Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Lake Cave

Lake Cave

If you are not claustrophobic and you don't mind a little hard climbing and cold, wet, darkness, you might set out to do a hike through one of the Northwest Lava Tube caverns. There are a many scattered around the Volcanic rich cascade mountains. Some are miles long many 50 feet high, others are just little things you can barely crawl into. The biggest 3 that I know about are the Lava River Cave near Bend, Ape Caves, on Mt. Saint Helens, and Lake Cave, which is close to Ape caves.

All three of these caves are fun to hike and each has its own personal charm. Lava River is the longest and highest. It goes for like 2 miles, at one time you pass a sign indicating that you are under the highway. When you get to the end, you are really just at the spot where the sand has filled in the hole. I understand that the rangers are now encouraging everyone to bring a handful of sand out with them, finally a way to have park theft do something good.

Ape Caves was first discovered and explored by some boyscouts back in the 50's. They named it (or rather, it was named after them, “the apes”). It's unique feature is that you can hike the upper part (1 mile or so) and eventually come to the end and ascend a ladder to another exit and then loop back to your car.

Both caves are run by the National park service and have rangers and such at them. Ape caves is “open” year round (and 24 hours a day)(cause there is no fence). I think Lava River cave has a fence and hours associated with it.

But today, I went hiking with some friends in Lake Cave. This is a slightly smaller cave near Ape caves. It's location is not marked on maps nor by signs on the highway. And I am sworn to secrecy (well, unless I am with you). On this particular Sunday, myself and two of my adventure buddies are going to spend a dark and dank day hiking the cave and doing photography.

Chip has enough gear to sink a fish

Lake cave starts out as all of these lava tube caverns begin, a part of the ceiling has colapsed down into the cave and you have to climb down the rubble to get inside. The big park caves have nice stair cases that get you down in comfort (you and the 100 or so other people in the cave). Lake cave is a low ceiling and scramble down some rocks to the upper flow cavern, and then a rickety ladder down to the bottom of the second flow tunnel. 

This is a good picture of the collapsed cave ceiling, that is our entrance

See, Bigger than you thought. Why is Bryan going that way?

THis is the only ladder. After this, you slug it.

I think the lava caves have this same “double flow” construction. Like a lava tube on top of a lava tube. I am guessing they came from consecutive flows. Anyway, they often combine together and you get this double tube shape, And then the tubes will separate and come back together.

Lake cave has a lot of places that you have to rock climb or sand crawl to get past rock jumbles caused by partial ceiling colapse. Gloves, Hard Hat, and Helmet light are pretty much required. (Bryan found one low hanging rock with a large mass of hair stuck to it. Someone not wearing a helmet).

More (once) Molten stuff.

That is our backpacks down there (our lunch spot) while were are up on these boulders setting up our candle shots. I took this one with a 60 second exposure and lit the area by just tracking my headlamp around. See how that right wall looks like flowing water?

One of my favorite features of this cave is the curious melted mineral that looks for all the world like solidified molten Lead. It appears to be silver colored at least by out headlights and the smoothness has the appearance of metal also . I am guess if it was silver, it would be gone.

That Silver Lead like stuff.

It was raining pretty hard when we started the hike and descent into the cave, and it is raining pretty hard in the cave also. A lot of water dripping down from the roof. By the time we got around a mile into the cavern, there was a nice little stream running down the middle of the tunnel. Just a crick really, it didn't cover your shoes, except in the places where the fallen ceiling made little dams and little lakes. 

Negotiating one of the little dammed areas on a previous hike.

Toward the end of the tunnel, it slopes down pretty sharply and the river was loudly running. Right into the lake at the end of the tunnel. And thus the name, Lake Cave. In the middle of the summer there is no lake, but you can still only get made 50 yards further than we on this day.
We threw a flashlight into the lake and took us some pictures:

I brought booties for the occasion

because someone has to put the light out there.

while Chip and Bryan set up "real" cameras

One of Chip's Masterpieces (copyright(c) 2012 Chip MacAlpine)

One of the other standard properties of these caves is that they are cold. They are like 42 degrees all year round (which is pleasant enough in the summer). Once you get warmed up in your hiking, you can see your breath, which makes photography hard because all you can see in the flash is steam.

On our second setup shoot Chip wanted to experiment with some remote controlled flashes he had rented. That didn't work so well, but I got a few cool shots of people wandering around with their headlights on. I call it my Plasma Discharge shots. Lave cave is an energy Vortex, you know.

Plasma Discharge in Vortex Cavern

Another fascinating object found in these caves is the predominant life form. There is a very shiny and wondrous form of Lichen. There is yellow and green (perhaps some black) varieties. They are so shiny because they have little water drops clinging to them.

Freddie Fungus and Susie Sludge Lichen each other
Or maybe it is Freddy Fungus and Annie Algae.

For our next location, I wanted to get some pictures using candle and antique lantern light on a group of boulders to try and show what it would have looked like to explore a cave like this before electric lights. We did some long time lag photos. Here is one Chip took.

Journey to the Center of the Earth (Copyright (c) 2012  Chip MacAlpine)

Being underground for so long is a strange experience. When your batteries go dead, or if you just forget that you had your light off during a camera shot, you suddenly find yourself in a blackness that one just does not get on the surface. There is NO light. No passing cars, or street lamps, or night lights, or even stars. Just Nothing but black. And the sound of running water. And that strange growling noise. Better be my stomach.
Really Really Dark. ....ah.... is that a glowing eye?

We sat still so long doing this shoot that I got pretty cold (and cranky) and so decided that it was time for us to get moving. We couldn't see the entrance to the cave even when we got close to it, it was dark outside!! It was also pouring rain. We had spent 7 hours underground hiking and taking pictures. There is a little adventure for you.

After a long hike on the backside of Mt. Saint Helens, I encourage you to stop at the Cougar Bar and Grill(in Cougar WA). What a great little place. Lots of local color and stuffed cougars, plus great food and beer.