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:
[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]