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May 12, 2007 – The trip started out with Dad and I wondering where Ben was. He was supposed to meet us at the Clover Valley Church, but he didn't show up. We decided that maybe he had driven up to Jacks to meet us there, so we left a note at the church and headed for Jacks. It turns out that Ben had gotten busy working and lost track of time. Eventually he saw that he had a message on his cell phone – it was from my Mom – letting him know we were waiting for him. Luckily, he found our note at the church and met us at Jacks a while later.
Little Red River is a gated cave, so we picked up the permit and gate key and headed for the mountain. The sky was cloudy, but we did catch some glimpses of the mountain on the drive up.
As we neared the cave, there was a gate on the road that was half open, but there was a sign that said, "Winter Recreation Area – Road Closed to Wheeled Vehicles." It was obvious that lots of cars had been driving through, but Dad didn't want to risk getting a ticket, so we parked here and started walking. As we hiked toward the cave, we passed the time chatting about different things. As we climbed, we began seeing signs of snow until there was snow on the road itself.
The trail through the woods was a bit of a challenge to navigate with lots of down trees over the trail. Snow depth varied from 4 feet to patches of bare ground throughout the woods.
Ben had never been to Little Red River Cave before, so this trip was mainly for him. He had tried to visit the cave twice before, but always ran into something that ruined the trip. His first attempt was about 12 years ago with some of his friends, but when they reached the trail they met a party coming out who told them the cave was gated. They did not have a key, so turned around knowing they wouldn't be able to enter the cave.
His second attempt to visit the cave was with me a year-and-a-half ago. This time we had a permit and key in hand, but when we arrived at the cave the gate locks were missing! The cave was unlocked. The permit specifically says to stay out of the cave if the gate has been tampered with, so we were not able to explore the cave that day either. We reported the missing locks to the Forest Service and they replaced them within a few days. So this was Ben's third attempt to visit this cave, and we were hoping for good luck this time!
We soon saw the open lava flow ahead and emerged from the trees near the cave entrance. After putting on our cave gear and unlocking the gate, we entered the cave. We took the side passage around the big drop and worked our way back dropping down 8 feet and then 10 feet using a rope. The cave was quite dry compared to when I visited last November!
We were soon in a large room with lots of red, baked dirt. There was quite a display of sand castle type formations from all the dripping water hitting the dirt. Off to the right, we found a tree mold of a stump in the ceiling, and then a mold of a log down the side of the cave.
Ben was quite impressed with the cave, and every few moments we would hear him say, "Wow! Beautiful…"
We continued on, walking through nice-sized passages with sandy-pumice floors. Cave slime was on the walls, and we noted where people had written names and dates of when they had visited. It sure takes a long time for the slime to regrow over that graffiti!
We came to a large room where I boosted Ben up into an upper level in the ceiling on the side of the cave and then he crawled over and poked his head out over the main passage, maybe 20 feet above us! Kim L. had showed me this a couple years ago on my first trip.
After helping Ben down to the main passage, we continued on finding the first lava fall shortly. The two lava falls in this cave are two of my favorite features! Basically, the lava tube just noze-dives downwards for about 30 feet, levels off for a little ways, and then dives again for another 40 feet. The falls can be climbed without ropes due to cauliflower AA lava. This area is very cool with some neat formations on the sides of the passage.
We climbed over some breakdown and found what I think was a Grylloblattid (cockroach-cricket, according to Caves of Mt. St. Helens). I snapped a few pictures of him and we continued on.
We soon reached the red river that the cave is named for. It is more like a small stream, but it is definitely red! The water seeps in through the wall in various places, and has stained the wall and floor with bright, orange-red stripes.
We soon reached the end of the cave, where there is a shallow lake and the cave is filled with water and sediment. Who knows how far it goes under all that!
On the way back to the entrance, we stopped in the area where the wall is stained red and I played with my camera and slave flash trying to get some cool pictures. Dad and Ben were soon bored, and Ben was saying he was hungry, so I finished taking pictures and we started the long uphill hike out.
We wasted no time and were soon outside and headed back for the road. We hitched a ride on the back of a snowmobile trailer and saved ourselves about a mile of hiking back to the car.
We had a great day in one of Mt. St. Helens best caves!
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