|The Mount St. Helens crater looking north toward Mount Rainier|
|The view south with wildfire smoke and Mount Hood peaking out|
|Heading down with Mt. Hood in the distance|
|Molly figuring out the best way up a lave fall in Ape Cave|
When we were halfway up we could see people standing on the crater rim above. They seemed close but the last half of the climb is fairly grueling. Over the last 1000 vertical feet to the crater rim the ground is particularly loose; luckily we came prepared with trekking poles.
It took us just under four hours to reach the crater rim. The view was worth every bit of effort. The pictures don't do it justice; it was truly dramatic. It is hard to grasp the amount of energy the volcano released when it erupted, but the result was cataclysmic leaving behind a fascinating and rapidly evolving landscape.
The decent was tiring and very, very dusty. Showers and pizza hit the spot. After another night sleeping under the stars we were ready for more exploring. On Saturday we headed to Ape Cave. We arrived before the crowds and hiked the entire 1.25 miles through the upper lava tube without seeing anyone else. Compared to the lave tubes we have explored in Hawaii and Lassen Volcanic National Park we were amazed at the difficulty of these caves. We were a bit tired from our climb the day before so bouldering through the lava tube was exhausting. At one point we had to scale an eight foot tall wall that probably causes some hikers to turn around.
After Ape Caves we had had enough hiking and decided the rest of our day would revolve around sightseeing and icecream. We look the long way home, driving around the east side of the mountain, visiting Windy Ridge viewpoint, and driving the winding roads through the Gifford Pinchot National Forest north toward home.