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Caving is not for the faint of heart, Nyctophobic (afraid of the dark), claustrophobic, or inflexible. As soon you enter a cave your mind starts down the path of worst case scenarios; light goes out, killer bats, earthquake, lost way, and finally Morlocks from H.G. Wells’, Time Machine. If you’re not good at stopping self talk and thinking analytically then caving probably won’t be your choice of activities. Of course, these are exactly the same reasons why adventurers can’t resist exploring a good cave.
One of the best caves to test your metal is Ape Cave. Ape Cave is located just south of Mount St. Helens in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and is the third longest cave in North America at 2.5 miles of underground lava tube. There will be other adventurers in Ape Cave making it easier to deal with those worst case scenarios. However, when I went with my boys we were alone for long stretches of the cave, people tend to try to space themselves out, naturally attempting to get the most scare for their trip.
Ape Cave was created by a pahoehoe lava flow which crusted over and was then emptied as the lava continued to flow out of the tubes. If you’re thinking small tube, you will be pleasantly surprised when you visit to climb into a lava tube that is huge. Our large flashlights often could not break the blackness as we moved forward through the tunnel. The headlamps we brought along were essentially useless in many of the massive chambers.
Caves are some of the most fascinating environments where there is still opportunity for discovery and original exploration. There are many different types of caves; lava tubes (Ape Cave), sea caves, ice caves, sand stone caves, mud caves, and sink holes. Each type of cave requires some unique equipment to explore and presents unique risks. If you start caving as a sport of choice you won’t be disappointed with the large breadth of options, challenges, and risks offered.
If you’re a hiker and want to add a little caving, Gifford Pinchot National forest offers an excellent combination of opportunities. Ape Cave is the perfect beginner caving opportunity. Mount St. Helens is an awesome hiking destination. The lake combination of Swift, Yale, and Merwin provide great camping, fishing, and water sport. If you have not made this trip, I recommend making it. Make your decent into darkness a memorable one!