I almost didn't go on this trip, which took place on July 22, 2006. The trip was led by Hal Love, a Nashville Grotto member, and he was planning on going fairly deep into the cave, on a route that involved a good bit of crawling and a lot of climbing over piles of breakdown. He decided to split it into two groups however, with one group making the longer trek to an area called Mega-Junction and the other group going the shorter distance to the Cathedral Room, which was supposedly an easier route.
Blue Spring Cave is located in White County, Tennessee near the town of Sparta. It has an interesting story behind it. As of 1989, the cave had been known about for quite a while, but consisted of only about 500 feet of passage with another 200 foot passage that had lots of mud, but had a fist sized hole at the back that blew large amounts of air. They packed the whole full of dynamite and when they climbed down, found what turned out to be the longest cave in Tennessee. It's currently got about 33 miles of mapped passage, but more remains to be discovered.
The group met up at the McDonald's off Highway 109 and I-40. After waiting for everyone to show up and consolidating vehicles, we headed out. I chose to ride with Joey Stuckey, and Amy Roosenburg and John Hickman were in the truck with us as well. It took us about an hour and a half to get to the parking area, which is in a cow pasture at the bottom of a hill in Blue Spring Cove. Everyone got changed into their caving gear and we made the short hike to the cave entrance, avoiding the cow patties on the way. I chose not to take my jumpsuit, since I was told it was a fairly warm cave and I wouldn't get very wet. In all, 18 people entered the cave at about 11am. It's the largest group I've been with in a cave so far.
One of the guys that was on the trip with us was named Trey, and he was part of the original group that blasted into the new cave back in 1989. It was interesting to hear him recount their amazement as the new passage they went down just went on and on and on. Trey is also a fellow "big boy" caver, and he's only slightly smaller than me. We shared stories of misery involving being a little too big for certain areas of caves. Trey also had the same Swaygo pack as me, so in my book he's just a great guy all around.
The first part of Blue Spring Cave is almost semi-commercialized, since they put down a pathway of gravel to help keep people from sinking up past their knees in the mud that pervades the initial five-hundred feet or more of the cave. By the time you get to the ladder leading up to the historical entrance though, most of the mud has cleared up.
After a brief rest at the ladder, the entire group headed deeper into the cave. At first we passed the turn-off to the Cathedral Room route, since Hal wanted everyone to go a bit deeper before we split up. After we came to a large room just before some extended crawling, Don Harter and I stayed behind while the rest pushed on a bit before some of them came back with Hal to pick Don and I up and head towards the Cathedral Room. In the area where we waited, there was a small rock formation that looked like an animal of some type. I thought it looked like a groundhog, but Trey called it the Bear Embryo, and that will probably be the name that sticks.
Don was having trouble with his home-made light, so while he changed it I explored the room we were in a bit, crawling over some breakdown and through a small hole that led to a low gallery that the breakdown was shoved into. It was full of sand and gravel and there was not much of interest there other than a few cave crickets.
After about half an hour, Hal came back with three other folks and the six of us headed back towards the Cathedral Room route. The first major obstacle involved a tight chimney climb that I almost didn't make it up. The chimney was about 6 feet tall, so I could see out of the top of it, but the only good foothold was about a foot above my knee and I had a really hard time getting my foot up to it. I tried for several minutes, and was about to give up, when I finally got really pissed off at myself. I called myself some really horrible names that I won't repeat here, but I managed to cuss my way up that chimney and get enough of me out of it that the others were able to help pull me on up.
This higher passage was made of flowstone and led upwards a bit, getting progressively lower and then displaying a series of dry rimstone dams, which were anywhere from six inches to a foot deep. Eventually, the passage dipped down to less than two feet in height, and still had small rimstone dams, so that made for really slow crawling on my part. After a little more climbing and another low crawl, it led into a breakdown room with borehole leading off of it.
Most of the passage and rocks from the earlier chimney and up to this point had numerous little gypsum crystals in them, so it looked like someone had flung vast amounts of glitter everywhere in the cave. I've seen this before in caves, but not on the scale I saw it here.
The borehole we were now in eventually led to a room with a large flowstone formation at one end. Originally this was a dead end, but at the top of the rimstone they blasted a small hole that is affectionately known as the Birth Canal. It's a small, wet hole that leads upwards at about at 60 degree angle and has very few hand or footholds. It wasn't very easy for the others to make it up this obstacle, and it proved to be too much for me.
I made two attempts, but I just couldn't get my knee up to the only foothold and I'm too heavy to get pulled up it. They offered to try to pull me up with some webbing, but I knew I didn't really have enough energy left at that point so I told them to go ahead without me. I spent my time resting, eating a snack, and taking lots of pictures. Over the next hour, I slowly made my way back down towards the small chimney, exploring some small side leads on the way and taking the time to look at anything interesting.
Hal has his Ph. D. in biology and is acquainted with Dr. Thomas Barr, who is one of the leading experts in cave biology. Dr. Barr had asked Hal to be on the lookout for anything interesting in the cave, especially small beetles. On my way out I looked everywhere I could, but the only living things I saw were cave crickets, which seemed to be there in abundance. I did spot what might have been a beetle carapace, but otherwise we didn't see any beetles during our time there.
After the others caught up with me on the way out, we headed back towards the entrance. I spotted what I thought was a small white spider on a rock, and yelled for Hal to come back and have a look. It turns out it was a white pseudo-scorpion, and Hal collected it for Dr. Barr to have a look. A few minutes later I spotted two small white centipedes, which Hal also collected along with another slightly larger pseudo-scorpion. It's entirely possible they could be new species, but we'll have to wait and see.
We exited the cave after being underground about 6 hours. The other group had further to go and didn't make it out until almost an hour after we did. Most of us went for large helpings of Mexican food in Cookesville afterwards, and I didn't make it home until almost 11pm, only about 5 hours later than I thought. I guess I'm going to just have to stop trying to guess what time I make it home from these cave trips since I haven't been accurate yet.
While we were waiting on the rest of the group to get out, Hal unrolled a poster sized map of the cave on the tailgate of a truck and we all had a look. We had spent six hours in the cave, so you'd think we got pretty deep, but we were about 5 inches from the edge of the map at our deepest point, which means we saw only a small fraction of the cave.