Take I-5 from Portland to Woodland. It's 23mi from N Portland to the exit 21.
Note: Because I had to pick up my radio from the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument Headquarters in Amboy, WA, I took a slightly different route through Battleground and across the Yale Bridge before connecting with the Lewis River Road (SR 503).
It's 28 miles from Woodland to the Cougar. There are a couple of gas stations here. Continue east on SR-503 which becomes Rd 90 for 9.5 miles to Ape Cave. Looks for the sign to Ape Caves, June Lake, Climber's Bivouac, Ape Canyon & Lava Canyon which is Rd 83. It's 0.3 miles to Trail of Two Forests and 0.7 miles to Ape Cave.
It's 9.7 miles from the Trail of Two Forests to Ape Canyon on Rd 83.
This hike was part of my first official day as a Hiking Steward with the Mt St Helens Institute. I started my day at 9:20am just after the Hwy 90/83 intersection where I checked in via radio to the dispatch. Another volunteer was working at Ape Cape so I wanted to spend most of my time at Ape Canyon and Lava Canyon.
I heard about a viewpoint above Ape Cave that you can either walk to or drive up to. I figured I'd start there. I drove right past and continued on this narrow road for almost two miles, 1/2 on gravel before I realized I'd missed it. Sure enough, it was just a 1/4 mile from the Ape Cave Parking lot. I parked at the sign and found the clearing in the trees to see the mountain.
I doubted anyone else would be up here at a quarter to 10am so I drove back down the hill and stopped at the Trail of Two Forests parking lot.
The only car there was leaving as I arrived but it wasn't long before another one showed up. They were traveling from Northern California. They'd stopped because they thought they could get a parking pass for the area there, not just the $5 pass. I chatted a bit about the TTF and they were happy to take a spin. I also recommended June Lake for a shorter hike since they were heading to Seattle in the afternoon. One of them was intrepid enough to crawl through the tunnel. (I just climbed down the ladder and looked.)
|Hole left where a tree once stood|
As I completed the boardwalk loop, I talked to a mother and daughter. The daughter had gone on a guided climb to the summit the day before. It was recommended to stop at the TTF on their way out. When I got back to the parking lot another couple had just arrived and were looking at the signage. We talked for awhile about history of Ape Cave and TTF. I asked if they had plans to head up 83 further; they'd camped in their van the night before somewhere between June Lake and Ape Canyon. They'd wanted to check out Ape Cave and the husband displeased about the timed ticket requirement. The wife tried to get him off the subject and accepted that it's just how things are at popular spots. They said Subway Cave in Lassen NF is another excellent lava tube. I said it was nice chatting and they headed to the boardwalk.
Length: 10.00 mi
Elev. gain: 2,021 ft
Moving time: 3:27:32
Avg pace: 20:45
Total time: 4:09:49
My third stop was Ape Canyon. I was ready for a bit of hiking and seeing the place through the lens of being a hiking steward. I carried some materials, the radio, and a notepad to record observations and visitor interactions. There were only a few parking spaces left so I knew I'd get to talk to some folks. As I was getting my pack and gear ready, two cars arrived nearby (a pair of hikers and a solo hiker). I took the opportunity to introduce myself. They didn't have any questions but thanked me for volunteering. The solo hiker said he'd heard about MSHI.
On the trail about 2 miles from trailhead, I encountered a large group; 13 members of a multigenerational family (4 under 10, 3 teens, 5 adults, 1 senior). They were spread out a bit and I said hello and introduced myself as I moved through them. One person asked about length of the trail and I showed the map on my phone with marker where we were at the moment. There were in good spirits, happy that there were making progress up the trail. They teens seemed annoyed by the flies that pestered them when they stopped. One person at the front of the group was carrying a medium sized cube-shaped cooler.
Note: I never felt the need for bug spray. The flies were a bit annoying but never seemed to bite. No mosquitoes. I think I saw some hover flies (look like bees but aren't). The most unusual plants that I saw were the Indian Pipe and Pinesap.
About 45 mins later, a couple of mountain bikers came down the trail. I alerted them that a large group was below somewhere; they thanked me and continued their descent.
When I reached Pumice Butte, I encountered a woman and two 6 year olds just after the monitoring equipment. They didn't feel comfortable negotiating the narrow part of the trail and were turning back to find a place for a snack. I gave the kids stickers that they were happy to get. They showed me their camera watches. I talked to the mom for a bit and she asked me to tell two guys that might be waiting for them around the corner that they'd retreated. When I rounded the corner, I didn't see them and headed up the Loowit trail toward the Plains of Abraham to look for them but didn't. Two more mountain bikers were heading back down and greeted them.
I double-backed and headed south on the Loowit trail into the trees to find some shade. I noted in my report that a couple of trees were fallen across the trail but easy to get around. I didn't see anyone on this part of the trail so I returned to the junction.
I walked back down past the monitor station and had lunch and admired the view of Mt Adams. The person with the cooler and two youngster from that group of 13 showed up. The little ones asked where the car was. LOL. I gave them both stickers which they seemed happy to get. They headed back down, apparently to regroup with the other 10 people.
The two guys the woman with two kids was looking for came by. I told them where they'd gone: looking for a place to rest and have a snack. The solo hiker that had parked next to me came by. He'd gone to the (dry) creek a bit north on the Loowit Trail for lunch.At 2pm, I started my descent. I encountered the group of 13 about a 1/4 mile from Pumice Butte. One of the teens asked if there was a lake and looked slightly disappointed when I said there wasn't one up here.
I passed the woman with the two kids a third time while they were on their way down. The kids seemed tired but the mom had snacks and water to keep them motivated. I didn't see anyone else until close to the trailhead; a mountain biker starting the ascent. In general, I didn't have much time to introduce myself to the bikers except where I noted earlier. I made sure my MSHI shirt was well visible and they just cruised by.
|One last look at the mountain and lahar|
I reached the parking lot at 3:30p.
After The Hike
My next stop was Lava Canyon. There were a couple cars in the parking lot but I didn't see anyone. I only made it to upper bridge. I stayed there for about 30 mins. I did pass a solo visitor on my way back to the parking lot who wasn't too chatty. I just introduced myself and said I was just saying hello and could answer any questions but none came. I wished him a nice afternoon. I did the same with another pair of visitors.
My last stop for the day was the Lahar Viewpoint. I interacted with one
person that was enjoying the views from a shaded rock. I talked with her
for awhile about the 1980 eruption and Shoestring Glacier that melted
during the eruption and become the lahar that scoured the east side of
the mountain and Lava Canyon. She asked about the climbing routes as
well. She and her family (in the car) were planning to visit the
northside via 503. I detailed a few sites along the way: Silver Lake
Visitor Center, Castle Lake Viewpoint, SLC, Coldwater Lake and the
Another couple just wanted to know where they could get a better view of the lahar. I recommended going a little further on 83 to Ape Canyon and maybe stop at Lava Canyon. In between interactions, I took the opportunity to collect some trash. My last interaction of my first rove was a mother and daughter. I talked about what changed in 1980 on this side of the mountain, the '80-84 and '04-08 domes, "In the Blast Zone" collections of essays, and Le Guin's, Pander's, & Cronin's visit to the blast zone in Oct 81.
I drove back to place I'd make my morning radio call near 83/90. and did my "out of service for the day" call to Columbia at 5pm.