Tulelake, California

Explore the Catacombs at Lava Beds National Mounument

Originally added by John Ditomaso

If you are comfortable in a tight squeeze or loosing your sense of direction, I recommend trying to make it to the end of the catacombs it is worth it. 

Once you reach the Lava Beds National Monument stop by the visitors center to pay your fees, grab a map, and empty your bladder. From there you will drive your car to each cave entrance.

The Catacombs are considered the most difficult and longest cave system at the Monument and is the sixth cave system on the cave loop. The overall length is 2,104m which is over a mile long. If you are planning to do this system it may take a few hours. A map is absolutely necessary for exploring the cave system. If you make it to the end there is a special reward for you.

Inside the cave it is its own ecosystem so please be respectful, don't leave any trash, use it as a bathroom, or damage the cave's structures. 

If you see any bats do not disturb them. They may be hibernating and can die if awakened to often. If you do seem them, leave as quickly and quietly as possible. Also notify a park ranger to they can make sure the bats aren't disturbed any further. 

You will park your car and then walk approximately 150m to the cave entrance. The incline is gradual into the cave and then you will immediately be faced with various route options. It is wise to constantly refer to your map and make notes on certain features for your return trip. 

For about 250m you can walk upright then for the rest of the exploration you will mostly be hunched over, crouching, or crawling. When I say crawling I mean army crawling. This is why gloves, kneepads, and a helmet are vital. 

After the first 250m there is a stair way to the left of the cave system it is by far the biggest room in the catacombs. 

From there the easier route, or what I felt was an easier route, was taking the southern cave route to the end. This means taking mostly right turns as you progress forward when possible. 

Referring to your map you will notice certain numbers next to sections of the cave. These numbers reference the ceiling clearance. For instance if there is a number (1) next to a certain section this means there is a one foot clearance. You will be on your belly inching forward. Again the southern section has fewer low clearances. 

Going through the Southern route (about 2/3 of the way through) you will eventually reach the Elephant room which is featured in one of the photos above. It is one of the larger sections of the cave and is nicknamed the Elephant room for its unique structure. 

About 200m after the Elephant room and some tight squeezes you will reach the cross over. This is where the northern route and southern route connect at the end. The crossover is probably the tightest section in the cave that you must navigate if you take the northern route or if want to go back that way. Taking the southern route you avoid having to use the crossover to reach the end of the cave.

Past the crossover it gets very tight and you will be tempted to turn back. There are few hundred meters left and it is well worth the struggle. 

At the very end of the cave system there is a book. In which previous travelers and spelunkers have left their mark. You sign your name/date stating, "I made it to the end." You reached the end and now you have the trip back. I hope to return to the cave system soon and see more and more names. 

So grab bring a friend, go underground, and watch your head.

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