Having only donuts for breakfast might strike some as being a questionable nutritional start to a day of heavy hiking, but I had no complaints with either the maple bar or the glazed I wolfed down. I don’t remember hearing any muttering from the hiking party of Joe, Carol, Dennis, Maria, and Erin either. Mmmm, donuts.
Today’s adventure was a trip through the Ape Caves, a lava tube 12,810 feet long—the second longest intact lava tube in the world. After about an hour’s ride from Battle Ground, we got our $5 pass, suited up, and marched into the cave.
We headed to the lower cave first. It’s a relatively sandy ground and a comparatively easy 4,000+ foot descent with only the occasional large rock to climb over or around. Eventually the cave ceiling narrows and one can only crawl forward. After crawling around a bend, the passage opens up again, then you can climb into a hole in the wall (for lack of a better term) and enter the final small cavern. Then it’s back the way you came and on to the more challenging upper cave.
Total hike time down and back to the entrance has been estimated by others as about an hour 15 minutes. I lost complete track of time while in the Ape Caves, so I have no clue. Indeed, one thing I think everyone in the group found at least moderately surprising (if not more so) was just how much time passed while we hiked the cave.
The 7,000+ foot upper cave is a gradual ascent which is in and of itself more challenging than the lower cave. It also holds numerous giant boulders to climb making the going much slower (and, to my thinking, more fun). The highlight was probably an 8 foot lava fall in the middle of the cave—something which required a certain degree of teamwork in order to traverse since it’s basically like scaling an 8 foot wall of lava rock.
In re-reading what I’ve written it’s clear that I’ve not adequately captured the feel of spelunking the largest intact lava tube in the United States. Scaling boulders and dodging brain-hemorrhage-inducing stalactites in the dark of an underground cavern illuminated only by flashlights and headlamps is not an everyday experience for the average 21st century man.
Ultimately, perhaps words can only hint at my sense of awe at walking through this wonder of nature and at my level of gratitude to Dennis, Maria, Joe, Carol, and Erin for helping make this such a fantastic experience.
Owing to our late morning donut breakfast and lack of any lunch whatsoever, we decided to eat at the Cougar Bar & Grill (16849 Lewis River Road, Cougar WA; 360-238-5252) on the way home. Let me highly recommend their Marble Mountain burger, a feast that I would happily order again given the chance. I should mention, I suppose, that I think everyone else was very pleased with their meal as well, though how much of this is owing to the quality of the food versus owing to our famished nature, I’ll decline to speculate. Either way: Mmmm, burger.
After returning to Joe and Carol’s in Battle Ground, the group of us recouped from our outing and chatted until the sunlight disappeared. Erin started class at Western the next day or we’d probably still be there talking. For now, we’ll continue to bask in the afterglow of this day’s camaraderie and adventure and to look forward to the next journey.