Fear of Caves No More!

Fear of Caves No More!

I am up for almost anything but honestly, I have a bit of claustrophobia and a little fear of caves, so 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.

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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. My fear of caves 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 earthquakes and I didn’t get frostbite. 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.

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