Exploring Caves of the Modoc Lava Flow - September 28 - October 2, 2016Posted by Adventure 16 | 11.02.2016
The Modoc Lava Flow is a swath of land that runs down the north-western slope of Mount Lassen and into the steppe that surrounds it. On the surface, it's chaparral studded with manzanita and stunted pines. Underneath, it’s an unimaginably complicated tangle of tunnels, passageways, and high-ceilinged chambers. Last month, my big brother, Scott and I spent a few days exploring these spooky tubes.
The first cave we entered was one my brother had discovered on a previous trip to the flow. It’s entrance is a pit at the top of a small hill. The hole looks a little like the crater of a miniature volcano, and is about twenty feet across. At the landing of our rappel, we found the curled skeleton of an unlucky squirrel who apparently lost his footing on the surface above and paid for it dearly. Inside, the cave’s first room is a chamber with sixty-foot ceilings perhaps 150 by 250 feet. At either end a tunnel pierced the chamber’s wall. Near the room’s center, we found a second pit that exposed a second, lower set of tubes. We explored the upper tubes, one of which covered nearly a mile. The tube was roomy, with high ceilings and rippling black walls. We left the lower tube-set for another day, and headed for an ice cave nearby.
The ice cave, discovered a few years ago by a caving buddy of my brother’s, is named for Fang River nearby. Caver’s are notoriously secretive about the location of these “wild caves”, which are not listed on maps or signed at their location. Finding a cave, even one you’ve been to before, can be challenging and time-consuming. On this day luck was with us and my brother located the cave within an hour. The entrance to this cave is a slope of perfectly slick ice at a 45 degree angle. We set up a rope and lowered ourselves. At the bottom of the slope, a long curving tunnel stretches before you. The ceilings are high and the tunnel is wide.
The floor is Ice, solid for four feet down to rock and smooth and clear as glass. Curtains of Ice line the walls, and Icicles are everywhere, some extending all the way to the floor to form glittering columns. This is one of the most otherworldly places I’ve ever been. We spend a couple hours in the cold, enchanted darkness, and then head on to the next cave.
We visited five caves on this trip and saw things I could never have imagined. Caves are great at reminding you that the world is a beautiful place that has way more mysteries to show you than you have time to see. And for that, I’m grateful!
Written by Eric Belland, A16 Tarzana Store Manager
All Photos by Scott Belland
- Climb Smart - 3 days of Climbing Skills Clinics & Camping October 13 - 15, 2017