October 13 – 14, 2014: We chose Mount St. Helens over Mount Rainer and are glad we did.
Mount St. Helens was surprisingly amazing. We drove out to Johnston Ridge Observatory where we learned a lot at the visitor center and took in some spectacular views. I really had no knowledge of the volcano eruption in 1980 (I bet it hadn’t yet made it into history books when I was in school) and it was interesting to learn about how it has transformed the landscape. We thought the landscape looked a lot like the Badlands – lots of muted colors and sharp edges. This was our first United States national park and we purchased our America the Beautiful Pass which, for $80, allows us to enter national park and forest lands for a year at no cost.
On our second day in the area, we headed to the Ape Caves – these caves were formed during an eruption 1900 years ago when lava flowed through the area. However, it wasn’t until 1947 that the cave/lava tube was discovered. We hiked round-trip through the lower cave (3/4 mile) which was fairly large and open. The distinctive feature is a ‘meatball’ – a round ball that fell from the ceiling while lava was still flowing through the cave. It flowed through the cave until getting stuck in a narrow spot about 12 feet above the floor. We then continued on to hike the upper cave (1.5 miles) which required climbing over 27 piles of stones and scaling an 8 foot high lava fall. It was pitch black and headlamps are an absolute must. Caving isn’t something we had done on our Camper Dan adventure yet and it brought back memories of caving in northern Thailand earlier in the year. If you visit Mount St. Helens, I would recommend taking the extra time to climb through the Ape Caves and read the interesting literature that is provided to prepare you for the caves.