On October 22, we took a group from our church, Clover Valley Community Church, to Lake Cave. It was basically a trip to have fun, fellowship with other church members, and enjoy God’s creation. We invited the whole church and ended up with 22 spelunkers for this trip. The youngest caver today was four years old!
Lake Cave was found in 1958 by a party of boy scouts who called themselves the “St. Helens Apes.” They were the original explorers of Ape Cave as well. Lake Cave is named for a lake that forms at the lowest point in the cave during the rainy season. Lake Cave is much less visited than Ape Cave, due to the fact that its location is not published and only spread by word of mouth.
The day started out with a meeting at the church at 10:00 a.m. for carpooling. Next stop was Jack’s, where we met up with some more church members coming from Amboy. Quentin Robbins also met us at Jacks parking lot, where he gave us a brief presentation about Ole Peterson and the history of the area. Quentin’s family homesteaded in the area presently known as Cougar. His family knew Ole quite well, and when Quentin was about 8 years old, he had the privilege of taking a tour of Ole’s Cave with Ole himself. He shared some very interesting history with us.
After everyone had an opportunity to ask Quentin questions, we were on the road again. Next stop was the Cougar rest area for people to use the restrooms. After this, we were truly on our way to the cave. We parked in a wide spot along the west side of the road and everyone began gearing up for the hike and cave exploration. Everyone had been asked to bring some type of helmet, but some people still either forgot or chose not to wear one (please excuse the cave pictures with un-helmeted spelunkers!).
Lake Cave is located south of Mt. St. Helens and requires a short walk from the parking area. The area is densely forested for a lava bed, and there are numerous tree casts to be seen in the area. Watch your step! Today we stopped in the clearing by Red Rock Cave for lunch. Everyone had brought their own sack lunch, and the weather was very nice with the sun shining down through the trees, making it hard to get good pictures without highlights being washed out or shadows being too dark.
After lunch I headed over to Lake Cave’s entrance to set up for a group picture. While I was setting up a group of Boy Scouts exited the cave, telling me there was no water in the lake today. In the meantime Charlie was giving the caving rules to all the spelunkers. Once the group photo was taken, everyone headed into the cave.
One of the first of many caves to be found in the area, Lake Cave is still one of the longest lava tubes in the area at 4,597 feet in length. Most of the cave is one continuous tube, but there are a couple of significant side passages. In some places, the ceiling height can be as much as 20 – 30 feet. Lake Cave has much variety and is well suited for both novice and experienced spelunkers. Much of the cave is walking passage with original floor, but a couple of places require hands-and-knees crawling and there are significant sections of breakdown (broken rock) that must be climbed over. There are also a couple of small lava falls and pits which must be climbed up/down. One even has a built in ladder. For the more adventurous, the side passages and upper levels may be explored.
We skipped the red passage today, and headed straight down the main tube. Our first major obstacle was the 16 foot pit and ladder. The ladder is made of chain with steel pipe as steps. Some of these steel pipes are loose, resulting in spinning steps as your toes bump into the wall. This makes for a very interesting situation when your foot flies off the step when you’re halfway down the ladder! We warned everyone and proceeded to help everyone down. Everyone made it safely. The next obstacle was a 7 foot pit that had to be free climbed. It was a pretty easy climb and everyone handled it great.
We continued on down the cave with kids exploring the upper levels and crawlways on the sides of the main passage. I hadn’t been in this cave for a couple years, and I noticed many interesting features I hadn’t seen before. I guess I’m just more alert to cave formations now, or maybe it was because of the lanterns in our group which really made it easy to see around the cave. At one point the cave floor and walls turned red, which I had never seen in previous trips.
I love taking pictures in caves, and this trip I had brought my digital camera, slave flash, tripod, and enough memory to take over 500 pictures. While the others explored the cave, I took photos. Suzanne also had her camera so she was also taking pictures.
On all my previous trips to Lake Cave, the stream erosional passage had escaped my exploration. I’ve been to the end of Lake Cave twice, and I’ve only seen this side passage one time. The only time I saw the passage was on the way down the cave, and the only reason I noticed it was because another group was sitting in the entrance eating a snack. I decided to look more closely at the passage on the way back up the cave, but I never found it again!
This trip I hoped to find the passage again, and sure enough, a little over halfway down the cave we found the side passage. A few of us explored the passage while the others sang songs and waited for us in the main lava tube. I headed down the left fork of the erosional passage. This passage is unique compared to the rest of Lake Cave, in that this passage is actually under the lava. Water has washed away the dirt under the lava leaving this small passage. The floor was a dry streambed with lot of rocks and dirt, while the ceiling was solid lava. There were tree molds in the ceiling in some areas, but they did not go all the way to the surface. These must have been tree stumps which were completely covered by lava before burning up.
Once everyone was back in the main tube, we headed on toward the lake. This section of the cave is very easy walking passage with smooth floors. We soon noticed the lake’s high-water ma
rks on the ceiling and walls – it is a little strange walking under where water sometimes sits. The passage floor turned to sand as the ceiling started to lower. This is the area where the lake normally is. We’ve had a dry season and there was no water this time. The passage continues on for a ways, but soon turns into a belly crawl and then ends completely with the ceiling coming down to meet the sand. Who knows how far it goes under the sand.
After a brief break we began the trek back up the cave. By the time we got to the chain ladder I think most everyone was starting to get tired. One ladder makes for a traffic jam with 22 people, so a couple of us decided to try free climbing out on the opposite side of the tube from the ladder. It’s actually a pretty easy climb, and makes for a good vantage point to take pictures of others climbing the ladder.
Once outside we headed for the cars. It was about 4:00 p.m., and we had a dinner appointment at 5:00. The Mattila family had invited all the cavers to their home after caving for a wonderful meal. Special thanks to the ladies who stayed home and cooked all day! I had also brought my laptop computer and a borrowed projector, so after dinner we all enjoyed a slideshow of the day’s events. What a fun way to spend a Saturday – I’m already looking forward to next time!
Pictures are available here: http://www.clovervalley.org/gallery/lakecave2005