Lousy Weather? Not Underground…

Inside Ape Cave Lava Tube, Mt. St. Helens

Weather in the Pacific Northwest has been cool and cloudy this summer; a nice alternative to the record heat wave hitting the rest of the country, but a little frustrating for those of us who look forward to getting into the high country. But this year?  There is still five feet of snow at Mt. Rainier, which normally would be decorated with wildflowers by now. EVERYTHING is late, including the sun.

So on a recent shoot at Mt. St. Helens, when the light I wanted on the mountain never materialized, I decided to go somewhere where the weather didn’t matter – underground. I had always wanted to see Ape Cave, the remarkable lava tube on St. Helens’ south side, and one of the finest in the USA.

(Science note : lava tubes are created by very fluid lava – rare here in the Cascades – that cools and hardens at the edges, allowing the lava inside to continue flowing inside, forming a stone tube. When the lava stops, it drains out the bottom end, leaving this remarkably uniform tunnel.)

I spent several hours in the cave, trying to sort out how best to photograph it – finally settling on the use of two flashes – one on the camera/tripod and the other in my hands. 30-second exposures allowed me time to position myself in front of the light-colored wall (where I would best show up in silhouette) and fire off a few flashes manually to light the back of the cave.

It was a case of trial and error – mostly error – to get what I wanted. In a perfect world, I would have had a third flash (and a model?) in the far distant bend of the cave, but I’m content with this. And now that I’ve scouted the location, I know I’ll be back.

An amazing place.

Nikon D3, 17-35mm lens, 2 Nikon SB-800 flashes