B is for Blue Springs

My Alphabet Caving Project is coming along well! Many thanks to Tim & Janice Curtis for taking me to Blue Springs for my birthday!

I had always been under the impression that to see any decorations in Blue Springs, one must do the long crawl. Apparently, that is not so! It was a pleasant surprise. We entered and shortly came upon a bridge! It was cool and creepy at the same time as a few of its support cables were broken.

Our first main stop was the Moonscape. Being a NASA and general space fan, this sounded extremely promising. I was not disappointed! Yellow-orange sand formed mini craters, hills, and valleys. I agree, the name Moonscape is very fitting!

In this same area, I noticed some popcorn formations that had yellow tips. Looks like someone just coated them with some butter! I am unsure as to what caused it. They were not spray painted.

We continued on, climbing over breakdown and scrambling up steep slopes. The Cascade Room was amazing, and we carefully maneuvered around it without stepping in the deep pools of water.

In the upper level, the cascades continue! Instead of deep layered rimstone as in the lower section, it was more shallow and very ribbon-like!

It wasn’t much farther to the Cathedral Room. If you have the Blue Springs book published by the NSS, the cover photo was taken here. Even the climb down to get into the right passage is impressive!

The Cathedral Room itself has many huge and amazing formations. This was one of my favorites. I really like white formations, and these twirled and curled!

The Cathedral Room was the end of our route so it was time to turn around and head back out. It was a wonderful trip and I hope to go back! Thank you Tim & Janice, and the landowners of Blue Springs!

To see all my photos from this trip, please visit my Flickr set: Blue Springs

A Rappeller’s View: Unique Cave Photo Technique

Almost two years ago I caught a “oopsie” image during my first trip to Surprise Pit, a 404-ft pit inside Fern Cave in Alabama, USA. I was setting up for a typical shot and accidentally pressed the shutter button, capturing by complete accident a rappeller coming in for landing.

The result intrigued me. I started to wonder how I could capture a full rappel in these deep dark spaces. Not a photo of the pit, a photo of the RAPPEL.

Typical pit shots follow certain formulas. Stage people on ropes to fire flash bulbs. Have someone shine a light / fire a bulb / fire a flash at various points, often stitching images together in post process. Even flash powder! A combination of these techniques is often used as well.

The whole point is: Light up the pit.

That’s not what I wanted to do. And that is what makes this unique.

On top of the unique point of view – not the pit, the rappel – I wanted to stay true to my overarching technique of minimal and light gear. I wouldn’t be making or using any custom lights, large cameras, fancy lenses, etc. Simple is my form.

Using a Zebra Light (standard caving headlamp used by many around here, costs <$100), Lumix LX5, and a mini tripod, is all it took! It weighs under a pound. Technically, the Zebra Light shouldn’t even be on the scale, as it’s just the standard headlamp always in use.

There was no setup.

No external lighting of any kind.

No communication of where to look or what to do.

Just a rappel.

“3…2…1…On Rappel!”

I open the shutter for 60 seconds.

Brian lands and starts getting off rope.

Shutter closes.

The result?

A photo of the rappel. The streak of the rope. The spinning.The moisture and fog in the air. What the rappeller sees, you see.

This isn’t a photo of Mystery Falls, it is a photo of what it is like to rappel Mystery Falls.

That is what makes it unique.

A is for Anderson

My new project is Alphabet Caving. In the next year or few, I will be visiting caves in the TAG region I have never been to, in alphabetical order (as best as possible with regard to access / permission). In the Alabama Cave Survey alone there are plenty to choose from.

I started this journey earlier than planned with Anderson Cave. It is one of the Southeastern Cave Conservancy‘s properties. Ray from the Birmingham Grotto lead the trip, a good thing as Anderson is a huge boulder maze and he was the only one along who basically knew the route!

Anderson is extremely muddy, as in, up to my hips in the deepest sections! I am sure there are many lost boots in the thick of it. There are neat deep lakes past the muddiest passages, however.

If you brave the muddy slopes and pick the right holes to poke into, you may just find some lovely formations as well!

We did the through trip, so the way out was climbing up 20 feet just to go down 20 feet, and then back up again! Up-down-up-down winding through boulders and corkscrews covered with inches of peanut butter mud. Slick enough to make traction to climb a challenge, yet sticky enough if it was a slanted squeeze to just hang there awkwardly like a beached whale unable to move forward yet not sliding backwards!

By the end of the trip I was past ready to be out of there. It was an interesting cave and I am glad I went, but I think it makes the list of “been there, done that, not again!”

Before and After: Colorful to Mud

It took about 2 hours of scrubbing and cleaning to get all the mud off my gear.

Caving in the UK – Part 3 – South Wales

From the Dales I headed to Wales! I met up with Paul Fairman at the Wealden Cave and Mine Society hut, and the next morning, headed down Dan yr Ogof. DYO has been a cave I’ve wanted into since I first saw photos from Cloud Chamber, with its soda straws a long as I am tall, and pure crystalline white. Making it even more amazing, is that the limestone in this region is very dark, when wet, BLACK. The contrast between the pure white formations and the black limestone is simply put, amazing.

