Lewis River Trail

By Leslie Parks - Thursday, June 02, 2011

blue tent girls, green tent boys
Le tente bleu filles, le tente vert garcons

This last weekend we almost spur of the moment packed up the backpacks and headed out.  John's last 13 hour night shift ended Thursday morning at 5:30.  He slept most of the morning and remained on call that afternoon/evening but he was home.  What a breath of fresh air.  I suggested we head to the Redwood Forest and but we determined that we weren't ready to drive 12 hours the next day.  So then we scoured our hiking/backpacking books for a place to go.  Mount Saint Helens, then eastern Washington, then the San Juans then back to Mount Saint Helens.  Finally we found the perfect little trip.  We decided to start small, just 2 miles.  Yes we drove 6 hours to hike 2 miles.  Crazy but that's how we roll. The Lewis River Trail is just south of Mount Saint Helens. We needed a Forest Service Pass and so when I saw the sign I only read the first place to get the pass, it was about 6 miles out of the way (12 both ways).  But if we hadn't stopped at Ape Cave we wouldn't have the adventure the next day. Then I read the directions wrong and not too far away we arrived at the road closed for winter sign.  Hmm, shouldn't there have been a sign saying the road was closed?  Are we going to have to hike into the parking lot? 

I reread the directions and oops we were on the wrong road.  Yes, there was a sign saying the road was closed I just didn't pay attention to it.   Finally we were on the right road, but we must have passed the turn off.  We were just about ready to turn around when we decided to goa little farther.  Good thing we did because we hadn't reached it yet. We put our packs on and started the little hike.  There wasn't really anything steep or hard, mostly it was flat.  A great starter backpacking trip.  It had rained before we arrived at the parking lot but then it turned nice.  Lona's comment when we began was "this is the most exciting thing in my life!" She plugged in her iPod and away she went.  About 2 miles in we found this great campsite complete with fire pit,  log seats, and log table between the path and the river.  We quickly set up camp and noticed that the campers in the next site had a fire.  Unfortunately it was not to be that night for us.  Isaac used a whole book of matches.  With all the rain the sticks were just too wet.   John walked over to our camp neighbors and she shared her secret - bought kindling. There were quite a few people just hiking passed and the boys were in the middle of the trail wrestling each other down to the ground.  They were so boy that I could hardly believe it.  That night we made ramen noodles with chicken and peas and had hot cocoa.  We all had a small bag filled with snacks for the trip.  It was filled with granola bars, yogurt covered pretzels, candied nuts, peanut butter crackers and snickers.  It was perfect because then we were in charge of our own snacks.  We read a little Patrick McManus all cuddled up in the boys' tent and then went to bed. 
The next day John had coffee made for me when I woke up.  Sweet.  By 10 am we had breakfast, cleaned up and headed back down the trail to our van. We had decided to explore Ape Cave.  With the Parks family we can't do anything easy.  Instead of starting at the Lower entrance to the lava tubes, we hiked the two miles to the exit (which is called the upper entrance).  We met lots of people coming down the trail and a couple on the way out of the cave by ladder.  It was just a dark hole in the ground with a slimy metal ladder protruding from the gaping black mouth.  A little freaked out we descended into the darkness.  Taking a little time for our eyes to adjust we tried to peer around but could only see as far as the light from the lantern projected.  We look around and notice tracks to our left and start off.  Immediately we came to a large pile of rocks about the size of a single story house.  We scramble up and down over the rocks only to arrive at a cavern that ended.  There had obviously been people in this portion but nowhere else to go but back. I start to get a little nervous and thinking about getting lost in the myriad of caves below the surface.  We make out way back to the ladder and noticed that the tunnel to the right might continue on.  We start down this path.  There were an occasional skylight (holes open to the sky) that we came acrossed at the beginning but these soon stopped.  We were in total darkness except for the lantern John had rented and the small puny flashlights the rest of us carried.  We trudged on with water dripping from the ceiling, running down the walls to pool into puddles on the uneven pitted floor.  We came to another group of boulders piled up.  We scrambled over them still in total darkness.  Alone.  Job nervously stated "I would feel better if we met up with some people"  But for all we knew we were alone in this dark damp cave.  Another pile of boulders and another.  Then we saw lights bobbing up ahead and we ran into the first group of people in about 20 minutes.  They were going the opposite way.   They nervously asedk us if it was a dead end - "no we just don't follow directions well."  Ten minutes later we ran into another group.  They informed us of an 8 ft drop that we woul dencounter.  They were down to one flashlight for their group, but another group was just behind them.  More boulder piles and a six foot drop.  We continued through the "cave slime" as Lona called it.  Finally we came to the 8 ft drop.  If we hadn't looked for it we would have just fallen.  John hung the lantern over the edge to determine the location of the floor.  He could barely see it.  I was given the lantern to hold over the edge as he mads his way down by bracing himself with his legs and arms splayed against the walls of the tunnel.  Half way down he reached for the lantern and burnt a hole in his coat sleeve.  He made it down fairly unscathed.  I grabbed a child by the armpits and lowered them to John and one by one the kids reached the ground.  I gripped small protruding lumps of lava and trying to find footholds with John's guidance make it to the ground.  And still we continued on in the dark.  Isaac's and Lona's flashlights dim and went out.  We were left with Job's headlamp, my little flashlight and John's large rented Colman lantern.  We started to see more and more groups of people.  Many of them were wearing helmets and head lamps. All these people were going in the opposite direction of us.  Then after about 1 1/2 hours of darkness and constant drips we saw the entrance where people were descending by a nice staircase into the lava tube.  There was an option of a 1/4 mile trek to the bottom of the lower tunnel but by this time we were thankful for the sun light and the breeze against our faces.  We made it.  An experience to say the least.  Ape Cave was totally worth it.  Unfortunately Isaac forgot his meter at the campsite and he was feeling high.  He needed a set change which he also left at the campsite.  We didn't stop for lunch which John had packed out along with the empty fuel container that we were going to throw away and didn't.  So we drove back to the parking area and headed the 2 miles back to camp.  Isaac changed out his set, had lunch and John took a nap.  We gathered more wood, lots of little sticks and twigs lying all over the place.  Our new camping neighbor had a roaring fire.  I think the coment from our camp went something like this.  "Oh yeah I'll make a camp fire that'll put their camp fire to shame." It made me think of the Griswolds and what their family backpacking trip would be like.  By 6 pm we had a fire.  The kids were still wrestling around and having pinecone wars, John was at the creek cleaning dishes and I was relaxing by the fire.  The fire was giving off this wonderful glowing heat and all I had to do was feed it these little sticks every now and then.  I was enjoying the heat while listening to the crackle of the fire when I felt heaton my left breast.  I look down and there is a large red coal burning through my jacket.  I jump up, grab my jacket and pull it away trying to put out the coal but all I was doing is fanning the coal into a flame.  The kids are running around me and I'm burning my boob! I couldn't make a noise. The only thing that goes through my mind is what I was taught in kindergarten:  Stop, drop and roll.  I throw myself to ground and rub my chest into the wet slimy leaves on the ground until I think I've put out the flame.  I slowly get up and look.  Yep, there is a hole through my jacket on my left breast and the shirt under has just the start of a melt mark.  Hysterically no one else noticed this happening to me.  The evening ended with out any other mishap.  We read a few more McManus stories and off to bed.  The next morning we had breakfast, stuffed our sleeping bags, rolled up our mats, tore down our tents and headed back to the van.  We were smoky, stinky, and very willing to sit in the car for another six hours home.  Success with a little adventure for everyone.

