Ape Cave (Mt St Helens), WA
Lava tube explorations! At over 2 miles in total length, this is the third longest lava tube in the continental United States. There are two branches––the upper cave and the lower cave. The adventurer in me wanted to try the longer, more difficult side of the cave, the "upper" portion. However, in weighing everything––multiple large boulder piles to clamber over (27 in total, a number I didn't even know until later), an 8ft lava wall to scale, a metal ladder and over a mile of trail to hike back in darkness, we decided we should probably do the shorter cave. (Not to mention the fact that I was getting sick.)
This shorter portion of the cave is significantly easier (really just an easy walk on a bit of uneven ground). The cave slowly gets smaller as you near the back (just under a mile in distance) before shrinking into nothing but crawlspace (which I started through out of curiosity, just to see how narrow it really got, and it certainly got too small for my taste). Not having a tripod, I set up my camera on large, rocky shoulder as best I could to get some long exposure shots of the group. Taken at the back of the lower cave, these photos show the lower cave at its smallest (to give you an idea of how large these tubes are).
As we backtracked to the cave entrance, I peered to the other, longer and more difficult side of the cave. Just beyond the entrance lies one of the many large rock piles you're required to scramble up. I wanted to see what just one was like, so I semi-convinced the group to try it out. It's a big pile of rocks in a mix of jagged sizes, some sturdy and some that would rock under your weight. Eventually as we scrambled to the top, you could see down to the floor again, which perfectly clears up and looks just like the portion of shorter portion of the cave. From there, somewhere off in the darkness of the tunnel, those that commit to this portion can expect to find almost thirty 12ft piles of lava rock rubble before they can make it up the ladder and out the trail back to the parking lot.