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

U is for Unterstein Cave

Unterstein = Under Stone

This is a different post from usual…I have been shooting video and been making clips.

What started out as a normal ridgewalk with my dog, Edraith, happily running back and forth between myself, Brian, and Alexander, turned into a dig project when Edraith indicated a hole. With zero surface indication I was dubious but she was intent (and loves caves). I stuck my hand over the fist-sized hole and felt cold air blowing out! It was good enough to end our ridgewalk and switch to digging 😀

Day 2: The day we named it:

Day 3, the second day into the cave!

It is still going, and still blowing, and we are exploring!

T is for Three Turkey’s Plunge

Impromptu mid-week caving trip to a T-Cave! Troy and I headed out to a mountain on the outskirts of Huntsville to Three Turkey’s Plunge. We ended up hiking in on the correct elevation, a nice level section near the contact. We found the entrance without troubles and started to rig. Our original intent was to bottom the cave, so we brought extra rope and I brought my in-cave vertical system. The entrance drop is almost 170-ft, but there is more vertical to make it to the bottom.

Pit EntranceEntrance and our choice tree to rig.

It is a beautiful pit, the rappel quickly joins with two parallel domes, the other two don’t reach the surface. It was one of the prettiest drops I’ve done in a while.

Main Dome EntranceThe main entrance shaft.

Second DomeA parallel dome, complete with a waterfall!

The drop was a bit drippy but not overly wet. Right now, the weather has been dry so in the Spring I would guess one might wish a rain jacket for the entrance drop. So far I’ve shown photos of two of the three domes (the entrance shaft and a side dome), but what about the third? Well, the third had a pool in the entire bottom of it, and it was loaded with cave crawfish, more than I have ever seen before in one place. There was a lot of organic matter so they are quite happy little critters.

So many cave crawfish!There were about 30 I counted in this pool…the largest ones were almost the size of my hand, very large for cave crawfish! Even the big ones were amelanistic and had no eyes.

I’m guessing the one of my friends who hates cave crawfish will never want to go here, now. I guess they are kinda like spiders to some people. Me, I think they are cute. They just want to cuddle….with their pinchers! Obviously we don’t touch them, I’m just making a joke here 😉

We explored onwards. We didn’t like what we quickly ran into…a canyon that looked difficult to climb, and tight.

Up is the Way OnThis is a vertical pan, the slot at the top is in the ceiling about 15 or 20-ft up.

The walls were covered in a dried and cracked almost-rock that I am told is called breccia. Chimneying up is extremely difficult so we backtracked a bit, piled up rocks, and Troy got up into the canyon crawling forward. Putting together slings and prussiks, he lowered a line down to which I clipped on one of our ropes, which he pulled up rigged around himself as a meat anchor for me to climb up and join him. It would’ve worked great! Except…I got stuck. The first level you see in the above photo I made it through, but the narrower slot above it, which went to the level required to move forward, I didn’t fit.

Vertical Crack SelfieSelfie!

My chest got through, but my hips are my limitation, and I just couldn’t make it up through this vertical crack into the 90-deg bend to move forward. The photo above showed how tight it was, and to make it worse, the walls up here are covered in popcorn which just grabs everything. I tried for about 20 minutes, and then gave up and just sat there “stuck” (not stuck-stuck, just wedged) while Troy checked the way on. We couldn’t figure out how to get me into the right level to continue, and so we turned around and headed back out.

Horizontal TraverseThe way on, Troy made it to where he could sit and even stand up.

It was an exercise in some fun rigging again on this trip, Troy meat anchored my climb, then I meat anchored a traverse he did to move forward, then he hard rigged to rocks for my descent, then we re-rigged for a pulldown to get him down without leaving the rope, which I meat anchored in a bottom-belay fashion. Creativity at its finest!

So in the end, we didn’t bottom it, but I don’t think I could make it to the bitter end of this cave size-wise. I would go back to do the entrance drop though, as it was lovely!

S is for Shangri-La…and Sofa King

Sorry for slacking on scooting to an S cave; hopefully I made up for it by making it a two-for-one day!

We are working on a resurvey project and I noticed an S cave I was interested in, not because of size but because of how pretty it sounded, was almost above our project. There are a lot of high ledges in our project cave, impossible to really get to, and the ones we have made it up to check out don’t go, but that doesn’t mean they all are duds. Looking around on the mountain, there was a second S-cave nearby.

Troy and I decided to do a mid-week trip to check them out. First stop, Shangri-La. It was as beautiful as it sounded from the survey sketch that was turned in. The land was pretty flat on the mountain above it, and the entrance unassuming. But inside was a lovely chamber with large flowstone and draperies and rimstone floor.

Big FlowstoneWe spent quite a bit of time just wandering around taking pictures, and I even got one with me in it, a rarity. There was a whole section of these long curving stalactites.

Amy and FormationsWe played with some extreme backlighting to this oddly shaped formation as well.

The Finger FormationAbove the flowstone there was an obvious shelf that didn’t appear to have been checked out. So we decided to actually “go caving” and try to explore. Troy really wanted up there to see if it went to a parallel room that might actually go somewhere, and I was curious too. There was a large solid nub we were able to lasso with a loop of rope. (Yes, we had a 120 ft rope for this 30-foot drop, plenty of extra to bring in, across, and lasso! I knew I picked right deciding to bring the longest we had!) The tail end of the rope I tied a figure 8 on a bight and clipped to my seat harness, my weight plus the friction around the nub was plenty to anchor as Troy climbed up the rope about 15 feet to the ledge.

Then we had another snag in the plan, the ledge didn’t continue smoothly around to where we wanted to see, so with some more creative rigging, I was able to belay Troy as he traversed around, practically swinging across the break in the ledge until his feet touched solid rock again. As soon as he had footing and called for slack I knew we made it! He was able to pull the rope over, and re-rig it traditionally so I could climb up.

Amy on RopeThere wasn’t a lot of space, it didn’t go anywhere. Well, I shouldn’t say it doesn’t go, but it would be a “jail-break” – lots of stalagmites and stalactites in the way, all would need broken to even see if it went, so we won’t be doing that. But I got a picture of where it ended in a choke of beauties.

High LevelAny farther and we’d have damaged formations, so we turned around to head back. I down-climbed to get back to the ground and then we got it re-rigged so I belayed Troy by rappelling him through a carabiner on my harness, so we would be able to pull the rope down after us. The entire trip was gorgeous and a wonderful exercise in creative exploratory rigging. I said goodbye to the happy green frog on the way out. It was hanging out in the flowstone ripples happy as can be.

Green FrogWe then hiked three tenths of a mile to Sofa King Dry Well. It…wasn’t worth the hike. It was tiny crack that went to nothing at the bottom. The limestone was crumbly and sharp. I actually aborted halfway down before the tightest part – I could have fit, but it would have sucked, and I wasn’t feeling like dealing with that for nothing. The entrance here was the widest section….

Amy Climbing OUt

And the view looking up makes it look nicer than it actually was. But see how many nubs there are? Half of them were fractured and just held in place by friction. I knocked quite a few loose some by accident some on purpose. Just…don’t bother with this pit. It isn’t friendly. Troy did go all the way to the bottom, it’s mud. It certainly takes water, but no one is going to ever want to dig this nasty tight crack.

Looking Out