Cool trips for a hot summer

Two outings that are within 20 miles of each other in Central Oregon will take you up the side of a mountain to an elevation of 7,775 feet, or down 100 feet below the Earth's surface.

From July 1 through Labor Day, the Mount Bachelor Ski Resort operates a summertime chairlift that departs from the resort's West Village and rises 1,475 feet to the 7,775-foot elevation Pine Marten Lodge.

The Lava River Cave, open from May 8 through Oct. 15, takes visitors on a 2-mile round-trip hike underground.

Both attractions can be reached by taking Exit 153 — near the resort town of Sunriver — off of Highway 97. Follow the signs to either Mount Bachelor, about 16 miles to the west of Highway 97, or the Lava River Cave, a few miles to the east.

While Central Oregon summers can be hot, the temperature on Mount Bachelor is usually 10 to 15 degrees cooler than in the valleys, so bring a jacket. At 42 degrees, the Lava River Cave is downright cold, so plan on wearing pants and layer on two jackets.

My family and I recently road Mount Bachelor's summer quad chairlift, getting views of the volcanic Three Sisters peaks and Broken Top, as well as Mount Bachelor itself.

The chairlift ends well below Mount Bachelor's 9,065 foot elevation summit, so we went on a hike over rough volcanic rocks and wide snowfields to get a view from even higher up.

Reaching the summit would have required hours of strenuous hiking and scrambling over the rocks and snow in thin air, so with a 6- and 8-year-old in tow, we didn't attempt such a feat.

I worked up enough of a sweat that I didn't need to wear the windbreaker I had brought, but I'm sure I would have donned it had I been standing still, just admiring the view.

On the way back down to the chairlift, I did use my slippery windbreaker as an impromptu sled for me and my daughter. Sliding was better than picking my way over rocks, but I had to be careful not to get going too fast. Coming to the end of snowfields, we certainly would not have wanted to crash into the jagged lava rocks.

On the ride down in the chairlift, I was glad for the safety bar that we pulled down over our laps, since the view going downhill on a chairlift is always a bit more scary than the uphill ride.

A different day found us at the Lava River Cave. The cave began its life as an open flowing river of lava, but eventually a crust of solidified lava grew over its top. When the lava drained away, a tube was left behind.

We brought along three flashlights and also rented a lantern for $4 at a U.S. Forest Service kiosk near the cave's entrance.

Walking down into the cave, we quickly began seeing our breath, so we donned sweatpants over our shorts and added a sweatshirt and jacket each.

Unlike the famous Oregon Caves National Monument in Southern Oregon, the Lava River Cave has no significant stalactites, except for places where water and minerals have dripped to form little stalactites no longer than a pinky finger.

Still, we all enjoyed hiking into the cave since we could walk at our own pace, without a tour guide, and wave our flashlights around in the black interior.

Sometimes we saw the flashlights from other cave explorers in the distance, then passed them as we walked in and they walked out.

Often the roof of the cave soared 60 feet above our heads, while at other times we had to duck. (The roof itself is more than 50 feet thick in spots.) Plan on taking at least an hour to an hour and a half to reach the end of the cave — which requires a final claustrophobic crawl through a low channel — and come back out.

A friendly park ranger stationed at the end of the cave starts a sweep back at about 4:15 p.m. in order to make sure that everyone is out by 5 p.m. If you meet her on your way in, you will have to turn around whether you have reached the cave's end or not.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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