Our family has been to Ape Cave several times, and it’s always been a neat experience. The lower cave is a pretty easy hike down to the dead end and back up again, with lots of time to savor the intense quiet and darkness. We headed up again recently, on a gorgeous fall day, to experience the mountain and the cave again.
This time, Dave suggested, we should do the upper cave, which is longer and more challenging. He has a friend who used to do it with his own kids, and Dave was confident that the boys were big and capable enough to handle the challenge. I was sure they were. Privately I was less excited about the prospect of doing a harder path with Mica, but I’d brought a backpack to carry her in, so when the boys seemed game for a more challenging climb, I went along with it.
We geared up in the parking lot and made our way down into the cave in the early afternoon. As usual, the transition from daylight and forest to a black underground filled with the sound of dripping water was eerie. But we all had lights, and we turned away from our usual path, heading instead toward the upper cave and adventure.
To say that the upper cave is more challenging than the lower cave is a bit of an understatement. There were occasional smooth sections, where even Mica could walk (carefully), but much of the route was over great piles of boulders, jagged chunks of basalt fallen in from the ceiling. Usually there was plenty of room, and it was just a matter of clambering over stones, but occasionally the tunnel would narrow and we’d need to slide through a smaller gap. (I think I noticed these especially, as I had Mica on my back. She got a couple accidental taps to her head.) And three times we ran up against a true wall, a six-foot vertical ascension which required teamwork to get the family over. People experienced in bouldering probably wouldn’t have been daunted; only Dave seemed to fall into that category for us.
There were neat stone formations and a “window” midway that opened into the daylight; we saw a mouse at one point; and both boys, despite scraping their knees, proved themselves very good climbers. Nevertheless I can’t help but think of the experience with a touch of anxiety. Also I had sore muscles for three days afterwards.
But we made it, and even have a triumphal picture at the exit to prove it. We came out in the evening, and had to hustle to hike back to the parking lot before it became truly dark. The real question is, will we ever do that again? For me, it’s out of the question until Mica is old enough to carry her own weight. Then we can talk about it.