Go prepared! - Caving Checklist
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Overview: Imagine doing what you love, (caving) and living a dream by discovering a new cave. That's what happened here on a very cold February 14, 1933. An avid local caver saw a puff of water vapor coming out of the ground and when he moved some deadfall away and crawled under a juniper tree he found the entrance to an uncharted lava tube cave at Lava Beds National Monument. Valentine Cave as it is now known stands as one of several dozen developed caves available in the park for self exploration. Cavers should check in with the visitors center for hazards, closures or warnings prior to entering any caves and can pick up any needed equipment. Flashlights can be checked out for free as most caves have no artificial light source. Hardhats, elbow and knee pads are a plus. There is no food or water available at the park.
Hike: The lava tubes in this area have an average year round temperature of 55 degrees making the physical activity required to navigate them quite comfortable. Valentine cave has a developed stair entry. The tube effect is apparent immediately as well as the natural benches that line either side of the tube. These benches very formed by decreasing and variable levels of lava passing this way. The tube is quite large at this point and there is plenty of room to stand and walk normally. In about one hundred feet the tube splits into two, probably caused by an obstruction in the flow of lava. Obeying the rules of the road, I bear right. Looking back there is only a faint touch of light left from the entrance and the darkness ahead swallows the light from the flashlight. The floor of the tube is rough and the darkness plays on your senses and moving slowly becomes the norm as you adjust to limited visibility. The tube now opens up into a large area where the now two channels rejoin as one. The tube is now definitely descending on a steady grade and the ceiling is lowering. Sharp, razor sharp lavacicles line the ceiling of the tube. All the more reason to wear a hardhat. These resemble stalactite formations and are caused by dripping lava. Hitting one with your head will get your attention. Needless to say wherever the lava was dripping from the ceiling, resulted in similar features on the floor. Thus the need for sturdy footwear and the later need for elbow and knee pads. The tube meanders now in a random fashion, imagine liquid taking the path of least resistance. With no sense of direction now just following the tube as it gets smaller and smaller and a good crouch is in order. About half way into this 1600 foot cave it will bring you to your knees. The heartiest of cavers may continue to where it becomes a belly crawl but the reward would be limited in this cave. Returning the way you came reassures you your senses were right as you feel the uphill slope of the tube. Back where the tube splits, bear right and indeed the two channels join as daylight appears ahead. This was a straightforward easy cave to explore and you won't need any breadcrumbs to find your way back. The visitor center sells detailed maps for some of the more complicated developed caves and for some of the more than four hundred other undeveloped caves available in the monument for more advanced cavers.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.