Cavers: Kim Luper, Charlie Farnell, Matthew Farnell, Suzanne Farnell, Kim Brown, Kimbree Brown, and Tom
Little Red River Cave
Trip Report: We all met at Cougar at 1:00 p.m. When everyone had arrived, we headed up to the parking area, looking forward to an afternoon of caving in Little Red River Cave.
After we parked, we all introduced ourselves and Kim told us about what to expect in the cave. We then hiked about 10 minutes on a nice trail to the cave entrance. This cave is gated, so Kim had me unlock it for a learning experience. They sure don’t make these locked caves easy to get into. The locks are on the inside of the gate, and you have to unlock them by Braille. After a few minutes of effort, the gate was unlocked.
‘Aha! You’re all my prisoners now!’
Everyone climbed in and Kim locked the gate. “Aha,” Kim says, “now you’re all my prisoners!” He was just joking of course, but it would be a big problem if the key was lost while you were inside the cave. To avoid this, the Forest Service requires that the key be left near the gate in a location known to all the cavers. The cave must remain locked while cavers are inside to prevent unauthorized entry.
Right inside the gate, there is a 23 foot drop straight down. Off to the left is a side passage, which Kim led us down. This side passages goes around the 23 foot drop to an 8 foot drop which is easily climbed down without a rope. Next, you work your way back to the 23 foot drop, but from this side it is only about 12 feet to the bottom. This drop does require a rope, but not vertical gear. You could probably get up and down this drop even without a rope if you had to.
Climbing down the 12 foot drop
After these two drops, the cave floor starts to show red color. The cave slopes downhill for its entire length of 1032 meters (3386 feet), and ends with a lake of water similar to the lake in Lake Cave. There is quite a bit of breakdown throughout the cave, but there’s even more original floor to walk on. Lots of sections are similar to Ape Cave with long curving tubes and easy walking passage. Lots of ash and pumice has washed in here over the years.
After a while, we came to a large room with about a 20 foot high ceiling. Kim pointed out a small ledge in the ceiling and asked who wanted to go up there. He said it was accessible without a rope. Suzanne, Tom, and I volunteered, so he led us over to the side of the room where the ceiling came down to within about 7 feet of the floor. There in the ceiling was a small hole just large enough for a person to crawl up and through. Kim let us use his knee and shoulder to climb up and into the hole. After crawling about 10 feet, it opened up into a 3 foot high room. We crawled over to the ledge and looked straight down on the other cavers below. Pretty fun.
Next we came to two very nice lava falls. There is enough knobby lava to climb down the falls easily. Along the sides of these lava falls are some nice formations where the lava hardened in unique shapes and patterns. The floor also begins to get even redder in this section.
After the lava falls, we came to where the water seeps in and creates the Little Red River. The water comes in through cracks in the walls, and the iron in the water has stained the cave with all shades of bright orange and red. It looks really cool and is great for pictures!
Iron in the water has stained the cave red and orange
The only crawly part of the cave comes next, and you almost have to crawl in the river to get by. There are rocks to step/crawl on, and it is best to stay out of the water as much as possible. The ceiling is about two and a half or three feet high here, so it isn’t too bad. According to “Caves of Mt. St. Helens – Guidebook,” this stream is the home of flat worms, an aquatic species found in this St. Helens cave only.
We soon came to the lake and the end of the cave. We spent some time here resting and taking pictures and then started back up the cave towards the entrance. I had borrowed a nice digital camera with a huge flash for this trip, so I was able to light up the cave more than usual for pictures. The pictures are posted on the Oregon Grotto web site at http://www.oregongrotto.com/gallery/little-red-river and on our family web site at http://www.farnellfamily.com/pictures/Spelunking/2004-08_Little_Red_River_Cave. Kim also took pictures, and his are posted at http://www.oregongrotto.com/gallery/Red-River.
We did see some vandalism where people had written their names and drawn pictures in the cave slime. This goes to show why this cave is now gated.
Little Red River is now one of my favorite caves on Mt. St. Helens. It has lots of color, easy walking passage, pits, a river, a lake, several lava falls, formations, upper levels – what more could you want? We all had a great time and are looking forward to next time!