We didn't have a lot going on for Labor Day weekend, so I decided to organize a trip to Tumbling Rock Cave in Jackson County, Alabama which I had visited earlier in the year. I had thought a lot of people might be interested in going since it's a great cave and easy to get to, but in the end only Joey and two new members, Jim and his wife Lauren showed up.
We got to the cave about 10am and paid Mrs. Precise our seven bucks each, then we got changed and ready to go in. There were no other cavers there that day, and none showed up later either. I think a lot of cavers were the big OTR party in Virginia, or maybe even (shudder), down at the beach for the long weekend.
I'm obviously in better shape than the first time I came to this cave. On that trip it took us almost 4 hours to get to the topless dome, mostly due to getting turned around and me having to rest a lot. This time we got there in 2 hours flat, which is a pretty good pace I think. I managed to climb up the hole into the dome with no more help than using Jim's knee, where as last time Morris had to practically shove me up into the hole.
There was very little water falling in the dome on this trip, so it was easier to see in there and we actually climbed up the side of the dome and into an adjacent, shorter dome which is connected to the topless dome by several holes in the wall going up between the two. It was pretty cool to stand in the dome and see the lights from people in the other dome coming through the holes.
Since I was still in pretty good shape at that point, we went deeper into the cave on this trip as well. Just a little past the hole to the topless dome, there is a low crawl followed by a climb up and then back down a large pile of breakdown with rocks the size of someone's living room. At the bottom is a large room with scattered breakdown that is maybe 100 to 200 feet tall. There's a large stalagmite here that is about 15 feet tall that is called the Christmas Tree formation. About 40 feet above it is a large stalactite that will eventually join with it to make a column, but that will take a while.
We stopped here for an extended break and to take lots of pictures. I took my daughter's advice and had frozen a larger bottle of Gatorade the night before, and by this point it was mostly thawed. That stuff is great for getting some quick energy back, but I could tell I was quickly tiring, so we headed back out.
Joey seems to be accident-prone in caves lately, and I think it's rubbing off on me. He slipped on a rock on the way out and stubbed his big toe, so he limped out of the last part of the cave. At one point we had to go down a small, muddy bank. I was in back and watched everyone else slide down on their butts, but for some reason I thought I could just walk down it. That was a mistake.
Newton's Second Law of Motion boils down to this: f = ma
For those of you like Heff who cut up too much in Coach Reid's class, that equation says that force equals mass times acceleration. So basically, as mass goes up, the force needed to counteract the acceleration increases. The end result of all of this was that a fat man went barreling down a hill in a cave at a large rate of speed.
So I'm running down a hill...in a cave. Things tend to slow down in your brain at this point, so I can recall what I was thinking with crystal clarity for the next two or three seconds.
"Uh oh, this is bad. This is bad. Ok legs, start the braking procedure."
"Ok, I'm slowing down. There's no wall ahead. No chasm coming up. I've got plenty of time to stop."
"Still nothing. I'm fine. Keep trying to slow it down."
"What is that? Oh hell...Rimstone Dams! Aieee!"
I may have also screamed out loud like a little girl at that point, but I'm not really sure. My boot hit the first rimstone dam and I was airborne briefly. I went head over heels and landed hard on my right shoulder and my right palm. I laid there a second taking inventory while everyone ran over to check on me. I sat up, finished my inventory, and found nothing broken. I stood up, walked it off a little and sat down to recover a few minutes.
Now that I was OK we could laugh about it. Luckily no smaller cavers were in front of me when this happened, but we made a new rule that anytime I'm moving faster than walking speed in a cave I'm required to scream "HATCH!" much like you should scream "ROCK!" when a rock is falling down a hole.
In the end I had some bruises on my shoulder and a pretty good bruise in the middle of my palm, which is a first for me. Joey and I both partook of the full recommended dosage of Aleve once we got back to the car. It was still a great trip though, and Tumbling Rock is definitely a great cave to visit.