Ape Cave Lava Tube

I am up for almost anything but honestly I approached “Ape Cave” with some trepidation. Located in Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Mount Saint Helens, Washington and over 13,000 feet long Ape Cave is the longest known lava tube in the United States. A lava tube is formed when the surface of a lava flow cools and hardens, but the molten lava beneath the surface continues to flow. Eventually the flow stops, the remaining lava evacuates and a void is left beneath the solid ground. It was during an eruption of Mount St. Helens over 1,900 years ago that Ape Cave was formed.

The cave is entered easily enough in natural light from a metal staircase purpose built to explore the cave. Because the cave is cold, 42 degrees Fahrenheit (or about 5.5 Celsius), it is recommended to bring warm clothing. Because there is no light beyond the entrance, natural or otherwise, it is suggested to bring at least three sources of light. I am slightly claustrophobic and all of this got me to thinking; here I am about to trek in a cave, 3/4s of a mile underground, in frigid temperatures, with no outside light source into an area known to have unstable geology. That didn’t seem too smart. Then reason took over and comforted by the fact that, Mt. Saint Helens hasn’t erupted in over 30 years, thousands of people explore the caves every year and for god’s sake there is a freakin’ gift shop near the entrance, I decided to throw caution to the wind and continue forward. The group of giggling girl scouts exiting the cave right as a screwed up my courage to go inside gave me extra mannish confidence.

It was uneventful. Yes it was cold; yes it was dark, but in most parts the section I explored was large enough to be a train tunnel. There were tiny crystals in the cave walls that caught my flawlessly performing headlamp through the fog of my breath and made things quite beautiful actually. There were no earth quakes and I didn’t get frost bite. Common sense had once again conquered fear and I actually had a great time. I may have even managed to get over a bit of my claustrophobia.

Jon in Ape Cave

Fear no More!

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Author: Jonathan Look

In 2011 Jonathan Look decided to change his life and pursue adventures instead of comfort and possessions. His goal is to travel the world solo; one country at a time, one year at a time. To accomplish this he got rid of most of his possessions, packed up what little he saw as necessities and headed out. His goal is to spend ten years discovering new places, meeting new people and taking the time to learn about them, their values and their place on this tiny planet. He embraces the philosophy that says a person is the sum of their experiences and rejects the fraud of modern consumerism that makes people into slaves of their consumption. He doesn't intend to be modern day ascetic, just more mindful of his place in the world and to make decisions according to that new standard.

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