Dan and Hannah and the Lava Tube Crawl at Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington

TTF cropped sign

How do you feel driving over high bridges?  I mean, really high bridges.  Say the Tappan Zee Bridge?   I have to say I’m not a fan.  They have a word for the irrational fear of crossing bridges – gephyrophobia.

Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River, New York

Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River, New York

What about bridges that extend for miles like the eight mile Confederation Bridge?  I hug the center line and death grip the wheel as I hang on for dear life.  They have name for this one, too –ancientmarinerphobia (i.e., water, water everywhere).

Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island, Canada

Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island, Canada

Do tunnels give you the willies?  This phobia is called wallsacreepinginphobia.

One creepy tunnel

One creepy tunnel in Plymouth, England

Caves?  Let’s talk caves.  Any reason to go beneath the ground; for any reason?  If caves are not your thing, you have speluncaphobia (You spelunkers know what I’m talking about).

When we heard of the lava tubes of Mount St. Helens, I thought, that’s nice, but you won’t catch me going subterranean.

Rim Rock (click on the picture to read the explanation)

Rim Rock (click on the picture to read the explanation)

Got to say, lava tubes are cool in the abstract.  Check out their story.  As the lava comes down the mountain it covers everything in its path.  The magma surrounds trees to the height of eight to twelve feet or more.  In time, the magma cools around the tree, but the tree doesn’t disintegrate immediately.  Eventually, the tree is consumed and what is left is a lava hole.

Lava Hole

Lava Hole

Sometimes these trees are knocked over by the force of the flowing magma.  It is estimated that this flow can be up to 30 mph.  When the tree is knocked over, the magma flows over it and eventually solidifies into a rocky landscape.  Again, in time, the tree disintegrates and a lava tube beneath the ground is left.

Lava Tube

Lava Tube

Two thousand years ago, Mount St. Helens blew its top and lava holes and lava tubes were formed that remain today at the Trail of Two Forests.  This 0.25 mile interpretative boardwalk weaves through this southwestern Washington forest near Cougar.

Boardwalk at Trail of Two Forests

Boardwalk at Trail of Two Forests

Within the Trail of Two Forests lies The Crawl, a lava tube that stretches for some 50-60 feet within the park.  I have no intention of navigating underground through this lava tube.  Ah, but with the daring of a champion water skier, Hannah is drawn to this subterranean adventure.

Lava Hole

Lava Hole

The more she learns about lava tubes, the more she thinks climbing down one of the holes and edging along the lava tube sounds pretty cool.  I mean, we are 2500 miles from home and may not be back soon.  You go girl.

The Crawl (click on picture to read the explanation)

The Crawl (click on picture to read the explanation)

The Crawl forks prior to its midpoint.  To the right, the opening is not wide enough for a person to emerge while to the left one literally sees the light at the end of the tunnel.

Hannah descending into the lava hole

Hannah descending into the lava hole

Borrowing a flashlight from a fellow hiker, Hannah waves a soulful good-bye, I bid her adieu, and I think, ours has been a good marriage.  Just kidding, it’s been great and I take to the boardwalk to see her emerge at the other end.

Crawling on her knees in just shorts, Hannah relates later that she didn’t feel any “fear” at all.  It was fun, but I wouldn’t have done it without a flashlight since I would have missed some of the detail of the tube itself along the way.

Hannah emerging

Hannah emerging

Pumped, Hannah makes it seem like a piece of cake.  I think, I like cake.  Perhaps it’s time for Danny Boy to step out of his comfort zone.  I wouldn’t say I am super claustrophobic.  It’s not a matter of peer pressure; my high school friends are nowhere to be seen.  All of a sudden, it just seems doable now that Hannah has shown the way.

For the first section, I crawl on my knees on the rocky surface floor.  I knee-along grabbing at the rock in front of me.  So far, so good.  The turn left is obvious and now I can start duck walking to the light.  I, too, feel no fear, just a little discomfort crouching along this unforgiving rock cylinder.

Dan making his way out of the lava tube

Dan making his way out of the lava tube in Hannah’s gloves

I stretch, smile, and nod in satisfaction as Hannah calls out, “Good job.”  Fact is, I am feeling that “Mr. Cool” just might apply.

Perhaps, this experience is a metaphor for life.  Stick with me.

