Thursday, August 28, 2014

Our Great Northwest Adventure- Days 20-21 Ape Caves, Northern Cascades

This is a continuation of my 3 generations of family's great adventure to the Pacific Northwest, Washington, Days 20 and 21. For the complete story, start with Day 1

Day 20-
   This would be a longggg day. We were scheduled to visit the south side of Mt St Helens, and end up at a campsite in the Northern Cascades, which necessitated driving thru Seattle on the Interstate. Seattle is one of the top 5 WORST traffic cities in the US. Ugh

    After being awoken during the night by the sound of impending doom by way of an imagined train de-railment next to our camp site, we groggily set about packing up our campsite, and once again getting it somehow back into the Suburban.

Off we go to the south side of Mt St Helens, to visit Ape Caves. The back roads were enjoyable to drive, rolling up and down, back and forth thru the National Forest land. We passed some dam lakes, then northward to the parking area inside Mt St Helens at Ape Caves.

This cave was created thousands of years ago. A large river of hot lava had poured off the volcano thru this valley. The outside of the lava was cooled by the air, but the inside deeper lava kept flowing, and eventually flowed out, leaving an empty outer shell. Over the years, more dirt and rock piled above it, and now there is a long lava-tube cave. The top end has a "skylight, where it can be accessed from the very upper end. There is also a skylight about 3/4 the way down, and that is the main entry area from the parking lot.

If you want to do the easier hike, you hike in the tube downhill to the end, then turn around and come back to the stairs where you started. If you are more fit, you can hike the upper more-than-a-mile section, walking uphill and climbing over 27 mounds of rocks that have fallen down from the roof. If you do that section, you can climb out at the very upper end and walk down a trail for the return to your car. We chose to do the lower section, since we had a long drive that afternoon. The inside of the cave is a consistent 42 degrees, so we bundled up in warm clothes. Each of us carried 2 sources of light.

Obviously, caves are DARK. Part way into the hike we did our usual "darkness check" by turning off all lights and standing there to see if our eyes could adjust to see anything. Nope, total darkness. The "downside" of hiking this section was that there were several day camp buses of kids that joined us in the cave. They were rather loud, and in the cave all noise is amplified. I found it to be quite annoying. You could whisper and people 20 ft from you could hear, so the loud chattering kids were deafening. Ugh. Despite that, we enjoyed the walk.
   Once we were back up in the daylight (a shock to the eyes), we drove to our next short hike, A trail of Two Forests. We had a nice picnic lunch there, and then walked the boardwalk that tells the story.

This was something I had never heard of or seen before. VERY cool looking. Semi cool lava had flowed thickly thru this region. As it met the trees, some were knocked down, and some left standing. The lava cooled on contact with the trees. The trees were killed, and over the years, the trees were no-more. The ground is full of holes where trees USED to be. Perfectly round holes all around. Very odd looking. The trees that were knocked down made tubes in the lava rock. One of these, you were allowed to crawl thru. Oh, heck yea. First the boys went, then I decided to give it a try. It was a tight fit, and rough on the hands and knees, but I crawled down, thru, and back out the other side. If you're ever in the neighborhood, you have to go check it out.

   Now it was time for our drive back up north. Ugh, I hate Interstate traffic. Once again I was glad I wasn't driving, as we drove thru Seattle at rush hour. There was no "rush" about it. Traffic slowed many times to a crawl, 6 or more lanes wide on each side. I was glad when we finally managed to get north of the city traffic, but started to rain. We were NOT pleased. We were going to get to our reserved campsite at dusk or dark, tired, in the rain, with an impending backpack trip. After some back and forth discussion, we decided that none of us liked that plan at all. I hate setting up camp in the rain, and I certainly didn't want to get my sleeping bag and other gear wet before we even started the backpacking. So it was. We found a hotel in "downtown" Sedro-Wooly". It was actually a really nice hotel for not much money. We were thrilled to have an impromptu night of civilization, complete with internet. Larry and I had a really pretty room with a giant queen sized poster bed. Very fancy, but the bed turned out to be uncomfortable. Oh well, at least we weren't out in the rain.

Day 21-
   We had decided months ago that we were going to backpack up to Sahale Glacier. The permits are first-come-first serve, the day before your hike, and are very popular. Larry and I got up at 4am and drove the almost-an-hour to Marblemount to the Northern Cascades Backcountry Ranger Station. I got out my camp chair, set it up 3 ft from the front door, on the porch, and napped. We were the first one's there, and when the Rangers unlocked the door, we scored a permit. We were sooooo excited. This is a hike we had really looked forward to. There are very few campers allowed up there overnight. We jubilantly drove back to the hotel to get packed up. Yup, more jigsaw puzzle truck packing, then across the street to check out the Visitor's Center for the Cascades. We picked up our Junior Ranger books and looked around and chatted with the Rangers. One of them asked us to help with an ongoing scientific research, and we were thrilled to do it. Up on the high slopes, there is an algae that grows on the snow. It makes the snow pink, and it's called Watermelon Snow.

