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

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