Friday, June 23, 2006

Cave #9 - Twin Caves

This past Wednesday night, Bill Overton had a trip scheduled to visit Johnson Cave, which is located in Davidson County, TN where I live. The cave is mentioned in Dr. Barr's book "Caves of Tennessee," and had been closed for many years, so I was happy to have a chance to visit it. As it turns out, there were some complications getting the key at the last minute, so Bill decided we'd visit Twin Caves instead.

Twin Caves are also mentioned in Dr. Barr's book, and they are located just off a wide creek in Cheatham County. Joining the trip were Steve Cooper, his fiancee Michelle, David Wascher, and his eight year old son Ian. We all met up at the Walmart in West Nashville and then headed out to the parking area. I put my stuff in Bill's truck and rode with him.

After we got there, I of course discovered I had left something in my car, which was my coveralls. I always forget something on a trip, it's just my nature. Don't make me tell you the story about the scorpion and the frog. I wasn't going to let that stop me though, so I got the rest of my stuff ready and we headed out down the trail around the lake.

Now calling it a trail is being very generous. At times it actually resembled a trail, and at other times we were just crashing through briars and undergrowth, just following the edge of the lake. Bill had an excellent idea of where we were going, which was "somewhere on the other side of the lake where the creek is."

At one point we came within 20 yards of an old road, but we missed it on the way in and made our way through a swamp. I sank into mud almost up to my knees a few times, and did I mention it was about 92 degrees that afternoon? I guess I didn't. Well, it was and so it was hot, sticky, and smelly until we finally intersected the old road again on the way to the creek.

After we made it to the creek, we still didn't know where the cave was. Bill was wearing thigh high muck boots, so he just waded on out into the creek and headed up it, while the rest of us made our way down a trail on the bluff along the creek, which was 20 feet or so above the water. Finally Bill hollered that he had found the cave, just as it was about to get dark out.

Twin Caves is two caves, as the name implies. I went in the northern entrance first for about 20 feet, but it looked like a really low crawl and nobody was too anxious to do that, so we decided to try the southern cave since it looks like it goes further back without any crawling. It goes straight back for about 250 feet and then gets too low to continue. We didn't spend much time in it, but did see several bats flying around. I got a decent picture of one when it roosted for a minute, but I'm not sure what kind of bat it is yet.

As we left that cave, it was truly getting dark, and the fireflies were really lighting up the woods along the creek. It's been a long time since I've seen that many in one place and it was magical to just sit there and watch them as it got totally dark outside.

I noticed that at some point in the past, someone tried to brick up one small area near the north cave with stone and mortar. It would have enclosed a small area under an overhang. Bill said he thought it might have been someone building a food storage area back in the days before refrigeration. I'll have a picture of it up soon.

After a brief rest, we headed into the north cave. This was the first time I've done a true belly crawl in a cave, and I have to say it wasn't too bad. I've lost some more weight recently and I've been walking a lot, so I got through it without too much trouble. The passage through this area was about 2 feet tall, maybe a little less, and the floor was mud, so it made it easier on my elbows and knees. The passage was probably 40 feet wide in most places as well. Eventually, it leads to a T intersection where it starts to open up more.

We took at left at the intersection and came into the first large room, which was about 10 feet high, 20 feet wide and 50 feet long. It had a pool off to one side which had some plant debris and a few normal catfish that were probably washed into the cave at some point. It had some large breakdown stones, one of which was set on a fulcrum just right so that you could wobble it back and forth easily. This stone is over a foot thick, 4 feet wide, and 20 feet long, but you can rock it back and forth like it was a see-saw.

This room is connected to another room which is almost the same size, but doesn't have much breakdown in it. It is however, full of mud and water. The mud is thick and sticky, and I sank up past one of my knees with one step. A stream cuts through one end of this room and heads out one side. There is a pile of breakdown with some passage beyond that Steve and Michelle pushed while Bill headed down the stream.

I sat there on the breakdown while they did this and watched a bat fly circles around the room. It would fly about 5 circles, the swoop into the low passage Bill had crawled into, stay gone for a minute or so, then come back out and fly some more circles. I don't think they were too happy to have us in their home.

Eventually everyone came back from exploring their small passageways and we headed out. We took the right turn at the T intersection on the way out, and it ended up just being a small loop that led back into the low, wide crawl. It was still cool though, since this was actually the tightest passage I've been through so far, and it required me to suck my gut in and wiggle through it.