Le weekend dernier nous sommes alles radonnees pedestres.  Il y a trop de neige ici alors nous avons conduit presque 6 heures pour marcher seulment 2 miles.  Mais c'est comme nous sommes.  Nous avons pris la route faux mais nous la realisons vite quand nous avons decouvert que la route est ferme pour l'hiver.  Puis nous trouve la bonne route et arrivons a notre destination.  Nous mettons notre sac a dos et marchons 2 miles.  Nous trouvons une place parfait avec un foyer, pres de la riviere, et assez place pour les tentes. Nous faisons le dinner et lison un histoire et essaions de faire un feu.  C'est trop mouille.  Isaac utilise tout ses matchs.  Lendemain, nous retournons a notre voiture et conduire d'une cave d'explorer.  Nous louons une lanterne et descendons dans le trou.  C'est noir dans la cave et il ni personne, ni bruit.  Nous commencons de marcher mais apres montrons un tas de roches la cave termine.  Nous tournons et commencons dans l'autre direction.  Apres dix minutes il n'y a pas personne, apres vingt minutes Job a dit " Je me sent mieux si nous trouvons quelquons."  Finalement, nous voyons un lumiere.  C'est un autre groupe des personnes mais ils ont marche au contraire de nous.  Nous continuons et peut etre dix minutes plus avant recontre un autre groupe.  Apres presqu'un heures nous trouvons le fin de la cave.  Nous sommes fatigues mais content.  Nous retournons a notre camp.  Ce soir nous pouvons commencer un feu.  Apres le dinner, nous lisons un histoire et se coucher.  Nous retournez chez nous en lundi. C'est un exposition parfait pour notre familee.

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