way, with a total elevation gain of 700 feet to a final elevation of 2,800 feet.  The scenery is stunning, with the shallow river showing its rocky bed, and the craggy mountains above.  The 8 miles are pretty easy miles as long as you can handle the distance.

A Wiggin’s Lily at Monte Cristo

Once in the town it was fun to just wander around, seeing the old cabins and reading the signs showing where other buildings used to be.  There has been some remediation done in the area, in order to clean up the heavy metals that still exist in the mine tailings.  There is still a lot more work to be done, so they recommend you don’t drink the water there, or at a minimum filter it.

There is a pack-in campsite; it looks like a fun place to stay the night and explore the town.  I wonder if there are ghosts!

West 2016: Jenny Lake

Day 11, Monday, August 15, 2016

One of the activities that I most wanted to do at Grand Teton was to take the boat across Jenny Lake, and hike up to Inspiration Point.  I knew that there was going to be a lot of congestion in the area, because they are renovating the parking lot and services there, so we got up early to make sure we could get a parking spot and a spot on the boat.

The river near Jenny Lake

 

Jenny Lake

The boat ride was nice – a relaxing, short trip on a gorgeous lake.  The mountains in the background are stunning.  Once you get off the boat, you can choose how far you want to go.  The entire hike up to Inspiration Point, with a stop at Hidden Falls is about .9 miles each way.  However, the trail to Hidden Falls was closed for repairs when we were there, so I didn’t get to see it!  My mom didn’t want to hike all the way to Inspiration Point, so I pulled away from her with the agreement that I would meet her wherever she happened to end up.  That works fine with an out and back trail.

 

The trail is a gentle uphill at the beginning, but the last bit of it is steeper switchbacks along the side of a mountain.  You will need to be patient about passing, as not all spots are quite wide enough for two.  Once you are at the top, at an elevation of 7,200 feet, the view is amazing!  You look out over the lake and see the boats coming and going from the dock down below.  It is well worth the exertion! I found a family to take my photo and spent a bit of time enjoying the view. A little Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel was excited to see me; he wanted me to feed him…

Switchbacks up to Inspiration Point

 

Me at Inspiration Point

 

On the way down I saw two different pika and spent some time getting photos of them.  It was fairly quiet since it was still relatively early, so I got some good photos before another group of people came along to scare them away.  I loved seeing those little guys!

 

Pika!

 

Pika!

On the way back I ran into my mom at another viewpoint and was impressed with how far she had made it.  She got her own view to enjoy while waiting for me to come back down.

 

Mom and me – Inspiration Point Trail

Mom and I took the boat both ways, but you can hike all the way around the lake for an additional 3 miles.  Next time I visit I want to do that!  Plus, I still need to see the falls.

Jenny Lake and Inspiration Point were certainly worth the visit!

Costs and Fees: $15 per person round-trip for Jenny Lake boat shuttle.

 

West 2016: Cunningham Cabin

Day 10, Sunday, August 14, 2016

In Grand Teton National Park, I visited the Cunningham Cabin, which is a homesteader’s cabin that was built sometime between 1888 and 1890.  J. Pierce Cunningham arrived in Jackson Hole from New York in 1885, and spent his first years in the valley trapping.  He got married and then decided to try his hand at homesteading, staking a claim for 160 acres.  The cabin was constructed in the dogtrot style, with two small cabins joined with an open breezeway – it was a style common in the eastern states.

The Cunningham cabin with the mountain view

Unfortunately, ranching was difficult on 160 acres in the West, due to the fact that ranchers had to supplement feed for their cattle in the winter.  They needed enough land to grow enough hay to last the winter, which could be up to 6 months long.  Cunningham purchased an additional 140 acres in 1897 at $1.25 per acre.  In 1918 he increased the size of his ranch again by purchasing 240 acres from a neighbor’s property to the north.  Cunningham had to produce and store 200 tons of hay each winter.

The cabin has a dark side too…  In fall of 1892, two wranglers showed up at the cabin to buy hay for their horses.  Cunningham struck up a deal for them to stay over at the ranch for the winter.  However, rumors began spreading that the men were horse thieves.  A man who claimed to be a U.S. Marshal arrived in April 1893 with three deputies from Idaho, and convinced several local men to join their posse.  The cabin was surrounded and the men were gunned down when they left the cabin.  Although Cunningham wasn’t directly involved, he admitted that he felt that the brands on the men’s horses had been altered.  Interestingly, neither the allegations against the men nor the identify of the supposed U.S. Marshall was ever proven…

The view of the mountains from the cabin window

After World War I, beef prices dropped a lot, and many ranchers were no longer able to make a living. Cunningham and his neighbors proposed a petition for the federal government to purchase the valley’s ranches for inclusion with the new Grand Teton National Park.  He wasn’t successful.  Luckily John D. Rockefeller had fallen in love with the area, and he created the Snake River Land Company to purchase private land and donate it to the park.  Rockefeller ultimately purchased and donated 32,000 acres in the Jackson Hole valley, including Cunningham’s ranch.

