X is for Xi Cave

There are not many good X-Y-Z caves in Alabama! Of course, some would point out my alphabet caving is TAG, not just Alabama, but I only have access to the Alabama Cave Survey so it is easiest….and there are not many good X-Y-Z caves in the others either. (Yes, I know, Xanadu, I just…it’s hot. I don’t like long hikes to caves. Especially in the heat of summer. Also, getting a trip there seems to be difficult.)

Anyway, in an effort not to stay stagnant and finish up this year, I happily found Xi Cave (as in the Greek letter) in the ACS. It had a crawl, with dot-dot-dots! I like dot-dot-dots! On old surveys it usually means something went, but it wasn’t worth it back-in-the-day to push.

Xi did not disappoint. Alexander and I headed off to find it at 0930. After about a 20-min walk, we started down the mountainside. We were not sure how accurate the coordinates were and we looked everywhere, walking the sides of the wash looking for the cliff it was described to be in.

Puzzled and hot and wanting to cool off we decided eventually to check out the wash itself. It really is beautiful.

We found where the water sinks into silt. There was indeed more bedrock down here.

Below it, we found cave! I would not describe it as in a cliff, but I suppose it was about a 5-6-ft cliff when you looked down at it. But the tops and edges were covered by boulders, so it did not give your typical cliff appearance.

We felt air.

We saw animal tracks.

We started to survey, and then realized as we cleared out some debris to make the passage easier we were disturbing a ground hornet nest at the entrance where we were tossing things.

We quickly left it alone! Being stung in a cave is not on my bucket list!

All in all an amazing trip and I can’t wait to return… 😉

Amata in the entrance of Xi

W is for Well Then Horror Hole

My friends Brandon and Troy found a new pit recently, and invited me to check it out. Apparently, I was the third person to visit. While they have not surveyed yet, Troy taped it to 186-ft deep, broken in two distinct drops.

The top is very small, not so much to be a huge problem, but tight and awkward. In fact, it is easier to switch to left hand rappel based on where the tiny bit of “elbow space” is.

Entering the SqueezeTroy entering the constriction on the first pitch, while I wait at a “land bridge”.

Once through this tight spot, the pit opens up and actually looks pretty impressive for a bit, and it looks like there are side passages to neighboring domes (so far nothing goes). A little bit of a rebelay/traverse line gets you to the nicely free-hanging second drop.

Drop #2Troy maneuvering to the second pitch.

Down at the bottom there are some nice large horn coral fossils, I am guessing based on what the limestone looks like in other caves in this area that it is Monteagle at the bottom, as there is a bit of a thin shale-y layer we passed on the second drop that is classic of the thin and spotty Hartselle formation in this region.

One side of the bottom looks like there might be going passage up high – Brandon climbed this on a previous trip and said it was another dome.

Look Inside a Horn CoralHorn coral.

Nothing much else to look at, we started climbing back up. Troy went first so I could get a decent shot of the pit, well, really the second pitch. In taking the photo I noticed there was a creepy wedged boulder right above me!

Hanging Rock DropThanks to Brandon and Troy for letting me see your new-found cave!

V is for Vision Pit

As one can imagine, I got stuck on “U” for a long time with alphabet caving. There are few good “U” caves and with the discovery of Unterstein…well my time got zapped to that. I had hoped to finish Alphabet Caving by end of 2015 and of course…with my U…that did not occur. So now, an entire year later, I am back at it! V it is…and luckily Dave Hughes found Vision Pit recently (V is a difficult letter as well!).

So instead of fretting over the 2016 Presidential Election today, Alexander and I took to the hills to drop into Vision. It is a nice open drop (photo by Alexander):

alexander-took-of-me

I was a bad caver and forgot my rappel rack! It turned out okay, the pit is very freehanging and so after Alexander descended, I pulled up his rack and used it myself. It worked out, as we needed to adjust the rig slightly anyway so I was able to adjust it as I pulled the rope to haul up his rack.

It is a beautiful pit listed at 120 feet deep. A tall 30 foot column, “jellyfish” formations, and lots of curtains. I bet when it is not drought, this cave is even prettier.

bottom-of-vision-pitThe frogs! The salamanders! There were many of each, and we had to watch our step. There were three different species of frogs, but all the salamanders were the same (Northern Slimy).

froggie bumpy-frogThere were two little rooms, and one was rather muddy so we looked with our eyes and said “that’s nice” and moved on. It was tiny anyway, the end was right there. The other room was larger and in wet weather probably the rimstone fill with water. Gingerly canyoning across to keep it clean we went to the end of that room. It is a very nice decorated little area with some lillypads, flowstone, and rimstone, and some probably-were pearls that are now conglomerating.

alexander-in-colorBottom explored we started to head back out, but not before snapping some photos of black-tipped curtains. It was interesting how some had black edges, and others did not, all in the same formation section. Usually bacon is pretty uniform across an area but not here.

black-tipped-curtainsWe de-rigged and headed back down the mountain in the sunset. Luckily our cars were where we left them – the parking area listed in the Alabama Cave Survey wiki was closed so we just parked off the road where we were not in the way. All in all a lovely midweek cave trip and the perfect place to be on election day afternoon.

hiking-back-down

Always Time for Tea – Part 5: Wheal Jane

2016-08-09

My first mine! Ferret promised me a mine trip in 2013 and we never went, well, because I didn’t even really see him that year except briefly at Hidden Earth. We met up with Hugo, who is a mine explorer but not caver (apparently, there is very little crossover) at the parking about an hour from Plymouth. Wheal Jane is a very pretty mine that has an easy 40 meter entrance pitch.

