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Ape Caves

Posted by on November 17, 2014


Entrance to the Ape Cave

Everyone always asks, “Why are they called Ape Caves?” Keep reading and I will try to explain.

Our Boy Scout troop just returned from another camping expedition! We try to go camping every month: rain, shine, snow, or heat. The boys are usually up for getting out in the wild regardless of the conditions. The dads, however, are a little bit less adventurous. I am positive that the ground gets harder and the air colder every year. Luckily, there are enough of us to take the duty, so we rarely cancel a trip. So, even though night-time temperatures were 21F, off we went.


Seaquest State Park Visitor Center

The destination this time was Seaquest State Park near Mt. St. Helens, Washington. Seaquest is a great area to camp. It is the gateway to Mt. St. Helens and easily accessible off of I-5. The park is over 6,000 acres of old-growth forest with lots of wildlife.

before after

Before/After Post Card

Mt. St. Helens is an awe inspiring sight. The mountain was 9,677 feet high until at 8:32AM on MY 18, 1980 it violently erupted. With the force of 5,000 nuclear bombs, the fatal blast literally vaporized the top third of the mountain. Today, its remaining crater rim is a mere 8,365 feet. The cataclysmic force of the explosion blew the upper top soil off exposing the bare bedrock underneath. Over 1 million trees for 40 miles around were snapped and blown over like match sticks. The surrounding area was covered in over 20 feet of ash. The ash plume rose to over 96,000 feet and encircled the globe. The eruption was heard as far ways as Florida. Tragically, 62 people died on the mountain in an instant on that catastrophic day.

Today, the caldera still periodically releases smoke and lava. Slowly, nature is repairing the damage. Some smaller plants are striving to gain a foothold on the bare rock. Animals are returning one by one too. Over millions of years, the mountain will probably again regain its lofty height.


David Johnston’s Famous Pictures

You can drive all the way to an overlook directly across from the mountain. The overlook was named in honor of David Johnston, who died taking some of the most famous pictures of the eruption. He was standing on the same spot as the new visitor center when the mountain erupted. They only found his melted camera with the film inside.

Let’s hope Mt. Rainier stays quiet.

Tip: Watch the short video about Mount St. Helens at the visitor center, it is worth it!

Another unique geological feature created by the eruption are lava tubes. They are created when fast moving lava flows downhill and its outer skin cools into hard rock. The rock insulates the hot molten center, which continues to flow. The lava flows out of the tube creating a hollow straw as it progresses down slope. These lava tubes can be miles long. Many of them are completely buried and hidden. However, the ceiling of some eventually fall in revealing the cave like tubes.


Deep Inside the Ape Cave

These lava tubes are a young Scout’s dream come true! They offer an eerie, yet irresistible attraction to curious boys. Inside, the caves are a consistent year-round 42F. They are dark! I mean total lack of all light once you enter. Without a flashlight, you are blinder than a bat.

Tip: Bring an extra light. If your only one doesn’t work, then you will really be in the dark!

The floor can be very slippery due to water seeping in, so you must be careful. Good hiking boots are a necessity. In some places, you need to crawl on all fours to get through, while in other places you can walk 10 abreast. There is a section in one cave where the floor raises up 6 feet unexpectedly. You need to hoist explorers up with ropes to keep going. One particular cave goes on for 2.5 miles. You can probably imagine that for a group of adventurous Scouts, the experience is like the world’s coolest combination of hide-and-seek, jungle-gym, and treasure hunt!


Sorry, no wild apes in the area, except maybe the hyper-active boys. So, why are they called Ape Caves? The answer is simple, in 1951 a group of Boy Scouts from the local troop’s Ape Patrol discovered them. The National Park Service named them in their honor

Check out our other post to be prepared!


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