So now we were out of the cave, covered in mud, and had to hike back to the parking area. It was extremely dark since there was no moon out, other than Bill in the creek. As we walked down the old road, an owl started hooting about 30 yards up the hill, very close to us. We could hear another one answering a ways off as well. Amazingly, there were no mishaps with us stumbling around in the dark through the woods, and we made it back to the vehicles by about 10:00.

My thoughts on the trip were that it was a Weeknight Cave, but a Weekend Hike to get to it. Bill told us it was about a half mile hike, but my pedometer said it was right at a mile on the way to the cave and about 8/10 of a mile on the way back since we bypassed the swamp route. It was a nasty, muddy, cramped cave, but it was still a lot of fun.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Hatcher Clan

Friday, June 09, 2006

Hatch's Teenage Daughter

We now have a teenager in the House of Hatch. Victoria turned 13 today. I'm thinking it's time to find my old shotgun and get it into working order...

Happy Birthday Victoria!

Cave #8 - Limrock Blowing Cave

So after not getting into a real cave on the first day of SERA, Jay, Bob, and I were anxious to go to at least one good one on Saturday morning. Unlike most of the hedonists who had stayed up late Friday night bellowing "Free Bird", our small group woke up around 7:30 that morning and started deciding what cave to go to.

There was a messageboard set up in the middle of the camp where trips were supposed to be posted. Sadly, there was nothing really on it. It was mostly things like "Anyone want to go to Tumbling Rock?" We had already been to Tumbling Rock about a month earlier, so that wasn't high up on the list.

After looking through the guidebook and discussing it with some other more experienced cavers, we decided we'd go check out Limrock Blowing Cave, which is in Jackson County, Alabama and owned by the SCCI. We wrote the trip on the messageboard and for anyone to meet us at 9:30am sharp to head out towards the cave and then got our stuff together.

We met back at the board at about 9:20, and waited until 9:30, but no one else showed up. There was one guy sitting there named Bob that said some people were going to take him to Tumbling Rock. We offered to take him with us, but he declined, so we set out.

About an hour and a half later, we arrived at the cave. The directions we were given were slightly unclear, but we're used to that by now. A nice lady that lives next to the cave finally pointed us in the right direction. When we pulled into the parking area, there were two vehicles already there, including the guy named Bob who thought he was going to Tumbling Rock. The two people who brought him there were an older guy named Fred, and another guy who simply called himself Sleaze Weazel.

We suited up, and the six of us entered the cave together. Limrock has a decent sized opening that you only have to stoop to get into. Then there's some nice walking passage until you get to some fairly large borehole and you have a choice of directions. We chose to go to the left.

This branch begins with some muddy, twisty canyon with a little bit of crawling to get through some lower areas. Then it opens up to some breakdown that you can go over or crawl along a streambed at the bottom of it. Eventually we reached an area that had a 50 foot dome with a waterfall coming down some really pretty flowstone formations. There were also some popcorn formations near the entrance to the dome.

We spent some time there taking pictures, then we pushed on, finding the register. After we all signed it, we went down a passage with lots of rimstone dams and mud that led to what is probably the most decorated area of the cave. It involved some fairly low passage that was probably only about two feet high. My new Swaygo pack was great here. I just took it off and drug it behind me with the straps.

This was the only part of the cave I was nervous in, since we were crawling over fairly smooth rock and if you rapped on it with your knuckles it was obviously hollow. Weighing almost 300 lbs and not nowing how thick the rock was I was going over made me not pause long on that stretch of floor.

The formations in this area were mostly soda straws and a few columns. They were all blackened, by what I don't know. Many were broken, but showed signs of forming again, with white growth on the ends. This area was a deadend, so we turned around, headed back for the register.

We climbed down some rocks near the register into some really large borehole. The passageway was probably 100 feet wide and 30 to 40 feet high in most places, maybe larger. I don't have a good eye for judging distances underground yet. The stream bed runs through here, but wasn't currently flowing. Instead it had pools every 50 feet or so. In one of the pools we spotted two blind crayfish, which were the first I'd seen in a cave so far. I managed to take a pretty good picture of one in which you can see the internal organs.

We followed the borehole deeper into the cave until it started getting narrow with a lot of breakdown on the left side. I had been told that you would get really wet if you go much further than this, and the water was very cold there and almost at crotch level. We decided this was a good point to turn around. On the way back down the borehole we met up with a couple of other cavers, but I didn't catch their names or where they were from.

Now back at the register, we had a choice. We could go back out the way we came in, or we could take a section of the cave that parallelled it. The problem with it is that there's pretty much no way to avoid getting wet. Now I have lots of insulation, so that's not really a problem for me, but some of the skinnier people tend to want to avoid it. After a brief discussion we decided to go ahead try it.