We were given a kit to carry up to Sahale, to gather samples if we found any. I loved the fact that the kids could be part of a REAL scientific study.
    Then we were on our way. There was a lot of activities planned for today, driving all the way over the mountains and back again.

We stopped in Marblemount again to get Melody a book stamp, and then on to Newhalen to take a look around. We stopped and did a lovely short waterfall hike behind the power plant. This waterfall was over smoothly eroded chutes in boulders, very different that the ones pouring off the mountainsides. The forest was dense and green and lush around it, making it almost magical.

We also stopped repeatedly to view the 3 lakes that are dammed up thru here; Ross Lake, Diablo Lake, and Gorge Lake. The lakes are a gorgeous glacial blue, like jewels in the mountain sides.

We drove over one of the dams. It was a pretty dam. It was a little unnerving to me. It is only one lane wide, period. There is traffic both ways, and it is pretty wide. You have to stop before you get on the dam, look way across to see if anyone is on it, and then drive over when it's your turn.

There is NO signage to tell you this. We had just started driving over it, with no idea. Fortunately, no one was coming, or we would have had to back up a LONG way. When we came back across, we understood the rules, thankfully, because someone was crossing toward us. We waited our turn.
   The weather was being gray and dreary most of the day, but not enough to bother us. We have plenty of those days in Virginia, so it was normal to us.

We stopped at other pullouts and waterfalls to Oooo and Ahhhhh, then drove down to Rainy Pass. There is an easy hike (wheelchair accessible, but long-ish) to Rainy Lake, which is surrounded almost entirely by steep scree mountain sides, with waterfalls poring off them from melting snow and glaciers. It was such a pretty lake and the hike was relaxing. the weather cooperated just enough to keep spirits high.

Our usual series of pictures, and we were heading back to the car. I had hoped to make it a little further down the road to Washington Pass, but was out voted. It was getting late, and we had a long drive back to Marblemount and into the National Forest to get our reserved camp ground for the night.

A couple more quick stops to admire the blue lakes, and we were headed down a forest road. looking for Marble Creek Campgrounds. It was a nice out-of-the-way campground with large sites spread apart.
   This story continues on the blog for days 21-25, Sahale hike

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Our Great Northwest Adventure- Day 17-19 Mt St Helens, Columbia Gorge, Oneonta Gorge, Horsetail Falls, Beacon Rock

Our Great Northwest Adventure

If you are just tuning in, start at Day 1 for the story of our 3 generation family taking a mega-vacation to the Pacific Northwest

Day 17-
   Morning arrived at our tent in La Wis Wis, just outside Mt Rainier National Park. Today our goal was to see Mt St Helens. It was going to be a busy day. We had breakfast, packed all the gear back in the Suburban and car (what a jigsaw puzzle it was), and headed out. After looking at both the east entrance and the west entrance, we had decided to enter from the west so we could go to Johnson Observatory and Visitor's center. Even though it wasn't far as the crow flies, it was a stupidly long drive. It's all mountain roads, and we had to drive west almost all the way to the Interstate, then south a little, and then east again. This route followed a wide stream valley, and passed several dam lakes. We stopped to check one out, then continued down the road.

 When we had been at Rainier, it had been between cool and cold. As we got more and more toward Mt St Helens, it got hotter and hotter. The high that day ended up being 102. Gross.
   As we were driving back eastward again, toward the Mt St Helens National Volcanic Monument, we could start seeing the volcano, but it was hazy and "foggy" looking. Hadn't we had enough fog?

We found out at one of our stops that it wasn't fog. It was super windy up on the mountain that day, and the wind was blowing ash off the slopes into the air. It was ashy out instead of foggy. Hmmmm, interesting.

We stopped at a couple different pull-outs to check out the view, then drove into the "Blast Zone" in the park (it's not actually a National Park).

It was lunchtime, so we headed over to Coldwater Lake to have a picnic. There were picnic tables in the shade, which was a nice break from eating on the curb or the bumper. Once we were done eating, we walked a little ways down the trail by the lake. That lake had not been there before the eruption. All the sludge that poured off the mountain side during the eruption had flowed down and damned up the stream.

