This trip actually happened back on September 30. I was supposed to go to TAG that weekend, but I had been feeling ill earlier in the week and decided not to go on Thursday morning. Friday though, I felt great and was starting to regret not going to TAG since I had really wanted to get some caving in that weekend.
I remembered that Ken Oeser and Robert Van Fleet were planning a mapping trip to Bear Hole Cave in the Savage Gulf on Saturday, so I called Friday night and made plans to meet up with them the next morning. We met up at the Shoney's and headed toward the Savage Gulf area where the cave is located.
Normally access is restricted to this cave, since it is off the trails in the area, but Ken has permission since he's in the process of mapping it. Once we got to the ranger station though, we found there was a problem. It seems some property that they drive across to get closer to the cave was recently purchased from Bowater Inc. and is leased for hunting. There's a verbal agreement with the park to let people drive across it, but they decided they wanted to get something in writing so for now they're not letting non-hunting groups have access. We could have hiked in from the ranger station, but that would have added 8 miles total to the trip so we decided to try some other caves.
Ken and Robert debated while we drove towards Sparta, and we actually tried to go to Wells Cave, but the lady we asked permission of didn't really want us to go in the cave because they're getting their water out of it and she thinks the entrance might not be very safe.
So then Ken decided we'd try to find a small cave near Sparta, Gamble Cave, that is in Dr. Barr's book "Caves of Tennessee." We parked Robert's car near where we thought it was and hiked through some really dense brush and up a small hill and walked right to the cave. We didn't have our gear with us, but I had a flashlight and we went just inside to see if it was worth checking out, then we walked back to the car and got all of our normal gear.
The entrance for Gamble Cave is about half way up the hill in some light woods. There are signs of people sifting and digging there, including a sifting tray. They're probably looking for Indian artifacts, although the thickness of the mud there would probably make it slow going. The cave is short, probably 300 feet or less, but it does have a few nice decorations. It goes back about 100 feet then the rest of the cave is climbing over breakdown, most of which is covered in small popcorn which makes it rough on your clothing.
Near the back Ken and Robert found the remains of what might have been a still, which is apparently a common occurence in caves in Tennessee. We also saw some cave beetles and lots of the usual cave crickets. We spent about half an hour inside, with Robert pushing some really small holes in the breakdown but not really finding much that was interesting.
As we were leaving the cave I was starting to feel a little ill again, so I had them drop me off back in Nashville while they went on and did some more caving elsewhere nearby. I think they actually found a cave that wasn't on the TCS that afternoon, so I missed out on that.