Any cavers among us? *Photos from a recent trip*

Any spelunking Dopers besides me? Any other possibly terminally insane mole-creatures who inexplicably like to go crawling around in tiny, back-breaking holes underground?

I live in the TAG area (Tennessee/Alabama/Georgia), which is legendary for having some of the most spectacular caves in the world. The county where I live is a swiss-cheese nightmare of karst, sinkholes, sinking streams, springs, caverns, and lizard holes. There are over 1500 “major” cave entrances within probably 30 miles of where I live.

Yeah, I like to crawl around in the dark. And yes, I’ve had brief flashes of near-panic as I have gotten caught for a few nasty seconds in a tight passage that might have been a little too small for me, or as the leader ahead of me says, “shit, man, I’m not sure which way was the way back.” But as long as you keep your head, you figure things out. It’s really about self-control…

…and the rush of working your ass off to see things that lie forever in darkness…gorgeous formations and places on this earth that very, very, very few people will ever see. The secret places. The mystery of what might be through the next wickedly narrow pass.

It’s a little crazy, but it’s surely a lot of fun.

I went on a trip underground this past Thursday. We started off in a fairly well-known cave, but were told that at a certain point someone had put up a locked gate blocking an extremely narrow and treacherous passage. We were given permission to cross this barrier and attempt the passage. It would mean, we were told, that we would get to see the upper half of the cavern…a complex of passages that had never been mapped completely, and a place that probably fewer than 50 people in history had ever seen.

Well, we made it, and here are a few photos: :slight_smile:

[li]Narrow Entrance - You can see the bottom bar of the gate under my boot, and my buddy squeezing himself into hole in the rock so tight he had to take off his helmet. It was worse for me, as I’m bigger than he is. I made it, though, and this was the first of three nasty passages.[/li][li]A soda straw - one of the more common formations in wet caves…a hollow tube of calcium deposit. This one was photo-worthy, however, because of its extreme delicacy. You may not be able to properly appreciate it in this photo, but its walls were so thin that it was damn near transparent…and it would have crumbled at the lightest touch. What may be somewhat more apparent, since I took this without the flash, and in the light of my headlamp, is that it was freaking dark. :)[/li][li]Flood Channel - This is an oddly beautiful place - a spot where flood waters have carved into the rock for so long that the walls have been eroded into smooth, graceful shapes reminiscent of the Colorado Plateau formations around Four Corners. It resembles things you might find at Arches National Park. Really pretty, and I apologize if my photography doesn’t make it look as spectacular as I’m describing it.[/li][li]Ogre in the dark - a partial profile of yours truly taking a break in one of the flood channel caves. Crawling on one’s knees over sharp scree is taxing.[/li][li]Under The Mountain - my buddy’s boots disappearing into the gloom ahead as he embarks on what turned out to be a 150-200 yard belly-crawl. Man, I’m glad I’m not claustrophobic.[/li][li]The Way Through - Actually, to be more accurate, the ONLY way through. One of the reasons this section is blocked off is to keep ham-handed cavers from destroying the living formations. As you can see, this can be mightily delicate. We, however, got through without so much as nudging a soda straw out of place.[/li][li]Neversink - a 150-foot deep “vertical cave” (pit!) a few minutes from my house. Glorious place. You can see the waterfall coming off the side, and many of those ferns on the progressive ledges are endangered.[/li][/ul]

Wow. Truly awesome.

How dangerous is it? Do these things ever collapse or have deadly gas pockets?

I must be claustrophobic, because I can’t even look at those pictures without getting the Willies.

It can be quite dangerous. Of course, you take all the precautions you can (carry a map if available, carry three sources of light at minimum, along with batteries, carry some food and water, cave with at least one other person , but preferably two, etc.) and you train for eventualities, but it’s basically a dangerous pastime. Just around the mountain from where that photo of Neversink was taken, there’s another pit now simply called Valhalla after two vertical cavers died in an enormous collapse there. Sometimes collapses happen (although they are rare) and sometimes pockets of bad air can develop (usually in small, confined caves, near seams of coal, etc.) The caves around here are - generally speaking - large caves that pass lots of air through them, so that danger is minimal as well.

The real dangers are stupidity, ill-preparedness, and panic.

Basically, don’t try stuff you know you can’t handle. Always triple check your equipment. Hypothermia and exhaustion are very real dangers, so watch out for them. And above all, you must keep your head. If you get in a bad situation, think your way out of it. Panic will kill your ass dead underground.

In reasonable terms, though, the payoff is so worth it.

Oh, and just for comparison, I took a second photo right after I took the Narrow Entrance photo above, only this time without a flash. This one gives a much clearer picture of just how dark it is, since I’m only using my headlamp for illumination.

That looks truly amazing and sounds fun. That area is only a couple hours from where I grew up, so I’ll have to try to make it out there for some poking around one day.

I haven’t caved in years :slight_smile: I used to cave in southern Indiana, then when we moved to Arizona I caved there for a while. Cave of the Bells is gorgeous!

I like your pictures. I’ve never taken pictures in a cave before because I’ve always been worried about how my camera was going to make it out. All that knocking about and tight corners would be hard on my Pentax.

