Thursday, July 26, 2012

Trip Recap: Mt. St. Helens


Here are a few more pictures from our trip to Southern Washington to visit the temperamental Mt. St. Helens. 

We rented this tiny rustic cabin. It was about ten feet from the lake. 

That was both good (the view) and bad (a baby that constantly wants to go fall into said lake can be tiring). 

 Fortunately we had restraint measures with us (aka The crib). The prisoner was not happy with this arrangement. 

Not sleeping.

 On Saturday we headed south to Ape Cave, the longest contiguous lava tube in the continental US. This hike tends to be fairly crowded as it's only 1.5 hours from Portland. However, we noticed that most folks opt for the lower cave, which is significantly shorter. We elected to hike the upper cave and it was quite a workout! It's 1.5 miles of sloping, boulder-strewn trekking. This portion had some pretty significant cave-ins so it also included a fair amount of climbing over rock piles. Peeps, it was a workout! Especially for Chris, as he had Ben on his back.

Descending into the dark depths. Cue the melodramatic music.
 Ben throughly enjoyed the adventure. It was completely back in the tubes, with the exception of our headlamps and he got a kick out of following the light. We should have fitted him with his own lamp. 

However, he was ready to be done by the time we reached the end (observe his facial expression). If you plan on doing this trip with a baby, check out the foot note at the end of this post because there were a few serious factors that you'd want to consider before starting. 
 We were all happy to emerge into the sunlight. 
 That evening we took a stroll around the visitor's center and then went into town for dinner. Seriously Peeps, I love vacations so much more if I'm not cooking. I can handle breakfast and lunch...but I love having dinners out. 
 I'm telling you, we have so many shots like this: happy me, pissed off Ben. For once I'd like two amiable people in the picture. 
 Ben spent some time playing in Silver Lake. Not the most beautiful body of water, but definitely suitable for a little splashing. 
 Ben awoke bright and early the next day and we decided to get going, rather than hang out around the cabin. 

The drive up 504 (Spirit Lake Highway) to the Johnston Ridge Observatory was foggy:

There are some advantages to early risings though: empty trailheads. 

 We elected to hike the South Coldwater Trail, which provides a lovely view of both the mountain (on non-foggy days), the newly formed Coldwater Lake, and the ash-chocked river below. It's also a pretty steady uphill climb. Working off those chocolate bars that I brought along as snacks. 
 The lake was formed when debris from the erupting mountain damned one end of the valley. 

The hillsides facing St. Helens are mostly bereft of large standing trees, even now. 

 Ben did a bit of hiking. 
 I'd never been to St. Helens before; the amount of material clogging the riverbed is enormous. A lot of mountain went down the river thirty two years ago. 

 It was wildflower season, an unexpected surprise. 
 Check out this crazy thing:
 And ant, season, evidently. 
 I highly recommend this hike. It was steep but fun. 

After our walk, we continued uphill to the Johnston Ridge Observatory. It was definitely worth the $8 admission fee. 

I didn't know much about the eruption prior to venturing up the mountain. Most of all, you look at St Helens (6 miles away) and think: I can't believe the blast went from there to here in less than 60 seconds. And suddenly you felt pretty darn vulnerable. I was seriously checking for the nearest exits.  

It was sobering: the geologist for whom the center was named, David Johnston, was standing on this very ridge when the blast occurred. 

 He was responsible for urging the government to maintain an exclusion perimeter around the mountain despite the urgings of logging companies (We're looking at you Weyerhaeuser) and homeowners. Without his vocal and persuasive arguments, the loss of life would have undoubtedly been significantly higher than the 57 that were reported killed in the explosion. 

His body was never found, although his USGS van was uncovered during road work in 1994. 

Despite the rather gloomy ending to this post, it was a fun trip and I'm glad we made it down there for a few days. It's always good to know about your home state. 



Hiking in Ape Caves with a baby. 

f you have a small mobile child, do not attempt the 1.5 mile upper cave. It was hard for me, and I'm a [reasonably] fit adult. This hike requires extensive boulder hopping. The rocks are slippery and (of course) it's pitch black. We each had a head lamp and a backup lantern. My light was failing by the time we emerged from the cavern. 

Since Ben was in a backpack (and not walking), we felt fairly confident in our ability to hike the upper cave. We worked out a system in which Chris would walk in front and I'd give him a running commentary on how much headroom Ben had. We went slowly and picked our way carefully through the rockfalls. There were several times that Chris had to crouch down and wiggle past overhanging rock faces. There were also a few vertical scrambles. The largest of them, "The Wall", was about 8' high. It helps that Chris is 6'5" as he can reach those crazy long arms up and find hand-holds that the rest of us normal people can't even dream about reaching. He pretty much pulled me up that rockface. Additionally, we had to take Ben out of the pack in order to make it up the ladder at the exit.  

If I were to do it again, I'd bring leather gloves and wear sturdier boots as the floor of the cavern is quite uneven. And maybe a third light source. Just in case. Because getting stuck in that cave, without any light, would seriously suck.