Hiking the Ape Cave at Mount Saint Helens, Washington

Today is going to be a bit of departure from the usual content here on Bores and Blades. The GFU (girlfriend unit) and I elected to drive down and hike the Ape Cave on the south side of Mount Saint Helens. Clearly this is what one should do when out of shape, right?!?!


First up, we needed lights and batteries. I opted to use a Streamlight ProTac 1L-1AA  flashlight and clip it to the brim of my Tactical Tailor Bad Things hat. I also took along 4 spare batteries for it. Hiking the upper and lower sections of the cave with the light on high, resulted in the the consumption of two CR123 cells.

Meanwhile, we grabbed a Duracell Headlamp for the GFU. During the hike of the upper. This light uses 2 AA cell batteries. During the hike of just the lower cave section, it consumed 3 sets of batteries. I’d opt for a different light next time. On the other hand, we were sort of short on time, so we grabbed it and hoped for the best.

I recommend that each person in a group carry a light. We each had one plus we had a spare just in case something went wrong. We saw a lot of people using a single light source between them.  I’m not sure if they had another light but I saw potential for failure.

Be sure to pack appropriate clothing. The cave temperature was 42 degrees when we were there on an 80 degree day. There is also concern for the health of the bats that live in Ape Cave due to White Nose syndrome so it is recommended that people clean their footwear before entering the cave and after exiting. Also, the National Park statements recommend having clean clothes to change into after leaving the caves so as not to carry the spores that transmit White Nose Syndrome. There are also rules about not removing rocks and such from the cave. You know, common sense.

I elected to carry spare batteries, camera, first aid kit, and clothes in a day pack.  One piece of equipment that could be helpful for the upper section is a bump helmet. Don’t ask how I came to that conclusion.


Another view back up the lave tube of Ape Cave
Another view back up the lave tube of Ape Cave

The lower cave section was a pretty mild hike. Just be aware that the terrain is such that it would be easy to roll an ankle. The highlight is a stone orb shape near the lower end that is suspended above visitors. This orb is referred to as Meatball due to its resemblance to said food.

Looking back up the tube in lower Ape Cave.
Looking back up the tube in lower Ape Cave.

Keep an eye on the sides of the cave as your progress as there are some neat pockets in various places.

"Meatball" in Lower Ape Cave, Washington
“Meatball” in Lower Ape Cave, Washington


The GFU and I parted ways when we returned to the initial cave entry. She wasn’t interested in continuing up through the upper cave section. In retrospect, it was probably a good call on her part. I contemplated doing the same but know I’d have regretted not seeing the upper section.

"Skylight" in Upper Ape Cave, Washington
“Skylight” in Upper Ape Cave, Washington

I continued on. First one rock pile, then another. Then there was a third. Holy crap. I hadn’t realized there was this much scrambling to be done. There are warnings about an eight foot wall that has to be surmounted in order to continue upward through the cave. I didn’t find it to be as challenging as expected. The boulder scrambles however, were another story. The upper section repaid the effort with some neat things like walls that looked almost like a lavender glaze you would find on a mug. In other areas the minerals reflected the light in neat arrays.

Exiting at the top of the upper cave is a somewhat tight fit so be aware of that.


It is the following day as I read this and my calf muscles are screaming at me and nearly preventing me from walking. I suspect my quadriceps will be screaming by the morning of the second day after. Oh well, it was worth it. I’d be annoyed at myself if I hadn’t done the upper section. This was my first cave trek experience. I may have to try others.



4 Replies to “Hiking the Ape Cave at Mount Saint Helens, Washington”

  1. As someone who used to do search and rescue in the area of the ape caves, let me pass on only one bit of advice: Carry two flashlights/light sources per person, with enough batteries for each. Nothing foments disaster more than not having a functioning light underground. You are completely done if that happens.

    1. In the lower cave, you might be able to tag along with a group that still has functioning lights. In the upper cave, it’s not too likely as there just isn’t nearly so much traffic plus it’s a lot more technical.

      Yeah, if I do it again, I’ll have an actual headlamp plus a spare light per person in the group.

  2. Another good bit of emergency kit to carry in caving is chemical lightsticks. They’re lightweight, relatively compact, and long-lasting. Modern lightsticks come in white and bright white, though they’re not as long-lasting, you’ll still get 5-6 hours of good light. Not as high quality light as a good flashlight, but they are fairly bulletproof.
    A good whistle can come in handy, as well. Just realize that the acoustics of the cave can distort direction. Short evenly spaced blasts on the whistle work. Use it in case of a fall, injury, or becoming separated from your group.
    Properly prepared, caving is good fun. Hope you see some more interesting caves in the future. Try Carlsbad, and the bat cave in AZ.

    1. You know, I have a couple on my EDC bag. Forgot to grab any to take with to Ape Cave though.

      I’ll have to check those out when I get down that way.

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