When descending into life’s turmoil, look not back, but forward.  Though darkness surrounds you, use your flashlight and move forward in faith that you will emerge.   When the road forks, look to the light and go forth.  Your faith and your enduring spirit will bring you to the light.  I’m guessing many great religions are based on this one metaphor.

Or maybe its message is, Don’t be such a baby.  Wah, wah, wah.  Give it a shot.  What’s the worst that could happen?  It’s not like the earth is going to explode…

Mount St. Helens erupting on May 18, 1980

Mount St. Helens erupting on May 18, 1980

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Dan and Hannah Hike Lava Canyon in Mount St. Helens Volcanic National Monument, Washington

LAVA 1

After a morning hike of Ape Canyon (August 24, 2013 blog), we drive just a half mile to the parking area for our hike into Lava Canyon.  At noon, ten to twelve cars and RVs are already in the parking area, which charges $5 per vehicle per day.  Having Senior Passes (one is eligible at 62) for all National Parks, we get in free.  Ah, to be 65!

Lava Canyon trail

Lava Canyon trail

In the Volcano Review, A Visitor’s Guide to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, we learn that the Lava Canyon Trail explores an area scoured by mudflows from the eruption of Mount St. Helens back in 1980.  There are three sections to this trail for all levels of hikers: (1) a paved wheelchair accessible path, (2) an enjoyable packed dirt trail along the canyon which includes a walk across a suspension bridge, which the guidebook describes as exhilarating, and (3) the hike from hell.

Lava Canyon story

Lava Canyon story

Section 1:  With plenty of fellow tourists, we take to the switchbacks of the paved first half mile.  The descent is significant, but the switchbacks make it easy on our knees that have long since given up running (which we did for 30 years).

Into Lava Canyon

Into Lava Canyon

The overcast sky is lightening, but we will not see Mount St. Helens today.

Section 2:  After climbing along the canyon-side trail, where we never felt threatened or ill at ease, we see the suspension bridge across the steep canyon.  The guide book says this suspension bridge is not recommended for those afraid of heights.  Dan steps fearlessly forward for what he hopes is an exhilarating experience.

The first video (45 second) records our first steps on the suspension bridge.  Click on this YouTube link below.

 

 The second video (46 seconds) completes the harrowing crossing across the abyss.  One hand on the rail and one on my iPhone, I am showing my faith in this suspension bridge architect.  Click on this YouTube link below.

View from the Suspension Bridge

View from the Suspension Bridge

Section 3: At this point we decide not to hike the final part of the trail.  The guide pamphlet says DANGER – Stay on this trail.  People that have left the trail have been swept over the falls to their deaths.   Here’s a review that confirmed our decision.

After crossing the suspension bridge we did turn right where the sign posted says “difficult.”  It really should have read “treacherous.”  There was one spot in particular where the narrow trail was so slippery with loose rock/sand that keeping one’s traction without sliding off the cliff was tough and pretty nerve-wracking.  Our grandsons can certainly handle a “difficult” trail without a problem.  However, in hindsight, I wish we had not taken them there…I rated the trail conditions poor only because of a couple sections where your personal safety is truly comprised.

Fortunately, we turn back up river.

Completing the second section loop going back up the canyon

Completing the second section loop going back up the canyon to the trailhead

These first two sections of the trail are a leisurely loop of 45 minutes tops.

The erupting Mt. St. Helens redirected the river down this canyon.  The eruption melted 70% of the mountains glaciers in an instant and scoured the canyon to its present state.

The canyon's rushing waters

The canyon’s rushing waters

Upstream video of Lava Canyon (18 seconds)

 

The climb back is at an 8% grade, but there are many benches for relief.

The suspension bridge is a thrill worth not missing, especially since you may have driven across the country to see it.

lava suspension bridge 2

And speaking of driving, if we had left from Maine yesterday morning, we would be driving into Iowa as we finished hiking Lava Canyon this early afternoon.

Another Iowa cornfield

Another Iowa cornfield

Dan and Hannah Hike Ape Canyon in Mount St. Helens Volcanic National Monument, Washington

MSH map 2

It’s just dumb luck.  Four days before we leave for the Northwest, we learn from our friend Patty in Oregon that a friend of hers has recently stayed at a B and B in Cougar, WA.  That’s the same Cougar, WA that will be the jumping off point for our hikes at Mt. St.  Helens.  I had focused on motels 50 miles away in Kelso, WA on I-5.  Cougar is a mere eight miles from the park.  Who knew a town of 122 would have B and Bs?