 In fact we learned that the sludge went 3 different directions, and the road that we came in on followed a river bed that had ash and mud flows for miles and miles and miles.

   Back to the car, and up to Johnson Observatory. This building is built on a high ridge, opposite the crater in the side of Mt St Helens.

We got there in time for a Ranger talk on the patio that was extremely interesting. The Ranger spoke like he was excited to share everything about the volcano. There are so many details that we didn't know. He was terrific.

He told us that the initial BLAST blew wind over 600 miles an hour and extremely hot. The forested areas closest, in the direct bath, were decimated. The trees were incinerated or blown to bits. The next zone out, where it had slowed some, the trees were all burned of their branches, and pushed down, all in the direction of the wind.

Then the third zone, the trees were burned dead, but left standing. You could see on the hillsides around him where the different zones were. In the 20 minutes he talked enthusiastically, we learned so much. He also showed us a far off picture taken when the huge plume of ash cloud went up. You could tell the blast came out the side of the mountain, because the plume was entirely to one side of the mountain. The other side was untouched.

    We also managed to catch a Junior Ranger program. This ranger had lots of cool props, and used kid volunteers to explain and show how a volcano erupts, and what happened after Mt St Helens blew up. She did a super job, and the kids were glad to earn another Junior Ranger patch.

It was really hot out in the high altitude dry sun. It felt desert like. We went inside, and treated ourselves to watch the 20 minute movie they had in an auditorium. The movie was really well made, fast moving, and had plenty of actual footage. We came away feeling like we had almost lived the event.

   Now that we were cooled off a little, we decided to walk a short hike, the Eruption Trail, which goes up a little knoll and back down. there are placards along the way to describe what you are seeing.

Then it was back in the car, and we headed back out of the park.

This night we had a hotel reserved. We knew we'd be needing showers, plus we picked one with a laundry room on site. It was a small odd hotel, but very clean, and super friendly, called the Mount St Helens Hotel. We set to work running the 3 washers and 2 dryers, and went out to eat. We needed some fattening greasy food so we decided on pizza.

Melody's husband, Johnnie, had to depart early the next morning to fly home for work. We kept the kids in our room so they wouldn't be woken up at 6:30 am.

Day 18-
At O-Dark-Thirty, Johnnie quietly left the hotel with the car and drove back to Seattle, to fly back home for work. Now the remaining 5 of us were all sharing the Suburban. Talk about a tight fit.
   Today we were heading out to the Columbia Gorge National Scenic something-or-other. We were hoping to get a first-come-first-serve campsite at Ainsworth State Park. We had 4 other places written down just in case, but NONE of the public campgrounds in that area take reservations. We were glad to be driving away from the ugh hot. Of course we had to stop on the way at Fort Vancouver to get a stamp and a quick look around. The boys wanted to see the cannons of course.

The sky turned gray and it started to rain, with lightning streaking in the distance. We couldn't complain too much, as the weather had been fabulous the whole time we'd been in Washington.
   Back in the truck we drove into the Columbia River.

First we headed to Ainsworth State Park, to try to get a site early. That was not a problem on a weekday, with plenty of spaces available. We picked out what seemed to be the best site, and set up camp. This would be our camp site for 2 nights, again not having to pack up. That was such a treat.

The weather was still being gray, and threatening rain and thunderstorms. Our plan had been to go climb a tall rock spire trail, but that didn't seem advisable in thunderstorms, so change of plans. First we went down the road and across the river over the Bridge of the Gods, to get groceries in a small town there. The bridge was really pretty. It was named after an area natural stone arch, that the Indians had named Bridge of the Gods.

   Groceries bought and stashed in the truck, and it was time to go look at WATERFALLS. This area of the Columbia Gorge has many, many waterfalls pouring off the sides of the cliffs. We drove to Horsetail Falls, which is RIGHT next to the road.

It was sprinkling a little, but we decided to hike the short ways to Upper Horsetail Falls (also called Ponytail Falls). The trail starts by switching back a bunch of times, up, up, up the cliff, then over to the Upper Falls.

They were really pretty, and we spent some time enjoying them.

By now, it had stopped raining, so we decided to "go for it" and hike the rest of the loop, so we continued on along the clifftop, and over to Upper Oneonta Falls.

Then we finished up the loop as we headed back down, and along the roadside back to the car, passing thru an old tunnel thru the rock.

