More Exploring in the Dark: The Lava Tube @ Mount St Helens
Little did I know, but Mount Saint Helens isn’t just famous for its massive eruption in 1980. It also houses the longest known lava tube in North America. At over 2 miles in length, the lava tube at Ape Caves is a massive underground, pitch dark tunnel that is easily accessible, large in diameter and fun to explore. Unlike my other spelunking experience, this cave is easily navigated (all you can go is forward) and wide open. There is no crawling around on stomachs or tight spaces in this cave, making it fun for large groups and virtually everyone.
I had the opportunity to explore the Upper Ape Cave. The upper cave is 1.5 long end to end and features 27 boulder piles to climb over as well as a 8 ft high lava wall. The vast majority of the cave is wide, high and easy. The boulders and 2 lava walls are easier to overcome with buddies than alone but overall it’s pretty smooth sailing. The lower cave is approx .75 miles long and leads to a dead end with a travel time of 1 hours return. Although I didn’t explore the lower cave myself, I heard it’s a very easy walk and should be a good primer to those that aren’t as adventurous as those that want to check out the upper cave.
Despite the 30C temperature outside that day, the cave stays a constant 5C, therefore it is essential to wear pants and a jacket to stay comfortable. Once you’re deep in the cave the only way to get back out to the warm weather is out one end. It takes about 2 hours to go from end to end in the upper cave, so you should be prepared for the cold. Also recommended is a headlight instead of a handheld light so you have your hands free to navigate the rocks as well as spare batteries. It’s pitch black in the cave so if happen to be alone in the cave and your light goes out, you’re pretty well hooped. Also, don’t expect to be able to share a light as some sections are narrow and you really can’t expect to see where your feet are going by using the light of another person. If you do forget to bring a flashlight, they can be easily rented from the information center in the parking lot for a small fee.
I had a blast exploring the lava tube. There is no better place than a cave to experience just how dark, dark really is. We all took a moment to turn off our lights and stand there in the darkness. It was kinda eerie. Add in the fact that you can hide in the darkness and scare your friends later on and you have a recipe for a great afternoon. ;p Not only was it fun to walk through it with friends it was also very cheap. The only fee you have to pay is $5 to park the car. That’s it!
I would definitely recommend checking out the lava tube if you’re in or around Washington State. It offers a truly unique experience that is easily accessible and fun. Go take the plunge. You won’t be disappointed.