Monday, November 14, 2005 – The day started out with a meeting at the church to pick up my nephew, Jeremiah. Kim Luper had taken me to Little Red River Cave in August 2004, and I had some friends and family I was taking to the cave today. We were all excited and looking forward to exploring the cave, getting some good photos, and maybe even packing through some snow to get to the cave entrance.
Little Red River Cave is a locked cave, so Suzanne (my sister), Jeremiah, and I were headed for the Monument Headquarters to pick up the key and permit. Little Red River Cave has some fascinating features, including some very cool lava falls and a red river for which it is named. The cave is home to flatworms, an aquatic species found in this St. Helens cave only.
The rangers warned us that we might not be able to access the cave due to snow, but I was fairly confident we could. If we had to walk, that was fine. If it turned out to be too long of a walk, we could always go to a different cave at a lower elevation and just return the key without visiting Little Red River Cave.
The next stop was to pick up our friends Jacob and Ezra, and then on to Jacks to meet Ben. The group size is limited to 6 people, which was the size of our group. We read the rules on the back side of our permit, noting rules such as no food in the cave, no smoking in the cave, no entering the cave if the gate has been tampered with, etc.
We were soon on our way up the mountain, passing the turn off for Ape Cave. We didn’t see any snow until a little further up. The road was clear, most likely due to much hunting traffic, but there was 1 foot of snow in the woods. The parking area was full of snow, and we were a little concerned about how we would get back onto the road after caving. Ben and I both had 4 wheel drive vehicles, and I had tire chains, so after Ben tested out the snow, we both parked.
We all ate a snack so we wouldn’t have to carry food into the cave, and we were soon hiking toward the cave. Walking in the snow wasn’t bad under the trees, but once we were out on the lava flow we were sinking in quite a ways in soft snow. Fortunately the cave was close and we soon found the snow-free entrance.
I changed shoes (didn’t want to wear out my good boots on the lava) and headed down into the entrance with Jacob to unlock the cave. I let Jacob have the honor of unlocking the cave. Soon, he was telling me he couldn’t find any locks. The gate is made to be difficult to break in, so there are two locks on the inside of the gate. I reached in and felt around and couldn’t find any locks either. We opened the steel cover to the second lock – no lock there either! We lifted the pin and the gate swung open easily…
Uh oh. This was a surprise. There were no fresh tracks in the snow leading to the cave, other than one set that looked like someone had glanced down into the entrance and then left. There were no steel shavings or saw dust or anything that gave evidence of a break in. The only strange item in the area was one link of a steel chain off to the side on the floor, right inside the gate. We looked around a little more, and then sadly decided we couldn’t explore the cave today since our permit said not to enter the cave if the gate had been tampered with. This was a disappointment for us all.
We walked back to the car and decided to visit an alternate cave at lower elevation and report our find to the Forest Service later. We caved in the area down closer to the river where there was no snow, and I returned the key to the Chelatchie Prairie store on the way home. I left a note with the key explaining our find and letting them know I would call in the morning.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005 – I called Lisa Walker’s direct phone number, since she is in charge of the caves of the monument. Her message machine said she wasn’t working that day, so I left a message. I also wrote her an e-mail explaining all the details. I also volunteered to take new locks up to the cave if they wanted me to. I then decided to call the main office and let the person at the desk know the situation. They asked me a few questions and took down some notes.
At this point, I was guessing that the person who took the locks had to have had a key as I didn’t know how they could have broken the second lock.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005 – I got an e-mail back from Lisa Walker saying that they had gone up and looked at the cave the day before. She said the person definitely had to unlock the lock. She also said they were checking to see who was the last group to enter the cave. She said she would let me know about taking new locks up to the cave.
Thursday, December 1, 2005 – I wrote to Lisa Walker and asked for an update on the Little Red River Cave situation. I told her my group really wanted to explore the cave sometime since our last trip didn’t work out, and asked her if that would be a possibility.
Sunday, December 4, 2005 – Lisa wrote back to my e-mail. She said they did get new locks put on Little Red River Cave. They had to use new locks and at this point didn’t have backup keys to issue to the public. She said with winter hitting, it might be a little while before they got duplicate keys cut. She was leaving on a four month detail starting December 12, so referred me to some other forest service personnel for updated information on public access. She didn’t say if they had any information on who might have left the gate unlocked.
Monday, December 26, 2005 – Today I am writing this report and don’t have any updated information. I still want to visit the cave, but I’m sure there is a lot of snow up there now. It would be fun to cross-country ski to the entrance, but I will have to find out if keys are available first. My group still wants to visit the cave, so I may have more information in the future.