Washington map

A quick Internet check of B and Bs in Cougar, WA brings me to the Mount Saint Helens B and B, where each review is five stars.  Tracey Rogers (can you guess her husband’s name?  That’s right, Kenny) informs me that the all the rooms in the main house are full for this Thursday night, but they do have a cabin with a king size bed and a refrigerator.  She wonders if we’d be interested?

Tracey and Hannah

Tracey and Hannah

We are and we really are when she says the magic words “for $75.”

Mount St. Helens B and B

The main house of the Mount St. Helens B and B

Our bungalow at MSH B and B

Our bungalow at MSH B and B

Looking to get an early start on this first Friday of August to hike Ape Canyon, we wander into the main house for a Kenny Rogers breakfast just before 7A.  Sitting over coffee, we shoot the breeze with Kenny as he slices up Texas size sausage links for Hannah’s breakfast burrito.  I’ll have my burrito without the hard stuff.

Kenny Rogers - When he is not singing, he's at the grill.

Kenny Rogers – When he is not singing, he’s at the grill.

Blueberries and chunks of cantaloupe and watermelon are spread out on the table.  With cereals, granola, and yogurt for the taking, we engage Kenny to learn about very rural Cougar.  We learn that July fourth fireworks are held on the main street, a state highway, for all the residents.  With a log cabin kit from Canada, Kenny built his five bedroom, 5000 square foot retreat that they share with guests.  Tracey, a trucker, hauls the big logs and veneer to nearby mills as she has done for 30 years.

A breakfast burrito deluxe

The warm-up act before the breakfast burrito deluxe

(Feeling indebted to the reviews which led us to the Mount St. Helens B and B, I write my own.  Click on this link for my review and more info on the Mount St. Helens B and B.)

As we finish breakfast, Melissa comes down the steps into the kitchen.  She and her two partners are “den mothers” to 17 inner city teenagers here to climb Mt. St. Helens.  As a PAL (Police Athletic League) officer, she and her two colleagues have driven two vans nearly 1100 miles to show these kids a world beyond the mean streets of Las Vegas, NV.  Mount St. Helens is not the only mountain Melissa climbs.

Mementos that Melissa gave Hannah

Mementos that Melissa gave Hannah

So the name,  Ape Canyon?  Legend has it that miners in the 1930s were pelted with rocks by an unknown source near Mount Saint Helens.  They thought it was a Big Foot, Sasquatch-type, “ape-like” animal showering them with pumice.  The dark moonlit figure appeared threatening to the miners.   Most likely, these were young campers messing around and miners with wild imaginations.  Whatever the origin, this story of Sasquatch took hold in this area.

APE 1

After breakfast, the ride on winding route 83 from Cougar is dense forest similar to what D. B. Cooper, might have found when he jumped from a Boeing 727 out of Portland, OR in 1971 with a $200,000 ransom.  Though he was the only American hijacker never prosecuted, Ole D. B. was also never found in this dense rain forest or any forest for that matter.

Ape Canyon Trailhead

Ape Canyon Trailhead

As we lace up our hiking boots at the trailhead on this 54F early August morning, we pack our ponchos, for the gray/black clouds are low in the sky.  Securing our water bottles in our fanny packs, we head for the Loowit Trail, the rim trail around Mount St. Helens, some five and a half miles away.  In the early stages, the trail is ideal for hiking with its pine needles on packed dirt with a gentle grade.

Lush rain forest of the Ape Canyon Trail

Lush rain forest of the Ape Canyon Trail

Hannah and I have a common purpose when we hike: to get some serious exercise.  Hannah often leads our hikes and sets a steady pace.  As one-time phys. ed. majors, we love vacation days filled with physical activity. 

Rocky river bed from the 1980 mudslide after Mount St. Helens blew

Rocky river bed from the 1980 mudslide after Mount St. Helens blew with today’s low cloud cover

Along the trail, signs of the eruption in 1980 are evident in the rock filled Muddy River to our left.  The river bed was wide enough to hold most of the 45 mph mud and rock slide that was once part of the upper slope of Mount St. Helens.  Today in the drizzle and fog we will not see any of the mountain shown below.