Dan yr Ogof

DYO was my first wetsuit cave. Paul had a spare for me to use, and I tried it on briefly before the cave and it was tight, especially on my chest. But it zipped all the way up with some help, so to the cave we went! The beginning of DYO is a show cave, that you hop the fence and jump into The Lakes. Which, are as they sound. It’s an upstream swim on the way in. The water was frigid but the wetsuit kept me relatively warm, however, I started feeling like I couldn’t breathe. By the end of the swim, it felt like the world was collapsing in on me, as if I had a bus sitting on my chest preventing me from breathing, and in a brief moment of quasi-clarity I realized I was trying to literally rip my wetsuit off. I can’t say I remember who saw what first, or who unzipped the back of my wetsuit, but as soon as it was off my upper half I could breathe again. I gasped in air, shuddering, wondering what just happened and why it had felt like I was dying. Paul explained he’d seen this happen once before from a mate of his – the wetsuit when it’s not fit right and compresses the chest too much can trigger a claustrophobic attack. Considering as soon as it was off, I was fine, I’d have to agree that’s what happened to me. It’s an experience I would like to never repeat again. Considering the wetsuit was tight enough to make my VERY curvy chest almost flat, I was definitely very compressed.

A moment’s rest and I was ready to continue. Let me warn you – The Long Crawl is indeed long. Very aptly named. There are a few ultra-squeezy bits, and the trough, a long bit of water a few inches deep that requires belly crawling through, but otherwise it’s just long rather than particularly difficult.

Popping out into larger space, we traversed around the crystal pool up into tube-like passage, where an 8-ft tall soda straw column is. It’s quite impressive, and absolutely amazing.

Flabbergasam Oxbow

Back out and around and into a different passage the soda straws started occurring in the ceiling. As we moved inwards, they seemed to get longer and more concentrated. All pure white on the black limestone walls and ceiling. Then…Cloud Chamber. A good-sized room with indeed clouds of soda straws varying from 3 to 5 feet in length, possibly longer, as it is hard to estimate size above my head!

Vastness of Cloud Chamber

We moved on to the Green Canal but opted to not go that route. The water is abnormally frigid. They say it’s green because the antifreeze in it keeping it from turning into ice. I say let it freeze and then you could skate across rather than swim it! Of course, this is in jest, there isn’t really antifreeze in the water.

Les points out the frigid Green Canal.

Coming back out through The Long Crawl, and the trough of water, Paul says “hold on wait a minute!” right as I’m in the worst part of it! I holler back to Hat and Les behind me to stay out of the water for a bit. Les says “why, are you taking photos?” I said “No it’s not me, I swear! It’s Paul!” and sure enough Paul took a few photos of me coming out of the trough.

Me coming through the Trough in the Long Crawl. Photo by Paul Fairman.

Repeating the swim out wasn’t as bad as the way in. The water is too cold to leave the wetsuit off, so back on it went. Going downstream meant I didn’t need to breathe as deeply for air, or even move as it was basically a float out, so there was less stress on my bound up compressed chest. I think once I get a chance to get a wetsuit that fits well, I will enjoy wetsuit caving as I absolutely love swimming and water.  I grew up swimming in Lake Michigan, so cold water doesn’t bother me at all!

~*~

The next cave I wanted to see was Ogof Ffynnon Ddu. I have been to OFD before, and was looking forward to return. This time however, I went with Josh and Ellen into OFD2 via the Top Entrance. We did a standard trip to the Judge, Trident and Selenite Passage.

The Judge

Trident

Selenite Passage

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Soon it was time to leave for Hidden Earth. It was interesting. Contests included blindfolded knot tying with a barely-long-enough piece of rope, tackle bag rope stuffing, and ladder coiling! I’d never coiled a ladder before, and after a quick lesson I did it in just over two minutes, quite a respectable time for the length it was. I was told I did it correctly and very neatly as well. The cables need to be laid in such a way that you can just unroll the ladder right down the pitch without it getting hung up, so there is actually technique to it.

My lecture about TAG caving went very well. The room started full, and ended packed with even standing room almost filled up. I ended it with a pit bouncing video I made last fall. People’s questions mostly surrounded the use of Racks. Racks were commonly used in the UK until the invention of the Stop so it’s not crazy to think they work fine in that sort of rigging – it’s just been forgotten. However, the wide variety we have in the States are not readily available so I think it was an eye-opener to the newer generation of cavers there. The common Stop complaints I heard were “heats up too fast”, “hand cramps”, “jerky ride / not smooth”, and “lack of speed control”. I let people borrow my Micro Rack to try out, and everyone who tried it, loved it.

~*~

From Hidden Earth I went to Chris Crowley’s place as he was heading back to London on Tuesday morning and could give me a lift to the airport. I ended up getting underground one last time before I left. We went to Clearwater Cave, indeed a cave but mined for iron.

Old mineworks inside the cave.

It was rather interesting to see old mining tools and all the interesting colors in the cave from the iron. There were other minerals in the cave as well, as I even found some purple crystals growing! I can’t say I remember all the details, but since Chris is a geologist and quite knowledgeable about local history he knew many interesting facts about the cave and the mining operation in it.

PURPLE!

~*~

The next day was my flight back home. I will probably return again someday. In particular I would like to spend a lot more time in Wales and do some more trips in the Dales. Also, I have yet to make it to Titan, their deepest pit. There are so many caves all over the world, I’m sure I will never get bored!

You can see more photos from my trips on my flickr account.