Ape Cave Tour Saturday, October 10, 2015report by Sue Kerslake photos by Bruce Kerslake and Dean Benedict & family
On Saturday, October 10, 2015, Bruce Kerslake led a tour to Ape Cave, on the south flank of Mt. St. Helens. The Studebaker Drivers Club, the Cascade Pacific Plymouth Club, the Rose City Rambler AMC Club, and the Walter P. Chrysler Club were all invited. At 13,042 feet, Ape Cave is the third longest lava tube in North America.
With rain in the forecast, many tour participants decided to drive "modern iron" or "Brand Xs" instead of their old cars. So, although we had about twenty people show up, there were only four old cars: Bruce and Sue Kerslake's red 1960 Lark, Katherine and Duane Benedict's dark blue 1979 Chrysler New Yorker, Jeff Penuel's tastefully pinstriped 1953 Ford, and Ed and Jo Anne Sallia's yellow 1955 Studebaker President.
Three couples also brought friends and relatives. One couple's friends had moved to our area from San Jose only a year ago. The Benedicts made a large family outing of it. They brought their son Dean and his wife, and their grandson Matthew, plus another two friends. Another participant named Terry has just published her fifth book, a murder mystery called "Trapped in the Crosshairs". Talking with her was what I was doing instead of making an attendance list.
We met at the Gee Creek Rest Area, off I-5 north of Vancouver. The weather wasn't bad -- yet. We reminded ourselves that it wouldn't be raining in Ape Cave. We headed north toward Woodland on back roads, and then east for several miles on Cedar Creek Road. Bruce had planned the route so that there would be no traffic signals. We stopped in the town of Amboy for lunch at funky old Nick's Bar and Grill. They seated us around several long tables set up in one big rectangle, and they did an excellent job of getting us fed in a timely manner. I sat next to Tom Hart, whom I hadn't seen in awhile. While we were eating, the rain started, and it never really stopped for most of the day.
We drove about 25 miles on wet, leafy roads, upward through the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. We picked up Ed and Jo Anne Sallia, who were waiting for us by the side of the road in their cheerful yellow Studey. They were spending the weekend camping at a resort in Cougar.
At Ape Cave, we parked in the overflow lot, mostly because it comes first. We walked a couple hundred yards up a soggy trail to the stone steps down into Ape Cave. The younger Benedicts went the 3/4 mile down the easier lower end of the cave, then started back up through the more difficult upper end. When they reached a place that required crawling over boulders, they turned around. By the time Bruce and I started down, the only other members of our group that we met were Duane Benedict and his son's father-in-law. The only reason I recognized them was their long narrow flashlights.
Walking through a cave is an unusual experience. It may not have been raining in there, but as any Northwesterner would know, it was far from dry. At times, the air was almost foggy, and I had to wipe my glasses.
Bruce was having trouble with depth perception, so he turned around before the end of the lower tunnel, but I went on. At times, I was annoyed by having to sidestep all the noisy kids. But I envied the kids their sense of wonder and their enjoyment of walking through the short yard-high part of the cave. Shortly after I turned around, I could still hear voices, but I could no longer see anyone else's lights. I turned off my own light and tried to imagine what it would be like to be stranded there. Scary!
As it turned out, I was alone most of the way back. Bruce was too, but he was far enough ahead of me that I couldn't see his light or hear him. The roughest parts of the floor were closest to the entrance, and I was going too fast for my balance. I tripped on a rock and over I went, face down! I gathered myself up, not too much the worse for wear. I had "cave rash" on my face, hands and knees, and I broke the left bow of my glasses. Luckily the glasses weren't hard to keep on my face, so I looked around for the missing bow. I didn't find it. I wiped my glasses again and trudged on. In spite of reminding myself to go slowly, I took another spill. I was tired, stiff and sore, but okay.
Finally, I reached the metal stairs near, but not quite at, the cave entrance. Coming the other direction, from the upper branch of the cave, I saw a T-shirt I recognized. It was Matthew Benedict and his family group. What a relief! I fumbled with my jacket hood while talking with them, and there was my glasses bow, still stuck in my messy hair and hat.
Because of the crowds and the rain, it was hard to keep track of our group. It was good that we had eaten lunch first, not afterwards. Our Lark's windows were very foggy, so we cracked the windows. Driving down, as we passed through Cougar, the rain was coming down very hard. It was easy to believe that this area gets 80 to 100 inches of precip a year, as opposed to Portland's 35 inches. Our Lark's wipers were going at full speed, and thankfully, they kept going. Bruce said that it took 20 miles to clear off the back window. Once again, the Lark earned the name "Old Faithful", and we had a safe trip home. We hope everyone else did, too.