I laughed hysterically at the rope pad Hugo brought. Proper commercial belt of some kind, about 1/2 inch thick, 18 inches wide, and 15 feet long. Heavy as sin! The rigging he did was interesting but I was okay with it. I told them about tensionless and they preferred what they had; they basically did it like a Y hang but off two slings one above the other on the same tree. Figure eight on a bight to an alpine with a big loop (common use in the UK instead of double figure eight/bunny ears). Sure, if that is what they are happy with. It was safe and it worked, so I’ll giggle at the over-rigging but won’t fuss.

Hugo rappelled first, fair I thought so if it was short roped it was the rigger’s fault. I went second and zipped down. Hey, Hugo had asked if my rack could handle 11mm rope. Oh silly, that 11mm was loosey-goosey compared to PMI Pit Rope. I had a great ride on four bars, only slowing to avoid a bit of ledge and look at the hanging clothesline of underwear someone had rigged up on it for shits n giggles.

diamond-stopeHugo by cool stopes.

Ferret followed. Finally all down safely, we decided to perambulate. Ferret said we saw about 5-10% of the mine, but the 5-10% best parts. The stopes were really neat, and the old mine workings too. I loved how orange everything was (but ochre stains and does not come out of anything!), reds too. There were lots of soda straws but they were all dark with minerals and so rather difficult to light well. Unlike calcite of cave soda straws, they did not stand out against the background.

hanging-wall-of-a-stopeFerret near a hanging wall of a stope.

hugo-by-iron-soda-strawsSoda straws and stals, oddly dark in mines.

 There were snottites! I have heard of them, and seen pictures, but never in person! Wow that was exciting, I had no clue I would get to see those and it was kind of a bucket list item to find some in person.

snottiteSnottite!

There were pools of deep orange, and I was warned they were acidic. Now it made sense why some drips from stals above felt a bit burn-y. Sulphuric acid is common in these mines. And where you have sulphur and iron…you get…PYRITE. Yup, lots of fools gold! Pretty amazing I thought.

fes2LOTS and LOTS of FeS2

Just when I thought the colors couldn’t get any better, Hugo said, “Hey, there is blue!” Which I ran over to carefully – good call as there was a pit between me and them! I skirted around on the far side and made it, and giggled with delight at the blues and greens, contrasted by the oranges and reds of the iron in the soil and walls. Yup. I am hooked on mines. I want to do many more!

layers-of-colorCopper painting the iron makes pretty rainbow mines…I approve of the colours!

blue-lillypadSwirls of blue and green.

 I found a lonely looking pole, asked if it was holding anything and it was not (apparently, all the wood is so soft that there is no way it is holding anything anymore, what will collapse has for the mostpart). This lone pole was begging for a dance. My new favourite photo of me underground is of me pole dancing in a Wheal Jane! SO AWESOME. We probably spent about five hours underground despite seeing very little but this was because we are all three photographers so again we spent lots of times just enjoying the sights and taking pictures.

photo_2016-08-13_09-23-08Ferret’s photo of me…check out Dark Element Photography

 We decided it was time to leave and despite a rope walker having more gear, I was kitted up first so I jumped on rope. The edge was no issue as it has poured concrete in an upside down U shape so although the rope had a low angle, there was not a long edge to pass. Even without a QAS it was super easy. Hugo and Ferret followed.

killroy The sun was going down and we were hungry. Hugo kindly invited us over for dinner as he lived nearby. It was a good thing we had tea and food our bellies on the way back to Plymouth, as there was a detour on the way back to get around the night roadwork closures.

If you’d like to see a video of my first mine experience, check this out!

Always Time for Tea – Part 4: Ogof Ffynnon Ddu 1

2016-08-08

The trip that did not want to happen! We had a cup of tea, then decided to finally get up the energy to get ready to go caving. Both Ferret and I were tired from the three days in a row of caves. But finally we dragged our arses to get kitted up and drove up to the SWCC to pick up the key.

…The code did not work.

So we found some cell signal and Ferret got a hold of Vince and we tried a new code. Ferret walked over this time to the SWCC and tried.

…The code did not work.

Ferret called to let Vince know, since there is no reason his code should not work! So he actually drove up and met Ferret at the SWCC and got it straightened out and we got a key (big thanks to Vince for fixing the system for us!)

The plan was to just bimble about in drier areas and do some photography, and dip toes in the streamway because I really love the OFD1 streamway and have not seen it since 2010. So after some confusion of where to park and hike in (luckily – I remembered seeing on UKC forum that the farmer didn’t want cavers using the old route, so we checked with Paul who told us the new walk in) and we finally made it at about 3pm in the afternoon. We had originally left to the cave at 1pm, and it’s only five minutes from the Stump!

ofd1-blue-poolsWe made our way to Pluto’s Pool and went up the ladder above it. I don’t remember such lovely flowstone and curtains. I think it is the kind of stuff on regular trips one just runs by. We meandered around to try and find the top of the traverse that Ferret wanted to try to get a good photo of. We got a bit off track and came in and out about the streamway on ledges but not on the actual traverse, and in one spot was an easy climb down to it, so we did. I got to dip my toes!

climbdown-to-streamwayOn the way out we checked out Pearl Passage and Skeleton Rift, just a little off shoot that he’s never seen (neither have I, of course). Pearl Passage was disappointing, it just ended in a flowstone thing with a few pearls at the bottom, difficult angle to even get photos. Skeleton needed some rope, was about a 8-foot climbdown that might be doable if you had a tall person to give legs-up and then get out on their own, but we had neither, so we left.

Standing in a waterfall for some of the photos had me a little chilly but luckily the showers at the Stump are wonderfully warm and so I had no issues warming back up. Tea also is a good cure. 🙂