I first heard about Guffey Cave when I was at SERA 2006 last month, and we almost went there instead of Limrock Blowing Cave that weekend, but the logistics of getting the key for Guffey caused us to skip it at the time. Then I decided to organize a trip to Gross Skeleton for a July grotto trip, but a few people were concerned that Gross Skeleton was a fairly difficult cave with a lot of water and climbing, so I ended up changing the planned trip go to Guffey Cave in Marshall County, Alabama near the town of Grant.
I woke up at the buttcrack of dawn on Saturday morning, and finished getting my stuff together for the trip. Since I've always forgotten something on every cave trip so far, I had a checklist that I carefully went over, and I had everything on it except my compass, which I couldn't find. Jay Santiago showed up just before 7am, and we loaded up the Honda and headed for the usual meeting spot at the Shoney's in Antioch, TN.
We got there and found Joey Stuckey, a new grotto member, waiting for us in the parking lot. We went in, grabbed a table and hit the buffet to wait for the other people to show up. Eve Proper, who is also a new grotto member, showed up a few minutes later and joined us at the table. As we were paying right before 8am, John Hickman showed up and as we hit the parking lot Dave Wascher and his son Andrew pulled up. We consolidated down to three vehicles and then headed down I24.
I made the mistake of using Google Maps to plot the route, planning on going through Manchester and down TN 16 through the Walls of Jericho. Unfortunately, this was not the best route, as John pointed out after we were well into the route that Google had shown us. At least I know the better route down TN 64 for next time.
We still made pretty good time, and managed to make it to Guntersville to pick up the key around 11am. After that we headed back to the cave, and found Don Harter nearby, so the group was complete. The cave is about 100 yards down an old logging road, but it wasn't anything the Honda couldn't handle. We parked, got geared up, and headed down the short trail to the cave entrance. After a bit of fiddling with the gate, we got it open and headed in, locking the gate behind us.
Guffey Cave has over 6 miles of passages, and is currently the 4th longest cave in the state of Alabama. We had no plans to see all of it, since much of that process would involve crawling along 3 feet high passages or lower for thousands of feet. We had a map, and picked a general direction, but as usual once we got in the cave it just sort of turned into going down whatever passage looked the most inviting.
Not long after we go into the cave we noticed that it was warmer in there than expected. After about an hour, I shed the coveralls I had on and put them in my pack. I did the rest of the cave in my shorts and standard red caving shirt. At least I'm consistent in my apparel choices.
The cave was also muddy and had lots of breakdown to crawl over and under, and a few places where you had to slide down on your butt and stretch out with your legs to reach where you were trying to go. After a few false leads, we finally made it to what was called Grand Central on the map. This is a fairly large room with a few formations. It also has some very cool shell fossils in the wall, which I got a few good pictures of. The main thing it featured was a very large borehole leading south, which was a welcome relief.
After a brief rest, we followed that borehole into what is called the Hall of Giants. We finally encountered lots of decorations in this area. It's covered with soda straws and helectites, although the helectites are mostly small, being an inch or less in length. One of the things I found interesting about this cave is that it has lots of small alcoves that contain formations. You'll see a small hole in the wall of the cave, and when you peer into it there will be soda straws, flowstone, and helectites. I haven't seen that in any of the other caves I've been in so far.
Not far past this area the ceiling of the cave got low again, going down to about 3 feet wanted to push on to an area on the map called the Crystal Room. I declined to crawl that far and waited back in the formations for them, cooling off and taking pictures, including a few self portraits. They were gone for about 45 minutes so I took lots of pictures, finally stopped giving off so much steam, and even took a brief nap.
When the others returned, they reported that the Crystal Room was nice, but by no means worth the long crawl involved to get there. Everyone stopped to take some pictures and to snack, and I realized that I had forgotten to put my snacks in my bag. I bummed some power bars from a couple of people, so that blew my low carb diet for the day, but I definitely needed the energy at that moment.
After the break was over, we strolled back to Grand Central and headed down another passage. After some more breakdown climbing, we slid down a rock and reached the stream bed in the cave. The water was not flowing, but it had some large pools which were so clear it was hard to tell where the edge of the water was. Someone spotted a salamander in the water and I managed to get a few decent shots of it. Turns out it was a Tennessee Cave Salamander, and this was the first one that I've seen. There were also a couple of normal crayfish.
This area also had some nice formations, and we stopped for a while to let Jay and I take lots of pictures. The passage is large here, but ends after a few hundred feet at a very low crawl called the Sand Crawl that goes for several thousand feet. We were running short on time, so we decided to head back towards the entrance at this point.
Most of the group made a quick side trip to see what the map labeled the Spires of Guffey, but Don and I declined, sitting on a pile of rocks and talking for about 10 minutes until the others rejoined us. It's very cool to turn all the lights off and just talk in the darkness. I try to spend at least a few minutes in total darkness on every cave trip I go on. I find it to be very cathartic.
So now the push is on for the entrance. I was really starting to get tired by this point, so it was a little slow going on the way out. The last few hundred feet before the entrance had gotten really foggy as well, so picking a route over the breakdown became more of a chore. We exited the cave a little after 6pm, so we spent almost 6 hours underground.
After getting cleaned up, we drove back to Guntersville to meet the owner of the cave, Dan Harbin, so we could give him the key back. Dan's a caver himself and has owned the cave for over 30 years. He goes out of his way to provide easy access to the cave, but still has problems with people occasionally he says. He had to implement a $50.00 deposit for the key because people would just not return it. It's amazing how people just pretty much suck, but I guess we all know that.
We asked Dan about restaurants in the area, and he recommended a couple, including a BBQ place near the 79/431 junction. We gave it a try, but they apparently don't really like to serve sitdown patrons, and it took almost an hour to get our food. We were the only ones in the place, so that's pretty bad. The food was OK, but definitely not worth the wait or the price. We were all so hungry though that we didn't complain too much.
Because of that delay, I didn't get home until almost midnight. The next day my quadriceps were basically blown out. It hurt to walk up steps until Wednesday. I'm going to have to find some hills or long stairwells to start walking up to them into better shape.
I think we maybe saw 1 mile of the cave, so there's still 5 miles or more left to see in it. Next time we'll know the route back to Grand Central better, so we won't waste as much time there. It's definitely a cave that I will go back to.