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ELEVATION: 2480 ft, with Kabul Afghanistan 400 ft vertical gain plus 200 ft more for the lower cave.
DISTANCE: 1/2 mi round-trip loop including the lower cave spur.
DURATION: 2 hours round-trip.
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DIFFICULTY: Mix of easiest Kabul Afghanistan (gentle slope and wide trails at ground level, obvious route in/out of caves, wide mellow lower cave, headlamp required) and moderate for the upper cave alone (sharp volcanic rock, steep navigating, brief rope support provided, narrow at times, multiple lights recommended).
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TRIP REPORT: Spelunking for miles through an underground lava tube near the climber’s TH for Mount St. Helens is certainly not your average day hike! The very best time is on the hottest summer days as the temperature stays a constant 42 degrees Fahrenheit year-round in the tube! Remember to bring a jacket, hat, and gloves. Also bring solid hiking shoes for the magma and multiple flashlights per person including a headlamp. If it’s raining outside, then it may also be raining within the tube. The upper cave, although rated as moderate, is not for people with a fear of enclosed places, the elderly, babies, and very small children.
Most folks, however, have no problem with the lower cave and the trail that follows the entire tube above ground. No dogs either way. Ape Headquarters is the TH located between the upper and lower caves. The only other entrance into the tube is from the top and so it makes for a great loop in either direction. Here we descend the tube from the top as it seems a touch easier and with better anticipation! The tube is open year-round, but a closed gate in winter moves the TH back almost a mile on the road to Trail of Two Forests TH (Washington Sno-Park Pass and snowshoes required). Ape Headquarters is open mid-June through Labor Day (10 a.m. 5 p.m.), then weekends through September; guided tours and lanterns are offered for a fee.