I will admit, I did not take any of my professional gear on this trip, all I brought along was my little GoPro. The primary goal of this was to have fun with my best friend and our two families. The video was just an added bonus and something that we can shot the kids when they are older how torturous of parents we are for taking them away from their electronics.
The first thing you’ll notice in the video is that we are all dressed for winter. No matter how hot it is outside, the caves stay at about 55 degrees year round. Growing up hiking these caves, I remember either being freezing the entire time or too hot. I would instead let the kids shed clothing if they are too hot then have them complain the whole time how cold they are.
With four adults we brought along a 13, 10, and 7 year old. The two oldest were the ones I was most worried about, as we’ve taken them hiking numerous times and there was always a whine, but guess what, not a PEEP this time. Probably because of all the rock climbing they got to do.
The lower cave is a quick, easy hike through a part of the cave that dead ends, and you return from where you came. Melissa and I were determined to get the kids through the more difficult upper portion of the cave. This is a through hike with a ladder climbing out one of the natural skylights at the end.
The first parts of the cave have substantial rock piles to climb over, and get you thinking, man is the whole thing like this? Nope. While it does open up in places, you get thrown for loops all over. Sometimes squeezing through a hole blocked by a boulder (and not hitting your head) and sometimes climbing up a verticle wall with only 1 foothold.
For a party with kids, it actually wasn’t that bad! The two oldest kept going ahead of us and doing their own problem-solving. Our problem solving was more of a “how to hand the 7-year-old from person to person because his legs aren’t that long”. Some more massive gaps may be a little tricky for smaller legs, but with a bit of teamwork, you can get past them without too many issues.
You pass under one natural skylight that lights up the cavern below, as some of the kids said, it’s false hope. But not too much farther down is another window with the exit ladder.
Exiting the cave is quite a bright, and warm, experience. We ended up shedding our coats and sweatshirts and making the easy, downhill hike back down to the parking lot. The kids were excited because not only were we done, but lunch awaited them in the car.
I would say it was a very successful trip and it got the kids out one more time before school starts.
I would highly recommend this hike for people who can crouch, climb, and don’t mind getting a little dirty. If you have some mobility issues, the lower cave may be perfect for you as there is no climbing (other than the entry ladder) involved.
Also, make sure to clean your shoes before and after you leave the cave. The forest service was adamant about this when we were there. There is a threat of white-nose disease that they are trying to prevent the bats obtaining. Now we didn’t see any bats in there while we were there, but that doesn’t mean they don’t roost on the upper ledges that you can’t see.
The Ape Caves also require a parking pass to be there. This helps support their services and mission. Please make sure to pick yours up either at the Chelatchie General store, Cougar, or pay at there ranger station there.
So happy I got to get out on a fun excursion in the middle of wedding season. Only 2 more months to go until it switching from wedding to portraits!