Ape Canyon Holds Unsolved Mystery
© The Longview Washington Times -- August 1963
SPIRIT LAKE, Mt. St. Helens, Washington -- Ape Canyon, the legendary home of the Hairy Apes of Mt. St. Helens apparently swallowed an experienced mountaineer and expert skier in May 1950.
No trace of Jim Carter, 32, who disappeared from a 20-member climbing party from Seattle was found, although teams of the Northwest's most proficient mountain rescue units combed the area for weeks.
"Carter's complete disappearance is an unsolved mystery to this day," declared Bob Lee, well-known Portland mountaineer who is a member of the exclusive world wide Alpine Club, a leader of the 1961 Himalayan expedition, and adviser to the 1963 American expedition.
Lee said he had never seen one of the monsters, but that there certainly was evidence "that there was something strange on the high slopes of the mountain." He was convinced of this during the search for Carter, he said.
"Dr. Otto Trott, Lee Stark and I finally came to the conclusion that the mountain devils got him," said Lee seriously.
Lee, a member of the Seattle Mountain Search and Rescue unit at the time, describes the hunt for Carter in Ape Canyon as "the most eerie experience I have ever had."
He said that every time he got cut off from the rest of the searchers during the long hunt, he got the feeling that "somebody was watching me."
"I could feel the hair on my neck standing up. It was eerie. I was unarmed, except for my ice ax and, believe me, I never let go of that." At this point in Lee's story, I could feel my own hair standing up a bit.
Ready to shoulder packs for a safari to Ape Canyon to try to determine whether there is any truth to the ape stories, I began to feel a little dubious about the whole expedition. The rest of Lee's tale about the Seattle man's disappearance didn't do much to reassure me.
It seems that the missing man Carter had climbed Mt. St. Helens with a group from Seattle on a warm, clear Sunday. On the way down the mountain, he left the other climbers near a landmark called Dog's Head, at the 8,000-foot level.
Carter told them he would ski around to the left and take a picture of the group as they skied down to timberline. That was the last time that anyone saw Carter. The next morning searchers found a discarded film box at the point where he had taken a picture.
From here, Carter evidently took off down the mountain in a wild, death-defying dash, "taking chances that no skier of his caliber would take, unless something was terribly wrong or he was being pursued," says Lee, who was one of the first searchers to reach Carter's ski tracks.
"He jumped over two or three large crevasses and evidently was going like the devil." When Carter's tracks reached the precipitous sides of Ape Canyon, the searchers were amazed to see that Carter had been in such a hurry that he went right down the steep canyon walls. But they did not find him at the bottom of the canyon as they expected.
"We combed the canyon, one end to the other for five days. Sometimes there were as many as 75 persons in the search party, but no sign of Carter or his equipment was found," Lee says.
After two weeks the search was called off. Lee, who has lived in the Northwest most of his life, recalls there are about 25 different reports of people attacked by "apelike men" in the St. Helens and Cascade areas over a 20-year period.
One was a group of Boy Scouts from Centralia, he said. Couldn't we check on that story? As near as he could remember, several of the boys who were taken off the mountain were hysterical after being attacked by the "mountain devils."
Director Dick Whitney of the regional Boy Scout office in Olympia, Wash., promised to look for a record of the incident. To our surprise he called back to say that he had located the name of the leader and the troop involved in the incident. "It was a troop under the late Scoutmaster Pease from Centralia, “ he said.
Whitney promised to have Pease’s son, who works for the State of Washington call THE JOURNAL as soon as he returns from vacation.
Miners, scouts, Indians, mountaineers and most recently an editor and other reliable Portland residents, the list of persons who have seen the Hairy Apes of Mt. St. Helens is very impressive.
© The Longview Times, 1963