Past Meetup

Ape Cave & Lava Canyon Suspension Bridge Hike

This Meetup is past

4 people went


Meet: Gateway Transit Center, 1321 NE 99th Ave, Portland, OR
When: Nov 30, 2013
Time: 9 am
Hiking Distance: 5.8 miles
Pace: slow
Difficulty: difficult at Ape Cave, moderate at Lava Canyon
Elevation Gain: 1140 ft
Duration: 6-7 hours

Bathrooms: At both trailheads

I guarantee that this is a hike you will never forget! Ape Cave is unlike almost any other hike you can imagine and has always been my most favorite of favorites. I used to go annually but over the last few years I have had trouble finding people willing to go with me. Now that I have discovered Meetups I hope that will change!

THIS IS A DIFFICULT HIKE. What makes it difficult is that you are having to find your way through about 11 piles of rock debris, known as "breakdowns" and you have to get over an 8 foot lava wall. The lava wall is why I never do this hike alone. Having 2 people makes this wall much easier, one boosts the other and the other offers a hand up. Having 3 people makes it a cinch.

Here is a description of the cave that I found at

"Descend into the lava tube on two flights of stairs. Heading down the Lower Cave, you walk under 30-foot ceilings. The “railroad track” formations were created from the collapse of a small lava tube inside the larger one. The ‘Meatball’ is a blob of lava that dropped off the ceiling, floated down the running lava, and got stuck at a narrow section. Sand from the lahar that plugged the cave forms the floor at this point."

"To do the Upper Cave, go beyond the lower flight of stairs at the Lower Cave entrance. The first major feature here is a 90-foot wide ‘room.’ After this, you will cross three large rock piles or ceiling collapses, know as ‘breakdowns.’ Negotiate these carefully as not all the rocks are stable and many are sharp. Come to the first lava fall. This is a sheer eight-foot climb using footholds. There are a couple more rock piles and another lava fall. You will pass beneath the ‘skylight,’ with its walls coated with green moss and ferns waving at the opening. There are a couple more large breakdowns and another lava fall before you reach the second skylight, which has a ladder leading to the upper exit."
Because it is only 14 miles driving distance from Ape Cave to Lava Canyon, we are adding it to the trip, which has been my custom in the past. We will hike this short loop primarily because crossing the Lava Canyon Suspension Bridge is a must-have experience. Here is a description of the bridge...

"The Lava Canyon Suspension Bridge is one of the true engineering marvels of Northwest trail construction. It's about 100 feet long and spans the Muddy River in the middle of Lava Canyon. The bridge was built in 1993, by Sahale, a firm that specializes in trail bridges and construction."

"The bridge has no stiffening members under the deck at all, so each board is free to move bound only by the two cables it hangs from. Each board sinks a couple of inches with each step, giving the bridge what some have called a "trampoline" feel."

What to bring...

Sturdy hiking shoes; you will spend a lot of time on uneven surfaces
Layers of clothing; it is always 42 degrees in the cave; day, night, summer or winter
Lights; at least 2 you REALLY don't want to be stuck in there without light
They recommend hard hats but I've never actually seen anybody with one.
Food and fluids; you aren't allowed to take foot into the cave but you will have worked up a good appetite by the time you get out.
Forest Pass; I have one. A day pass costs $5 per vehicle if you don't have one.

What not to bring...

Watches or other items that will be scratched and ruined by the abrasive bits of lava. I've ruined a watch and a pair of glasses in there. Now I take neither.

Carpooling: It is 67.8 miles from Gateway to Ape Cave and 14 from Ape Cave to Lava Canyon. (163 miles total round trip) Looking at other meetups, I see that the suggested donation to the driver is .10 per mile. Rounding it down to make it easier, a $15 contribution would be fair. Trust me, this hike is worth it. My preference will be to find someone else to ride with since my gas-hog camper van gets about 8.5 mpg on a good day. Please use the comments section to arrange your ride or to offer a ride.

More info:

I strongly advise you to only sign up for hikes that meet your level of experience and health condition. I am an unpaid volunteer and as such assume no liability for your health and safety.

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