It has been a busy week or so for the Volcano Rescue Team (VRT).
Rescuers from the organization, which focuses on assisting climbers on and around Mount St. Helens, have responded to three separate incidents at the Ape Cave lava tubes south of the volcano in the last week and a half, according to a statement.
“All three were isolated leg injuries,” the group wrote on Facebook. “Two subjects were injured inside the cave: one required transport by wheeled stretcher and one was able to walk out with assistance by rescuers. The third subject took a fall while walking back on the trail and also required transport via stretcher.”
According to VRT, the terrain in and around the caves consists of sharp, uneven rocks and the added difficulty of darkness and low ceilings within the cave make it a uniquely challenging hike.
“It’s possible to become hypothermic inside the cave (even in mid-summer) if you are injured and unable to keep moving,” VRT wrote. “If you plan to visit the Ape Caves this summer, make sure you have proper footwear, lighting, warm clothing and know your own physical limitations to stay safe while recreating in this area.”
According to the U.S. Forest Service, the Ape Cave is the third longest lava tube in North America at 2.5 miles. It was discovered in 1947 by Lawrence Johnson, a logger, but was only explored a few years later by a troop of Scouts, who lowered themselves into the cave and named it after their sponsor, the St. Helens Apes.
The genesis of the cave itself stems from a kind of eruption that was unusual for the Cascades: a basaltic eruption, which involves fluid lava. It’s the only known basaltic eruption of the volcano, and it sent lava pouring down the south side of the mountain.
Reservations for a hike through the Ape Cave can be made at recreation.gov.
The ¾ mile, one-way lower cave route is relatively easy and family friendly. For the more adventurous, the 1.5 mile upper cave route leads to a climb up an 8-foot rock wall and scramble over rock piles, then an exit and a 1.5 mile above ground hike back to the parking lot.
To get to the Ape Cave from Woodland, take state Route 503 to Cougar then take Lewis River Road east for 2.8 miles. The road then changes to Forest Road 90. Continue on Forest Road 90 to Forest Road 83, approximately 4 miles and turn left. Drive Forest Road 83 for 3 miles then turn left onto Forest Road 8303. Drive approximately 1.5 miles, past Trail of Two Forest, and the headquarters are located at Ape Cave on Forest Road 8303 on the left.
Learn more about the Volunteer Rescue Team by following the group on Facebook.