R is for Rainbow Pit

We are hosting another UK caver! This is the fourth time people have stayed with us, it is really great fun and we enjoy the cross cultural experience both general and caving techniques and tricks. Rostam is excited to learn “IRT” – Indestructible Rope Technique, which is what they call our SRT here in the states since we use thicker abrasion resistant ropes and rope pads for edges, rather than make every hang completely free. So, after a quick trip to the practice bluff which introduces in a span of three meters a few very different edges ranging from easy to difficult, we headed to find a small local pit.

After a classic “walk around in the woods for a while looking lost” we found it. We knew the general location, however, it is a tiny hole and having not been there it is one of those very easy to walk by. Rostam is actually the one who found it, and seemed a little surprised at the size (not all TAG stuff is huge)!

I went down first, and did not realize that it was not worth bottoming, so I ended up moving the rope around and down a few different ledges and once down, realizing I didn’t want to get off rope. So a down to up changeover it is, to avoid the murky icky bottom. I did find a salamander hanging out on some popcorn, however.

Slimy SalamanderI climbed back up to what seemed to be the main level with the decorations, which involved over-climbing to get up and over a rock, and then deciding two meters was too short to bother changing over to get down to the ground level, and so downclimb it was.

Finally off rope, I hollered for the next to come down, which was Rostam. He opted to use his Simple due to the tight entrance and we were using a very clean almost new flexible rope that fed just fine. Once through the entrance he enjoyed the pit and found it quite lovely, as it is well decorated (except the mud at the bottom!)

The Far SideI took some pictures of sparkly stuff on my side of the pit (there are two sides to the chamber, divided by the path all the way to the bottom) while he swung over to the far side to check it out. I really liked a white and sparkly flow.

White StalWith him safely off rope on the far side, I thought it would make a nice picture. The far side was more decorated overall I believe. Lots of curtains and flowstone.

Flowstone ChamberI got on rope to climb up, because I could reach the rope from where I was, and pulled up some slack and tossed it to him to tie off so he could get on once I was out of the pit. He, of course, found a little hole I’d not even seen looking across, and went in to find a separate very well-decorated dome, with a lead out of the bottom you could push. Really, I found it amusing how different it is between UK cavers and here…here the “leads” we wouldn’t take a second look at because we have bigger fish to fry, but for them, even these little what we call “nerd holes” and “blind pits” seem to have plenty of dig options that they just want to push! I think it will be a generation or two or three of cavers here, before we start looking at what they see in our caves, simply because there is so much to find even ridge-walking with no digging effort, or very little dig effort for much bigger payoff, or easier¬† bolt climbs to much larger passage.

TopSo all and all, it’s a very nice decorated little pit, worth doing (but don’t go all the way down!) if you have an evening in Huntsville and you are bored.


Q is for Quorin Kuila

I won’t be saying the name, since it is our new project cave. So this is a placeholder page…which will be updated when appropriate. I am documenting the process and progress!

So the issue with Q is there are no open Q caves in Alabama. Well…that has changed! We are not done exploring, digging, or mapping Quorin Kuila, but it is to a point that I can share some photos and video of our progress.

Entrance RaysEntrance to Quorin Kuila

The cave is right at the Pennington and Bangor contact, in an area of thin or non-existent Hartselle. So the depth potential is good, but this cave seems to be young. The water certainly has found a way, but can humans?

Pennington & Bangor ContactPennington (sandstone) on the left, Bangor (limestone) on the right.

We dug in the first room where the water was sinking. There was air coming up and around a crack nearby as well. As we got deeper and the hole opened up to see the way on, we heard a waterfall! It was too small though, and a stone too large to dig out or move blocked the way.

Brandon DiggingBrandon happily digging, he didn’t want to share the job very much.

So we got stuck at that stone, and needed to elicit more help from someone who had rock persuasion instruments. It was a cave, but not much of one at this point. We needed to change that, so such started the second day at the dig!

And we did it. We broke into a small narrow canyon that dropped down to the bottom of a 60-ish foot tall dome, waterfall and all. Brandon was able to get up to the level about 20 feet off the ground, and there might be a lead.

Waterfall Dome from SideIf you want to actually watch the progress, I posted some videos I put together on YouTube.

Light & Dark: Working with Angles

This past weekend I got to visit Pretty Well with some good friends. There is a very classic large formation inside, of which there are many photographs of. I’ve taken some larger panoramic shots in the past, but today wanted to take some quick snaps and as usual for these shots, only work with one slave flash (which is handled by a person manually firing on the count of three – see a past blog post for my method!).

Looking at the set of photographs I saw exactly what I try to explain to people new to cave photography – and what I sometimes must remind myself – regarding light placement. Underground we have no light, but this does mean we have full control of how we wish to light something up! This is quite the double-edge sword and learning to work with not just camera angle but also lighting angle is necessary to change a poor snapshot to a good photo to a great image.

Image One: The Good Photo

Annette at Big ColumnThe good photo is well-lit, has scale that doesn’t detract from the image, and has some shadows to show depth. It showcases a pretty area and a distinct formation that is the classic one to see in this cave. A nice photo of a fun trip, with really nothing technically wrong. Past the “foggy with ghosts and spots from on board camera snaps” this is the most common type of cave image out there. And it certainly has it’s place, there is nothing “wrong” with it, it is simply a good photo.


Image Two: The Better Photo

Annette at Big Column - contrast lightingOkay, now we moved the light source and have some very high-contrast. I like contrast, it gives the image something interesting to look at. The formations on the ceiling pop and we have a nice shadow of the model on the formation. We perhaps moved the light source too far, however, as although the negative space on the left of the formation is interesting, it is getting towards dominating of the photograph and some may not like it due to that large dark space. This, I feel, is somewhat a matter of taste, and overall I believe this image is more interesting than Image One. It makes me want to look beyond, to peer into the darkness. So I classify this as, the Better Photo. We are starting to get somewhere!


Image Three: The Great Photo

Ken at Big ColumnNow we fix what we didn’t like before. We have some great contrast lighting, so let’s change the framing! The shadows now provide depth, without being overwhelming in the image. Go back to Image One and look at how much better the formations pop out, providing interest. The only thing we did was change to a portrait to tighten up the frame cutting the shadows with our better lighting angle. Now we are on our way to a Great Photo.


Image Four: The Amazing Photo

Annette & The ColumnLet’s go a little farther. This portrait framing is nice, but let’s make it more dynamic. Ah….we are back to a higher level of contrast giving us a good bit of darkness in the image, but now the darkness is controlled, and it flows through the image at appealing locations. Having the wall behind the formation lit up makes your eye complete it, despite it being negative space. The eye moves through the image following the line of dark and light creating a tantalizing underground landscape with a discrete yet clearly visible caver for scale. Thus, I would classify this as an Amazing Photo.

Of course, tastes vary, and this is what makes artists/photographers unique. Tastes also change and develop as we find our niche; what I shoot for now is not what I aimed to achieve four years ago, or even two years ago. So, find how you like photos to look, light up theses spaces, and work towards making your vision as awe-inspiring as possible. And don’t forget to try something different every now and then, you might like it!