The mountain on a clear day

The mountain on a clear day from the same Muddy River

Hannah spots elk breakfasting in the river bottom and my iPhone zoom technology captures these majestic animals.

Elk in the Muddy River

Elk in the Muddy River

The trail climbs increasingly, but we maintain a three mile per hour pace through the rain forest.

Switchbacks ease the climb

Switchbacks ease the climb

Though there are no trail signs or directing blazes on the trees, the trail is obvious and we never feel lost in this shady forest.

Dan remains a Maine Man

Dan remains a Maine Man

The rain forest nature of the trail is evident by the monstrous leaves on the trailside.  There are rocky sections, but the negotiating is easy and an excellent hiking rhythm can be had by one and all.

One serious rain forest leaf

One serious rain forest leaf

Seventy minutes and three to four miles into the hike, we tire of the muddy trail.  Puddles with wet leaves and grass smacking our legs have us turn back to save our energy for two more hikes today.

The trail gets muddier

The trail gets muddier

Once home, a friend asked if I was disappointed that we didn’t see the mountain top.  This isn’t the first famous mountain top we didn’t see.  Having driven 4500 miles on a family trip to Denali National Park in Alaska, we got to the base of Denali, the highest peak in North America, found it covered with clouds, and never saw the top at all during our two day stay there.

True, it would have been nice to see the top today, but I am not disappointed.  The cliché lives: it’s the journey.  Today it’s together on trails with gentle grades and packed dirt that we have never hiked before.

And by the way, there’s a lot to be said for road trips.  That said, we’d just now be approaching the Mississippi River if we had begun driving yesterday from Maine to Oregon.

Mighty Mississippi

Mighty Mississippi

Dan and Hannah Hike June Lake in Mount St Helens Volcanic National Monument in Washington

With an 8A cross the country flight on my mind, I wake twice during the night in anticipation of our 4A alarm.  Perpetually early, I have us leaving with plenty of time as we drive south to Logan Airport in Boston.  Before 6A the one hour plus drive is an easy one down I-95, then Route 1 through Danvers and Saugus, MA.

It’s in Revere, MA where we’ll park our car and shuttle to the airport with Park, Ride and Fly folks.  Hannah registered online and found them to be cheaper than our usual Park, Shuttle, and Fly connection.  Of course, these companies pale next to the personalized service of our son Will chauffeuring us to the airport.  Alas he has moved to Virginia.

We never check our luggage but carry-on; it’s especially easy to travel lightly in the summer when it’s tee shirts and shorts weather.  Cramming our impossibly large canvas bags beneath the seat in front of us – further reducing any leg room – we don’t pay the extra $60 to get aisle seats.

Jetblue TVsJet Blue is a personal favorite of mine because of the mini-TVs with Sports Center and the Comedy Channel at my fingertips.  Our morning non-stop flight from Boston to Portland,OR allows us to “steal a day of vacation.”  If all goes as planned, we’ll depart at 8A in the east and arrive by 11A in the west due to the time change.  We’ll get the smallest rental car, this time a Ford Focus, before noon and motor into the state of Washington and on to Mt. St, Helens for a mid-afternoon hike on what would normally be just a travel day.

Ever think of driving, you ask?  By the time we land in Portland, OR today, we’d be roughly in Pennsylvania if we drove!  It would take three dreadfully long days of driving 850+ miles per day to drive to Oregon.

From Boston to Portland, Oregon

From Boston to Portland, Oregon

Buffeted by west to east headwinds, ours is a six hour flight (It will only be four and a half hours coming home).  Once in the air, I walk the aisle two or three times every hour or so.   A Dunkin’ Donuts decaf coffee and seven one-inch diameter chocolate chip cookies are all they offer.

Shuttled to the Budget Car Rental away from the terminal, we wait in midday lines with the August vacation crowd.

Hah!  $17 my foot.  The Ford Focus was $49 per day.

Hah! $17 my foot. Our Ford Focus was $49 per day.

Once at the counter, the dance begins.  For $5 more per day you can get an upgrade to a Ford Escape.  We never upgrade.  We’d prefer the small Ford Focus because it gets better gas mileage.  She extols the Ford Escape for its mountain climbing ability, but we politely say no.  Then she gets around to telling us, At this time there is no Ford Focus, but for no charge I’ll upgrade you to a mini- SUV, the Ford Escape.  We don’t see the sense in calling it an upgrade; we’ll be paying more for gas!  Wanting to hit the road and knowing they have us over a barrel, we accept the Ford Escape.