By now it was getting pretty late, so we decided to head back to the campsite for dinner, relaxing, and a campfire, of course. Then it was bedtime
   So, let me insert here what it means to sleep in Columbia Gorge. This is a natural Gorge, where the Columbia River has carved down thru the rock layers over the millennium, leaving cliffs on both sides, and a little bit of flat river bottom. In this relatively narrow space of river bottom, they have crammed an interstate, an old scenic highway, some campgrounds and pull offs where they could squeeze them in, and........a RAILROAD. A BUSY railroad. Which runs RIGHT next to the campgrounds. Freight trains went be every half hour or so. ALL NIGHT. RIGHT NEXT TO OUR TENT. We had unwittingly chosen a site that was THE closest to the tracks. Sometimes, for extra annoyance, they would blast the whistle. All night. I love the sound of trains. But I had my fill those TWO nights that we slept there. And there are tracks on BOTH sides of the river, so we couldn't just move to the Washington side either. Did I mention that freight trains went by our tent all night? On the bright side, the campgrounds had fantastic bathrooms and showers, and the sites were nice......if you like trains

Day 19- 
   This was an exciting day for me. I was meeting my half-sister for the first time. We have the same father. I was born and raised on the east coast. She lived on the west coast. We were finally going to meet. We had decided to meet at Multnomah Falls for lunch at their restaurant. Meanwhile, we had the morning to go explore. This mornings hike was to hike up into Oneonta Gorge. It is sheer walls on both sides of the stream. You can walk up the stream bed to the base of the falls. The book said it was a half a mile. It seemed shorter. The "hike" starts from the pull off on the side of the road. Once you are in the stream bed, you have to navigate over a very large jumble of logs that have washed down (log jam).

It was tricky to negotiate with the kids, but we got thru. Then we walked up the stream. It was a very scenic walk, The walls to either side of us were hundreds of feet straight up, and green with moss. The stream was small rocks and not to cold to walk in with our water shoes.

 But then........just as we could see a peak of the falls in front of us, we came to a section that was DEEP. We had seen some people that had just come back from that section, and knew that it was armpit deep. We stashed our daypack on the side wall, and Larry put Aiden on his back and started walking. Once you were in above your knees, the water felt COLD. We were all laughing as Larry and Aiden made their way thru and out the other side.

Then it was Chase and Melody's turn. I took up the rear. I had a drybag for my good camera, so I just went on thru. It was COLD. Once on the other side, the falls was right there. Time for lots of pictures, of course.

 Then we made our way back thru the deep area, got our day packs back on, and headed back to the car.

We drove the short ways to the campground for dry clothes, and then headed for Multnomah Falls for lunch. My sister Carol got there just after we did. I was so glad to finally meet her in person. She is a wonderful person, and we got to share stories.

 We went to look at the Falls first, and then went in for lunch.

The food was great, and the building is an old historic masterpiece. It was really nice. After lunch and some more chatting, we went outside and looked thru the visitors area, then said our goodbyes. I was really sad to be parting from Carol already, but as you can tell, we were trying to cram 6 months worth of sightseeing into just 3 weeks.

Our group headed up the walkway to the bridge that is suspended between the 2 falls. It's really pretty up there.

The trail continues to the top of the upper falls, but we decided no. We had more plans for the day. Back in the car, and we headed back over to the Bridge of the Gods, to go to the Washington side of the Bonneville Dam.

Carol had told us that you could go see underwater at the fish ladders and watch Salmon swim upstream. We found the Visitors Center and, sure, enough, there is a public viewing area under water of the fish swimming UP the dam fish ladders to go spawn.

Wild Salmon have been fished almost to extinction, and dams are prohibiting them from getting back upstream to lay more eggs. The good people in this world are working to change that. We also walked around and saw into the power plant and other features of the dam.

Then back to the car, and we drove down to Beacon Rock. The top of the rock is about 600 ft up above you, towering over the Gorge, and the trail back and forth and back and forth, carved into the rock, is almost a mile long.

The trail was made many years ago by a man that loved the natural feature. He bought the "rock" for $1, then built the trail, taking several years, and then gifted it to the State of Washington.

It was a really fun walk up to the top, with LOTS of views up river and down river, including the dam we had just visited.

After soaking in the view, we walked back down, and headed back to camp. It had been a busy day. Time to get some rest and get in another campfire. And listen to the TRAINS go by.
Another great thing about this campsite? We had electric hookups. We took advantage of it and charged up all of our electronics

   Next note. During the middle of the night, there was a longgg drawn out horrible racket from a train that scared the daylights out of both Melody and me. It TRULY sounded like a huge freight train was de-railing and we were going to be crushed right there in our tents. There was metal on metal screeching and clanking. It was NOT the highlight of our trip. All the male members of our group slept thru the whole thing. I laid awake for a while after that. It was UGH.