Spelunking and camping

This weekend I went with some friends to Ape Caves, next to Mt. St. Helens. Reader’s Digest version: it was awesome.

Friday we cut work early (I love flextime) to get prepared. The six of us met at my place to consolidate gear into two cars. We then drove about 4 hours to get to a campsite. The first camp site was completely full, so we had to drive another half hour to get to the next one, which was on gravel road most of the way. By the time we got to the second campsite, we were pretty much stuck there. It was almost dark, so either we would find a spot there, or end up camping on the road or something. Luckily, there was exactly one spot left. Of course, it was the slopiest site there, so we hooked up our harnesses and climbing gear, made a sideways fire, and slept on the cliff face.

It wasn’t really so bad. The flies were worse. Insects of all shapes and descriptions, mostly of the variety annoyingus-flyingmonsterae. I had intended to sleep under the stars on a tarp, but after considering the density of insects in the air, figured that I would consume more protein than I preferred during sleep, so I moved into the car. I measured later in the morning the exact width of my back seat; with my head against one door, my knees hit the other door. The seat itself is about 12 inches deep, so you can imagine the difficulty I had that night trying to arrange the majority of my body onto a surface clearly not large enough. It was an unpleasant experience, and I can only wonder at how two people could manage to do anything but suffocate horizontally in the back seat of a car.

The next morning we had blueberry pancakes and sausages with a sprinkling of insect carcasses as they attempted to explore every inch of every thing. We decided to pack up everything and hope to find a camping spot closer to the caves and the exit of the park. Around 11 we finally made it to the caves.

The Ape Caves are not named after apes. They are lava tubes (look it up) that are merely named after the sponsors of the Boy Scout troup that explored them in 1950. We chose to explore the upper tube, which is roughly 1.5 miles of tube. It was an unguided tour, so the 6 of us and our headlamps worked our way up the tube. I wish I could say it was all crawling and that the rope in my backpack was used. Most of the tube was at least 10 feet wide and 10-20 feet tall. There were many parts where rock had fallen from the ceiling and walls, so we did have some considerable meneuvering to do. There was a part where we had to climb up a wall, and a few parts where we had to squeeze ourselves through some fairly small patches. The wind was strongest where the cave narrowed of course. The cave was in the mid 40s (F), so it was quite comfortable and welcome considering the temperature 50 feet above.

We exited the cave at the end, stopped for a snack, and headed back above ground to the parking lot. We drove around until we found a good spot for lunch. Then we decided that instead of trying to find another camping spot, which would have been very difficult and unlikely, we would just head back home. Thus began the frustration of unmarked roads. Almost immediately the other car disappeared from view. Since he had the GPS and the good map (our map didn’t even extend to where we were), and every part of a forest looks like every other part of the forest, so we started doubting ourselves. Then we missed a turn and had a lively discussion 10 minutes later when we decided that we had actually missed the turn, followed by silence 10 minutes later when the exit I had pointed out was, in fact, the one I should have taken. So we had taken the scenic tour of most of Gifford Pinchot National Forest by the time we made it back to the gas station in Carson. Just after I left, I got a call from the other car. Somehow, they were right behind us. It turned out they had missed a different turn. We all caught up a few minutes later, and it seemed miraculous that after an hour of driving independently, we managed to meet up almost exactly together. We drove back to Richland, stopping by Stonehenge on the way. This Stonehenge is a WWI memorial, and it’s a huge concrete structure high on a hill overlooking the Columbia river. It’s pretty cool.

Eventually we made it back to my place, where I cooked up some burgers and hot dogs and we watched The Goonies.

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