Caving at Lava Beds

Caving / Spelunking at Lava Beds National Monument

Duration: 2 days (Camping)

Difficulty: Each cave has it’s own difficulty level. Most difficult – Catacombs

Getting there: check here

[ Became a super long one. Check out the photos though. Link is present in the next line :-D ]

Photos: here

I have to thank Josh and Cathy for putting this trip together. It has been one of the most memorable weekends in my life. I definitely want to go to lava beds again and also explore other locations. Josh & Cathy, I’m going to race and try to beat your times the next time around J

Day 0:

It was Friday and I had to pack stuff for the trip. I decided to Work From Home. Finished my packing and was waiting for the traffic to ease up so that I could get to Lohit’s place in Daly city by 4:00pm. I reached Lohit’s place and we then drove over to Oakland to pick Helen and Jamie up. Our carpool left the bay area at 9pm on Friday. I did not have dinner & so didn’t Lohit. We stopped over on the way at McD to grab something quick. We were then on our way towards Lava Beds National Monument. Day 1: At 3:30am on Saturday, we pulled into the campsite after an arduous drive along roads with snow/ice on either side before getting there. It was very cold outside. The temperature on Lohit’s car dash read 28 F. None of us wanted to get out of the car to pitch the tent. It was a chilling. We decided to get whatever sleep we could in the car. Helen & Jamie were clever enough to grab their sleeping bags. The two of us with jackets and pullovers pretty much froze at some point between 3:30am and sunrise. The first few rays of the sun pierced the frothy clouds somewhere around 6:30am. I was not able to sleep anymore. Lohit too got up. So we got out of the car to witness sunrise. What was in front of me was a very beautiful sunrise that day. I was extremely glad to have slept in the car and got up for sunrise. We drove to the campsite (Had parked in the overflow parking lot for the night) and decided to pitch our tents. The girls were still asleep. At around 8:30am, the campsite that was desolate with only tents in its foreground turned into a hustling breakfast place. I met Josh, Cathy, Roxana, Sridhar, Suresh and everyone else before finishing up breakfast.

I do have to mention all the wonderful people who made this trip a blast here – Josh and Cathy, Sridhar, Suresh, Roxana, Wynne and Ben, Ben, Reiko and Nick, Yishuan, Sheena, Myles, Kan, Annabelle, Christina, Jasmine and Jeremy, Lohit, Jamie and Helen. Did I miss anyone?

We had a quick orientation and run through of what we were going to be doing that day. We decided to hit some easy ones before lunch and then go to the catacombs post lunch. Some history before we go there – Cathy and Josh raced the catacombs on Friday with times of ~22mins and ~15mins. Note this, cause it’s going to be a huge comparison factor later. We headed out the first cave – The Mushpot cave. This is right behind the visitor’s center. Lights run along the walls of the cave and have a very nice path with direction lights like the ones you see in an airplane if there was to be an emergency. It even has a marriage chapel inside the cave. After the Mushpot, we visited the Skull cave. It was gigantic and was fun scrambling around. After that we visit the cave that had great ice formations inside. Thanks to Lohits’ “not heeding to the stop bars” attitude, we saw some amazing parts of the cave with ice eggs and ice stalagmites. We went all the way to the end and got back out. It was already past noon and was time for lunch. We took a break right there on the road next to the parking lot.

After lunch comes the most interesting part. We were going to the catacombs. I am so glad I picked up knee-pads from the visitor’s center before the catacombs. We entered the catacombs at around 2pm. Jamie wanted to race to the end and so she went into the complex connected cave network minutes before any of us. We waited for a while before heading into the cave. Cathy lead the group. I decided to stay with the group and did not want to risk getting lost although my other adventure self was telling me to try and race it. Since it was the first time there for me, I did not want to take that chance. Suresh, Myles, Lohit had already gone in ahead. The group was a little slow so I started moving ahead. At one point I was alone. There was no one around me in all directions. I took out the map and tried getting some sense of where I was.

I would have been alone for about 10 minutes I suppose. I just kept going ahead following the guidelines of Cathy and Josh – Veer right all the way till the last one where a left is to be made at a Y fork. I felt a little scared when the squeeze height (Ceiling and floor gap) became as small as 1 foot. So I started moving a little faster. All of a sudden I saw a light in front of me. Calling out, Suresh answered me. At that moment I was so happy to have found someone else in the cave. I stuck with the group all the way to the end of the cave (where the register was kept). To our surprise, we did not see Jamie’s name on the register. We thought that either Jamie might have skipped writing her name down or that she was lost on her way. After a brief break, writing our names in the register, we headed back by the other way. Get to the crossover – get to the other side (The left side) and then get out that way. There were more low ceiling routes on the left side. Some people decided to go back with Josh the same way we came in. Oh yea, we met Josh at the crossover. After about 5 minutes, Jamie came by from the rear. We were all super excited and happy to see her.

It happened that she went around in circles and had never made it to the end. I cannot fathom what went through her mind during the non-ending crawl. She was very happy to see all of us. Instead of a cool easy way out, we were now lost! Divide and conquer started where we spread out and started checking out all the places where we could go hitting dead ends most times and an actual trail once in a while. We finally made it out after some fun scrambling. It was 5:30pm when we got out. So 3.5hrs for us to traverse the cave both ways compared to Cathy’s time of ~15mins one way. A huge difference! This is how you make out who the experts are. J

Once outside, the tree next to the catacombs entrance was so interesting that Jamie and I climbed it :D. We got back to the campsite and then carpooled to go to the Schonchin Butte peak (a 0.7mile hike) to witness the sunset. Once again I got to witness some beautiful colors out there. We were back to the campsite by 7:40pm. Dinner and games followed. Thanks Lohit for the wonderful palak paneer and tortias and Josh for the barbeque veggies. I went to sleep early on Saturday. I was out by 10:00pm.

Day 2:

This has become a very long memoir. So to make it short, we headed out to some easy caves in the cave loop on Sunday – The valentine caves, The Ovis & Paradise Alley and one more. Did some scrambling there and bid adieu to everyone. It was already past noon. We were on the way to south bay through Klamath and Oregon crossing Mt. Shasta.

Mt. Shasta standing mighty and tall, completely white could be seen from far-far away. Driving closer and closer made it more and more prominent and beautiful. The thought of why I hadn’t come here earlier ran through my mind. I will definitely need to try to summit Shasta this year. We stopped for lunch at the Black Bear Diner at Shasta town. Another stop at Peets coffee shop in Vacaville and a lot of fun in the car got us back to the bay area.

I will never be able to forget this particular trip. Thanks again Josh & Cathy for putting this one together. I would love to go on your trips and meet all of you again!

Photos link: here