I left the house Saturday morning at 6:30 and met up with five other cavers: Gerald and Avis Moni, Jay Santiago, Thany Mann, and Gareth Gould. Our objective was Pattons Cave. It's right next to Percy Priest Lake just inside Rutherford County. The water level in the cave depends on the level of the lake. This time of year they keep the water level low, so we were expecting about 2 feet of water in the cave.
Pattons Cave is listed in Dr. Barr's book "Caves of Tennessee", but according to Gerald it had been "lost" until last year because Dr. Barr's location was off by about 1000 feet. We parked and walked about 500 feet to get to the cave. The entrance is in a small rocky cleft in the ground and is marked by the rusted remains of the cab of some type of vehicle. I'm always amazed at the efforts that idiots will go to in spoiling spots like this. It would be a total pain in the ass to get this large hunk of metal out of there, so I'm sure it will be there until it totally rusts away.
We entered the cave and found that the water level was very low, but it was still extremely muddy. In fact, most of the cave is mud. Mud was the theme for this trip. The passage we went down probably averaged about 7 feet high and 10 to 15 feet wide, but was about 40 percent filled in with mud. A narrow channel ran down the middle of it that was mostly limestone, but had anywhere from 1 to 2 feet of mud and water in it. It made for heavy boots and lots of highstepping.
Gerald said that the cave was listed in the Tennessee Cave Survey at about 1500 feet long. We didn't measure it, but we all agreed that's about how far we went until we reached the back. At the end of the passage we went down, it got down to about 2 feet high and about 10 feet wide, with lots of gravel. Thany and Gareth crawled all the way to the small room at the end and thought they felt a small amount of air flow from the outside and lots of dangerous looking overhead rocks, but no further passageway.
We took it slow on the way to the back of the cave, since we were on the lookout for Southern Cave Fish and the elusive Tennessee Cave Salamander. We saw 4 of the blind cave fish, but there were no definite sightings of any salamanders. We also saw a lot of regular crayfish and some small isopods. The cave is known to have a large gray bat population in the warmer months, but we only saw one near the entrance.
On the way out, we stopped about 75 feet from the entrance to let Thany and Gareth check out what was listed by Barr and others as a small 75 foot loop. They ended up finding another passage that they crawled down for almost an hour without finding an end before turning around. They guessed that they probably went another 1500 feet down that passage, which is actually the main stream passage, so the cave is about double in length what it was thought to be.
We had planned to go to two more caves on Saturday, but we couldn't find the land owners of one, and while we actually stuck our head in a small one near Murfreesboro, Gareth thought he smelled skunk and saw eyes in the back of it, so we skipped it.
I kept up with everyone pretty well in Pattons Cave, although 77 year old Avis is still in much, much better shape than me. The crawl at the end of the passage is what did me in, although pulling my muddy boots out of the foot deep mud probably took its toll as well.
My thighs are really sore today. I've been walking a lot lately, so my calves and feet are fine, but highstepping in the mud and climbing over rocks and out of trenches is still pushing my quads beyond what they're used to. I'm going to take the advice of Mike Ray and start doing some lunges to get them built up some more. I don't want to blow my knees out with squats and I don't have the equipment to do leg presses.