On the way down the streambed towards Gross Skeleton, Joey was walking in front of me and he slipped on a wet rock, with his feet flying out to the right and the rest of him going to the left. He jammed his finger as he fell, so he was in some discomfort on the rest of the trip.
When we got to the cave entrance, Gary was coming down the hill from making a trip back to the vehicles, which were about 10 minutes away. John was laying on a rock and had been napping for the last hour, stirring occasionally to let out a loud "whoop!" in case we were in hearing range.
On a rock in front of the entrance there was a deer skull staring at us while everyone got dressed. This cave is known to be very wet, and requires swimming in at least two spots. Everyone else, being girly-men, brought wetsuits and polypro and life jackets. I had on my 100% cotton shorts from Target and synthetic tee-shirt which make up my standard caving outfit. For flotation, I had my mighty Swaygo Sink Pack, so I didn't have to carry a life preserver all around Basin Cove for three hours.
There was some concern before we went in about the water situation. I left the vehicles with three half-liter bottles, but at this point I had less than half a liter left. The others didn't have much left either. Gary said not to worry too much about it, since it was a fairly quick trip and with all the water we'd be going through we probably wouldn't be too thirsty anyway.
Finally, everyone was suited up and we entered the cave. The first part of the cave is made up of breakdown and log jams. It splits into two passages, and the Alabama folks went left while those of us from Tennessee took the passage straight ahead. This passage is about 3 feet wide and 6 feet high and is heavily scalloped. There were a few log jams to crawl over and then we came to a 10 to 12 foot fissure where the rest of the group met up with us from the other passage.
Gary said this is normally a pretty easy climbdown, but the crack where he normally went down was now clogged with large rocks which were wedged in pretty tight. Joey and John went over the lip and down to a small ledge, where they shimmied over and then dropped about 3 feet into the water. I didn't really like the looks of it, so I got out my thirty feet of webbing and found a perfect little loop in the rock to put it through. The rest of us used this to help lower ourselves down, with John and Joey making sure our feet were in the right spots. Then we pulled the webbing down behind us.
This was the first spot we encountered significant amounts of water in the cave, and it got about chest deep. As expected, it was cold. It was actually hard to speak right after I went in it, since my boys were clinging tight to my vocal chords at that point. That stretch of water was only about 50 feet long and then we were back in mostly dry passage.
Gross Skeleton is a fairly linear cave, and is pretty straightforward to navigate through, so we seldom had to stop and figure out where to go next. You just follow the stream passage, occasionally crawling over logs and small areas of breakdown. The cave is decorated, and has several areas of nice flowstone and columns and even the occasional cave bacon. We were moving pretty fast, so we didn't get to stop and gawk very often. I did spot a few small white centipedes and we saw a few white crayfish as well.
There are two stretches of cave where you're forced to swim for more than 100 feet. It saps your energy pretty quick, so you want to keep moving while you're in the water. One of the swims had formations just over your head, so I wanted to stop and take a look, but the cold water was telling me to go, go, go. I didn't really get too cold other than my forearms and hands getting slightly numb as I exited the water.
The Swaygo pack made an excellent flotation device. I gripped the buckle on it with my right hand and used my left arm to swim with while I did a scissor kick in the water. I'm not in much danger of sinking right now anyway. When we were in Florida I tried blowing all the air out of my lungs while I was floating in the pool and I didn't sink.
Eventually we came to the junction where we could head up a large pile of breakdown to what is called the "big room" in the cave. We took a vote and decided against it since we got into the cave late and we were also tired from wandering up and down Basin Cove earlier. About 20 minutes later, after the only real low crawl in the cave, we waded through one more stretch of water and out of the cave.
Just inside the lower entrance there was an inflatable boat tied up. We guessed that someone must just be stashing it there, since the water at that point is not very long or deep, so it wouldn't really be useful to take a boat in. Guntersville Lake is only about 1/4 mile away, but it would still be a pain to hike a boat that far I would think. Strange.
We stopped at the exit to let everyone get out of their wet suits and then made the one mile hike back to my car. Once we got there we all changed into dry clothing and Gary broke out a can of his famous smoked Alaskan salmon and cheese and crackers to go with it. A bottle of wine was uncorked as well, but I only had a small glass since I was driving. I drove Gary and Jerry up to their vehicles at the top of the mountain, then we all said our goodbyes and headed out.
Joey, John, and I stopped for a Mexican dinner in Scottsboro then headed north. Not long after we turned on Highway 64, we were driving along in sort of a quiet mood, with nobody saying much and John and Joey were probably about to fall asleep. Suddenly a bird hit the windshield with a really loud Bam! and it got stuck in my windshield wiper. I'm not sure what exact words I uttered when it happened, but it was probably one of my Grandaddy's favorite phrases I learned from him. I flicked on the wipers and the corpse went over the side, with only a slight smear left behind. At least it woke us up nicely.
Fortunately the rest of the trip was uneventful, and I dropped the others off and headed for home. I pulled into the driveway, got out of the Honda, and nearly fell over. My right hamstring was cramping badly, and I hobbled into the house on it and collapsed. This trip definitely passed the train-wreck test.