Now I really want to dive down a hole and get all muddy :smiley:

Awesome pictures.

Last time I went caving about half a dozen of these dropped on my head (not at those caves.

It did put me right off though. I like bugs but wetas are too icky.

Cave crickets on steroids. Yech. I noticed something about that page as well, calm kiwi. The glowworms that live there are not unique to NZ. There is another population of them…at Dismals Canyon, Alabama. How strange is that?

I put my camera in two layers of protective casing, just for that reason. I could kick myself, however, because now the mechanism has a piece of sand in it, and I have to send it to be cleaned out at the factory. Dumb, dumb, dumb. I’m taking disposable cameras from now on.

Cool. Where did you grow up?

I’ve had a recurring dream of your Neversink. I am officially freaked now.

In the dream, I’m walking up a muddy, slippery trail. I turn a corner, around a large rock, and there it is. The trail goes on, but my dream always ends there. The sink is the only part of the dream that’s in color.

I’ve never been exploring in a traditional sedimentary limestonish cave like that. But back when I was in High School in New Mexico, there were some basalt caves, one particularly nice one in White Rock Canyon (canyon of the Rio Grande where it passes by the White Rock subvillage of Los Alamos) that involves some interesting squeezies and angled tunnels to slink down before finally opening up into a fairly big room we called the theatre. We’d light a half-dozen small candles and cram them into the cracks and crevices of the cracked and tumbled basalt.

I’ve heard rumors that some overprotective parent-type went down and dynamited the opening a few years after I moved out of the area :frowning:

Retired VA/WV caver here. Mostly Pendleton (WV), Highland, Bath (VA) counties. I don’t think I’ve been caving since my early 30s, since my old group of caving friends (that had been intact since high school) dispersed. I’ve still got the group’s collection of helmets and carbide lamps in my shed, but nobody to go with. (Yeah, I know I could join a grotto, but I’ve gone caving with relative strangers before, and it just wasn’t that much fun.)

I caved a little, when I was a teenager (one of my elder brothers was very much into caving), and liked it a lot. But last time was when I was around 20. Sometimes I would like to do it again, but I’m quite convinced that now I would be claustrophobic if I had to crawl along [insert appropriate english word for narrow passage].
Still, I envy you…It’s not related to the formations, since I never went to difficult caves, and in the easy ones, essentially everything which would be beautiful to see has been damaged, stainted or even brought away :frowning: . That’s rather the feeling of exploring a mysterious, secret place where very few people venture. :slight_smile:

I notice ** Ogre ** forgot to mention water. “Alive” caves (not sure if it’s the proper term in english. I mean caves still hydrologically active) can be flooded in case of heavy rain. That’s the part I dreaded the most. On the other hand, reaching a subterranean pond/lake is great (still the appeal of mystery).

Perhaps I’m dating myself here, but I’m curious : are carbide lamps still used? I had been told nobody used them anymore, and everybody now relied on electric lamps only (and ** Ogre ** don’t seem to have one on the pictures).

I caved a bit, mostly in upstate NY, and a couple of times in the southwest states. Never did any serious vertical caving. I’ve still got my gear but haven’t used it in several years. I miss it, but there’s not too much karstland in or near NYC, so it would not be easy for me to get back into it.

As far as I know, nobody really uses carbide anymore. LED and halogen light technology has replaced it. My helmet-mounted light was a simple AAA headlamp I bought at Wal-Mart. Before the gearheads attack, let me say, “save it.” It’s waterproof, light, is very bright, and best of all, has adjustable focus. I could see much further than my buddy, who wore a comparatively expensive 8-LED outfit. The one disadvantage I have with that light is battery life. I zoom through batteries.

And yes, water. I was thinking of water danger when I mentioned hypothermia earlier, although it’s quite possible to become exhausted and hypothermic in a dry cave. Cave water is freaking COLD…usually 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s extremely easy to beome hypothermic and shocky in that water. Abundant rainfall in the TAG area makes it a particularly wet cave region, and I’ve gained access to more than one cave by having to go chest down in a sinking stream as it disappears into the ground.

Can’t say I’m terribly surprised. You leave a field for a couple of decades, and the technology improves while you weren’t looking. Back when I was an active caver, electric lights still required heavy battery packs connected by wires (that could get caught on stuff at inconvenient moments) to one’s headlamp, and their light wasn’t significantly better than with carbide. I’m glad to hear battery-powered caving lights have ended the use of carbide; people would frequently not bother to pack out their used carbide, but just dump it in the cave.

Cool, cool cool! I haven’t done any caving in …what…30 years! Back when I was young, athletic, and supple enough to squirm through those tight fits. Those were great experiences and your pictures brought all sorts of memories flooding back. Show us some more!

I used to go caving back when I was a little younger and a little thinner (ok, a lot thinner). I always used halogens but the guys I went with often used carbides. LEDs give a bright light, but the light doesn’t seem to penetrate the way carbide does. You can see up close but you can’t see the formations in the distance as well. Carbide users do seem to be getting rarer, but they are still out there.

As far as the danger goes, most cavers are hurt by falling. What you think is just a shadow on the floor could easily be a 30 foot pit. Whoever else is there has to pull the injured one out, which is why you want more than one person with you, just in case.