Ford Escape

Ford Escape

She then does the usual song and dance about paying for insurance.  We are covered we say.   Then she offers the chance to purchase road side assistance. We think,  Really?  So you are telling me if your rental car breaks down and we don’t buy the road side assistance, we will have to pay because your car broke down!  You’re kidding!  We roll the dice and politely decline.

Leaving Portland, OR airport (PDX), we quickly cross the Columbia River on I-205 into Washington and mistakenly follow our GPS (which we brought from home); it takes us the most direct route (read: through small towns past every strip mall known to man) but not the shortest way.  We break the #1 rule of using a GPS: Always, always, always consult a map with your GPS.  We are such children.

In need of food for dinner and the next day’s lunch, we happen through Battleground, WA (ironically named for a battle that was avoided – click on this link for the full story) and find an Albertson Grocery Store.  Clearly, we have landed in Canada South as four times in the first three minutes we are asked by different smiling Albertson workers, how we are doing.  Four times!

Soon, with bags of salad and cottage cheese, crackers, chips, cheese and wine, we are motoring along route 503 through Amboy, Clelatchie, and Yale to Cougar, WA at the base of Mt. St. Helens.  Nothing says wilderness like a town named Cougar.

Traveling the forested roads to Cougar, WA

Traveling the forested roads to Cougar, WA

Our car thermometer has the temp at 61F under misty skies.  Though the summer months are the dry season, we can’t put aside the thought that precipitation and the Northwest go hand in hand; we have brought our trusty ponchos.  We will hike today.

Route 83 to the June Lake Trail

Route 83 to Mount Saint Helens Volcanic Monument

Though Maine is the Pine Tree State, clearly Washington is aptly named the Evergreen State.

Soon we cross into the land of the 1980 volcano blast.  Mount St. Helens is named for the British diplomat Lord St. Helens, a friend of explorer George Vancouver who surveyed of the area in the late 18th century.   The volcano is located in the Cascade Range and is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire that includes over 160 active volcanoes.

MSH1 June Lake sign 2On this first of August we’ll wear our ponchos over our sweatshirts as the temperature is a comfortable for hiking at 53F.  The June Lake Trail is nestled near a 2000 year old lava flow.

Beginning the June Lake Trail

Beginning the June Lake Trail

Ready to climb through the soft volcanic dust, we hit packed dirt and gentle grade on this sometimes rocky trail; our hiking boots collect the now coagulating volcanic mud on this drizzly day.

Hannah on the trail of lava stone

Hannah on the trail of lava dirt

Liberated by the anonymity of the trail and so far out West that nobody knows our name, we are energized by the elixir of the first day of vacation.  Though we are hiking in a cloud, we are free from the routines and structures (however enjoyable most of the year) of life at home.  Today is new and fresh adventure that just cannot be replicated at home.  It’s day like we have never had before.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBFYX_rHoU4

Click on this 24 second YouTube video of Dan and Hannah at the bridge approaching June Lake

We have gained 700 feet in elevation to 3400 feet above sea level (we have come from our home at York, Maine at 200 feet above sea level this morning) but don’t feel the elevation in our legs or in our breathing.

MSH1 H ON TRAIL 4An hour into the hike we head north to the Loowit trail, which for 33 miles circles the caldera of Mt. St. Helens.  What was once a pleasantly graded trail to June Lake now becomes some more serious rock stepping and climbing.

The trail turns rocky

The trail turns rocky

When the trail becomes all rocky, we nod to and thank the trail for its time and pleasing-to-hike terrain and head back toward the trailhead.  The mountain top is totally fogged in so we don’t see the picture below.

Mount St. Helens on a clear day

Mount St. Helens on a clear day

We learn that at $22 each only 100 permits per day are available online to climb the mountain.  We meet Jim and daughters who said they got theirs in February.  Click here for more information about for reservations.

June Lake hikers

June Lake hikers (June Lake is there behind Hannah’s right shoulder.)

A final stop back at June Lake completes a hike on a day when this morning we were in York, Maine.  And by the way, we would be just arriving into Ohio if we were driving.