Underworld

Posted by Ken Campbell August 28, 2012 0 Comment 930 views
“I’M GOING TO TAKE A DUMP!”
The woman’s yell reverberates around the campsite loop. I assume she is bellowing at her kids in the site across from ours – the chubby girl in the MMA t-shirt and the boy with the bag of Fritos – but her volume control is stuck on 11 and her directional control is completely shot. Everyone within the sound of her voice (and that may well include a few million people in western Washington), are all advised of her short-term travel plans in the same instant.
Micah and I are out on a father-son camping trip to close out the summer. We had been talking about the Ape Caves for a while and with this year’s season of warmth and light drawing to a close, we figured it was as good a time as any. Van camping, to be sure, but we don’t often use established campgrounds. I’m somewhat partial to logging roads, preferably near a stream or a river, where there are neither facilities nor obnoxious neighbors. I don’t know this part of the State that well though, so we are playing it safe, at least as regards our overnight parking options.
The camping area is pretty well full, but the spaces between the sites provide some cover and, even though it doesn’t feel much like wilderness, it’s better than some places I’ve been. I’m not too excited about paying $25 for the privilege of sleeping in my own vehicle but there you go… it is what it is.
In the morning, we scarf down some cereal and apple turnovers and drive up to the Ape Caves parking area. It’s warm out already but we bundle up in anticipation of the 42-degree temperature below ground. I load the backpack with our lunch, some extra layers and another headlamp and we start down the stairs and quickly enter the complete darkness of the caves.
Wikipedia has enough to say about the caves and how they came to be… I don’t need to repeat too much of that here. Here’s all you really need to know: 
– They are cold. As long as you’re moving, it’s not too bad but if you stop for any length of time, it doesn’t take long to chill down. At the places where the passage gets constricted, the wind blows stronger and it feels even colder. So keep moving.
– It is dark down there. Take extra lights, batteries, etc. When we turned our lights off to get the effect of total darkness, it didn’t take us long to turn them back on. It would be a very bad place to go without that one critical sense.
– You can go up the hill or down. The lower section of the cave is a dead-end, but is easier for small children. Therefore, because Micah is not a small child (just ask him), we went through the upper section. It’s a mile-and-a-half long and contains some very large boulder piles that have to be scrambled over, but it also has some truly amazing rooms and passages. There were a couple places where I had to duck for a step or two, and a few squeeze spots, but Micah did the whole thing, no problem. He’s a rock.
– When you emerge at the top of the cave, you’ve still got a 30-40 minute walk down the trail to return to the start. The rock ledges near the cave exit are a perfect lunch spot before starting back down.
After we finish the spelunking portion of our trip, we drive for a bit to another campground on a different lake, a bit nicer than the first but still pretty crowded. We pull the boards off the car and go for a paddle in the evening sun, wash the cave dust off of our bodies. At night, in between asleep and awake, I can hear the yips and howls of coyotes, off in the distance somewhere.
Somewhere wilder than this.

About Ken Campbell

View all post by Ken Campbell

New Release


A story of sea kayaking and science on the rugged coast of Alaska. Coming – Spring 2014.

Follow Us On Instagram

Follow me on Instagram

Blog Archives