Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Ape Cave Reality Check

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

During our last trip here we wanted SO MUCH to explore this cave, but were unprepared.  We decided to return when our son was here.  This type of adventure is right up his alley.  So off we went . . . this time with flashlights, jackets and a backpack filled with water and food.

We thought we were prepared.

Oh brother!

A big red light should have come on in my addled brain when the ranger looked me over and declared, "Yeah, you seem fit enough."

We had a choice.  The lower, easier cave or the upper, more difficult one.  "How
'bout we do the upper one first while we have energy, then walk back and do the lower one later," my travel buddy chimed in.  Yeah, yeah.  Made sense to me.  The ranger nodded.  She gave me another once over, and then added, "Umm, when you get to the first boulder field, you might decide to go back and do the lower one first,"

What exactly did she mean by that?  I didn't ask.

Oh brother!
See these boulders?  Well, they block the tunnel's path and you have to climb over them.  AND this is just one of 27 such fields!

 Okay, I can do this.  I just have to crab crawl my way through.  Slow and easy.  Piece of cake.
Crab crawl my way through.  In pitch black.  And near freezing temperatures.  With a tiny light attached to my forehead.  The crusty basalt rock is sharp.  I fall.  Scratch my hands to shreds.

No sense taking any more pictures.  This is what you see.  So I put the camera away and concentrate on NOT FALLING and BREAKING A LEG.

I'm not going to panic.  I'm not going to panic.

My son is having the time of his life.  He scrambles across the boulder piles like a mountain goat.

I tell myself this lava tube is only a mile and a half long.  It's not going to go on forever.  I can do this.  I can do this.  Until . . . we come to an eight foot wall.  By this time my legs are shaking like a bowl of jello.  The ranger deemed me fit.

Oh brother!  Not fit enough.  How the hell am I going to scale that wall?

I don't.  My travel buddy and my son push and pull to get this tired old carcass up and over.

      When I see daylight, I burst into tears.  "We did it.  We made it," I shout.

But where's the ladder?  Oh, god, it's missing.  

My travel buddy pulls out the exploration guide from his backpack.  "Sorry, sweetie, it's only a skylight.  He reads, "Do not attempt to exit using the skylight.  Serious injuries have occurred."  We have another 1000 feet to go and that includes climbing over yet another large rock pile.

Even so, we stop for awhile and catch our breath.  My little family tries to calm me down.  After all, we are inside a lava tube that was formed nearly 2,000 years ago.  Fluid basalt lava poured down Mount St. Helens and entered a stream channel.  As the lava flowed, its surface cooled, creating a hardened crust which insulated the molten lava beneath.  The hot river pushed away rock and soil and created a tube.  It is the third longest such lava tube in the United States.

How cool is that?

My son took this picture of me climbing out of this hell hole.  Needless to say, I made it!  With a twisted knee, bruised shins and lacerated palms.  BUT I DID IT!!!

I've never been so happy to see the sun again.

Of course, three weeks later and after much soul searching, I can honestly say that I'm glad we did it.  I'm even glad we decided to take the upper cave.  My son and my husband had a blast.  They would do it again in a second.  But with gloves!

Me?  Not so much.  I would like to return and do the easier lower cave though.  I think I would enjoy the whole experience more.

  It's amazing that this tube is open to the public.  I do think the rangers need to stress (especially to us, umm, older folks) that this is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT.  Do not attempt it if you have claustrophobia or poor balance or weak upper arm strength.  For youngsters, who are strong and fearless, it's an adventure of a lifetime.

For me, it was proof that I'm not done yet!


  1. I would have FREAKOUT OUT!!! Just the fact that it was dark would have made me upset, but cold and cramped, encased in rock?!!! You are a braver woman than I. Congratulations for having done it. The cave in itself is incredibly amazing.

  2. I was thrilled reading your article. It is justified not to travel alone. Together with my friends, we are avoid jet lag with jetLAGFX http://www.jetlagfx.com/. We conquer adventures altogether.

  3. You are a much braver woman than me, well done this is quite an achievement. You definately are not finished yet.