To get a close up view of the ranch, you just have to walk a short, flat trail.  The entire loop is 0.3 mile, if you want to explore all the areas where there were once outbuildings, but the remaining cabin is the only structure that remains.  The day that I visited there was a herd of horses on the other side of the fence, so I went to say hello to them too.  They looked so beautiful with their stunning mountain backdrop!

This view! Horses and Mountains!

 

Horses near the Cunningham cabin

 

A juvenile mountain bluebird at the Cunningham cabin

 

This cabin is well worth a quick visit!

That evening in Jackson, Wyoming, we had dinner at King Sushi.  The food was fantastic!  The kids at the next table whose parents were paying no attention to the fact that they were kicking me – not so fantastic!  We also wandered around downtown Jackson for a bit, getting photos at the famous elk antler arch on the main square (each corner of the square has an arch).  We also poked around in some shops, and found lots and lots of taxidermy animals.  The dressed up critters!

 

 

Just. So. Much. Wow

 

Costs and Fees: $30 per vehicle at Grand Teton National Park (free with a National Parks Pass).  Many areas of Grand Teton do not require you to pay the fee.

Distance for the Day: Cody, WY – Jackson, WY (3 hrs, 58 min, 177 miles)

Hotel for the night: Motel 6 – Jackson, WY

 

Grand Teton NP History

Grand Teton National Park is one of the 10 most visited National Parks in the United States – approximately 3,270,076 people visit each year (2016 stats). It is about 310,000 acres, and it is located 10 miles (16 km) south of Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming.  The park protects the major peaks of the 40-mile-long Teton Mountain Range, along with parts of the Jackson Hole valley.  On February 26, 1929, President Calvin Coolidge established the park.

Human habitation within the park boundary goes back about 11,000 years, when hunter-gatherer Paleo-Indians used the land in the summer for food and supplies. In the early 19th century, when white men first arrived, the Shoshone tribes lived there.  It was popular with fur traders between 1810 and 1840, because of the beavers that lived in the rivers there (before they were almost trapped to extinction of course).  Grand Teton National Park is named for Grand Teton, which is the tallest mountain in the Teton Range at 13,775 feet.  The mountains were named by fur trappers coming through the area, who called them les trois tétons (the three teats), and of course it stuck, and we Americanized the name.

The first view of the Teton Mountains

Geologically, the rocks in the park are some of the oldest in the United States; dated at 2.7 billion years.  The Teton range has several glaciers too, and the park contains the upper main stem of the Snake River, which flows north, and eventually flows into the Columbia River.

The area was isolated for so long that the ecosystem is much better protected than some other areas of the U.S., so some of the same species have been found there since prehistoric times.  Animal species that are found there include bison, moose, elk, mule deer, marmot, pika, Grizzly bear, black bear, osprey, coyote, cutthroat trout, beavers and river otters.  The Teton range is also home to the threatened whitebark pine tree.

Grand Teton National Park is really an outdoor-person’s paradise.  There are over 200 miles of hiking trails, many of them back-country trails.  There are over 1,000 car camping sites.  A paved trail through the park provides easy access to the valley areas by bike or roller blades.  You can boat or float the rivers, fish, mountain climb, and cross country ski or snow shoe in the winter.  There is enough to keep you busy for awhile…

The park has also preserved a lot of the history from the days when homesteaders lived in the valley and built ranches and small communities.  There are several historic buildings throughout the park that you can visit.

Mom Sign Posing

We spent two days there, and we did and saw a lot in those two days!  I will tell you more about my visit coming up!

 

Too Much Fun, So Little Time

I got back from vacation last Sunday, and between trying to get caught up at work and home, plus recovering from a knee injury I got from having fun, I haven’t had much time to get anything posted!

Today I hiked the Ape Cave, a lava tube in Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. It was so fun, but harder than I expected! Thankfully I didn’t do any more damage to my still healing knee.

 

Me! With a really cool dead tree

I promise to keep catching up on posts soon, including my Ape Cave hike. Happy Weekend Everybody!