I wanted to go to Gross Skeleton cave back in July, but ended up going to Guffey Cave instead as I detailed in my last trip report. I had mentioned Gross Skeleton to my friend Kevin Barnes, whose father Gary had taken me on my first caving trip to Sinking Cove Cave back in 2001. Kevin said that Gross Skeleton was one of his dad's favorite caves, so I got in touch with Gary and arranged a trip there for August 19.
Gary asked me to limit it to only two other people from Nashville, so along with the two people he was bringing from the Birmingham Grotto there would be six of us on the trip. I asked John Hickman and Joey Stuckey to go, and Gary brought along Jerry Saulsberry and Lee Burnett. I met John and Joey at Shoney's and we all piled into the Honda for the two hour trip down to Scottsboro, Alabama in Jackson County.
We got there early, so we made the traditional stop at the Unclaimed Baggage Center, or as I like to call it the nicest junk store in North Alabama. I've yet to see anything interesting there, but it makes for a good bathroom break. We met Gary and the others at the Goosepond Colony golf course, and then drove the few miles to the parking area for the lower entrance of Gross Skeleton.
Everyone got most of their gear on, and stashed all their clean clothes in my car, which we left there. We took the other two four-wheel drive vehicles up to the parking area for the upper entrance, which is commonly called the Gross entrance. From what I've been told, the cave was originally named Gross-Skelton Cave, for the Gross and Skelton families that owned the entrances. Eventually it turned into Gross Skeleton.
Gross Skeleton is a wet cave, and requires you to swim in several spots. Everyone except me had wetsuits and flotation devices that they carried with them as we headed out from the vehicles towards the cave. I bought a long sleeved polypro shirt earlier in the week that I had in my pack in case I needed it.
So we headed out through the woods, going through numerous spider webs along the way. Unfortunately, we took a wrong turn early on and ended up going way around the mountain. We were initially on a logging road, but then went off trail and went down the side of the mountain amongst a lot of limestone rocks before we found a large, dry stream bed.
Gary wanted to head downstream at this point and proceeded to do so. I sat down on a rock to rest for a bit with Joey, since John, Jerry, and Lee were behind us a bit. John followed Gary down the stream bed, while four of sat there a bit wondering where we were. Jerry wanted to go up the stream bed a little just in case, so Joey and I waited while he and Lee headed upstream.
After about 10 minutes we heard them giving three "hoots" that we had agreed meant that the cave had been spotted. They came back down and said that they'd found a cave entrance up on the right that was blowing a lot of air and had a lot of old signatures at the entrance. Jerry didn't think it was Gross Skeleton, but he wasn't completely sure. We decided we'd go back up and take a look, and at least let me take a few pictures.
It was pretty hot out there, so you could really feel the cool air coming out of the cave from a good ways off, probably 50 or 60 feet from the entrance, which is in a tall bluff of rock. It felt great. The entrance is about 5 feet high and goes back about 25 feet before it takes a 90 degree turn to the left. It runs about 50 feet that way then turns hard to the right and goes back a good ways and starts getting pretty low. We all went back far enough into it that we had to start crawling and then exited.
Just inside the entrance there are a lot of carved signatures, several of which are dated May 1, 1891. One reads "In God We Trust. S.E. Lewis 1891." Another reads "J.A. Dunn May 1, 1891." There was one that was dated 1879 as well I think, but I didn't get a picture of it. The entrance also has a lot of salamanders, and I got a good picture of one that was in the process of regrowing its tail.
No one knew what cave this was, and I didn't figure it out until I got back home and posed the question on Tag-Net. Someone recommended that I contact Dave Howell of the Birmingham Grotto, and I called him Sunday night and described the cave. He looked at his maps and other materials and called me back later that night to say he's pretty sure it's Basin Cove Cave (AL1676). The cave survey didn't have a lot of information on it, so I don't know how long the cave is. As much air as it was moving I would expect it's got a good bit of passage, but there's no telling how much is accessible.
After a good rest in the cool air, we started back down the stream bed, blowing a whistle every once and a while and stopping to give some loud "whoops!" Finally we heard John whooping back at us, and we all got back together just outside the upper entrance of Gross Skeleton, about three hours after we left the vehicles.