It did indeed get pretty wet, which made people like Jay, who hates to get wet, fairly miserable. The worst part for me was that the passage got a lot lower, so I had to stoop walk or crawl, which is really hard on me right now. Fortunately, everyone was patient with me and we finally made it back to the entrance and out of the cave. I think we were in the cave for about three hours or so.

When we got back to the parking area, we took a few group pictures and a truck with about 4 locals showed up. They were asking us about the cave and we tried to give vague answers since they said things like "so you guys really went caving, huh?" They didn't appear to have any equipment with them so I was afraid they were probably gonna go in with just a flashlight.

As we were about to leave, I mentioned I was going to show Bob and Jay where the trailhead for Stephens Gap was, since we were only a few miles away. Bob from Florida said he'd like to follow us, so we loaded up and headed over there. We hadn't planned to make the hike up to the cave, but Florida Bob talked us into it, so I took a couple of Alleve and the four of us headed up the trail. It took a while, since I was pretty bushed at this point, but we eventually made it up to the pit just as a large group were leaving.

I sat at the top of the pit and watched the water and the birds while the other three guys made a quick trip down the horizontal entrance. There wasn't as much water going over the side as there had been two weeks previously when I was there, but it was still incredibly beautiful and peaceful. After about 20 minutes the other guys came out of the cave and we headed back down the trail. Tennessee Bob and Jay walked right by a 4 foot snake without seeing it at all. Florida Bob pointed it out to me and we watched it crawl off the trail. I think it was rat snake. It didn't seem too concerned with us at any rate.

We made it back to SERA by about 6pm and I crashed in my tent for a little while. I was awakened by someone setting off a carbide bomb about 10 feet from my tent. They set off two more and I gave up on the nap and went down to check out the carnival. They basically set up a small circus and had some rides and games and food. I finally crashed about 11pm and slept pretty good until I started freezing about 3am. I only brought a sheet since I thought it wasn't going to be too cold at night.

Click This Link for Photos.

Skullet No More

So Heff and I have a bet. If I'm down to 275 on June 23rd when I drive through Columbiana on my way to Florida, I get to shave his head. The DBAN this morning was 284.8, down from a recent high of 299 from 18 days ago. I've got 14 days to lose 9.8 lbs and then we all get to see a truly bald Heff. Oh yes, there will be photos.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Don's Dudley Dig

I took off work this past Friday to spend a long weekend in North Alabama at the South Eastern Regional Association (SERA) Cave Carnival, which was held in Buck's Pocket State Park in DeKalb County. Being married with children, I only get to go caving about once or twice a month, and the opportunity to have a whole weekend to cave won't come along too often. So I was hoping to go to a good cave on Friday, then a few on Saturday before heading back to Nashville on Sunday.

A fellow Nashville Grotto member, Don Harter, had said he had some potential dig sites along the way he'd like to check out if we wanted to accompany him. We talked it over on Thursday night, and agreed to follow Don to a potential new cave site the next day to check it out. I was curious because the one we picked was next to a pit he called Thor's Hammer, so I had to see anything with that cool of a name.

Bob, Jay, Tony, and I left my house about 6:30
Parking Area at Little Coon MountainFriday morning and headed down I24. We met Don at a Shoney's and after breakfast we followed him down to Stevenson, Alabama and headed out in the middle of nowhere to Little Coon Mountain. We drove up a dry, rocky stream bed and parked in a large grassy area. We grabbed our caving gear and headed up an old logging road.

Don hadn't really described this "cave" that we
Bob Kimball at Thor's Hammer Pit were going to visit very well, so I was under the impression that it was a lead in an existing cave that we were going to try to dig out some. After walking up the road for about half a mile or so, we turned and went up the side of the hill to where there were large piles of rock. Don showed us Thor's Hammer, which is about a 30' deep pit, with another 20' or so of passage at the bottom. It's not too impressive and definitely doesn't live up to it's name. Bob is shown to the right squatting in front of it.

Up the hill just a little from this pit and to the left was the pit that Don has brought us all here to see. It was about 2.5 feet wide and went down about 4 feet with a 6 inch wide vertical crack on the bottom. Don dug on it with his shovel for a bit, while the rest of us stood there and thought about how we'd love to be in a real cave about now. Tony climbed down in the hole to check things out, and I handed him my camera which he used to take a picture as best he could past the small crack, to see if it was even worth bothering with.

We couldn't really tell anything from the pictures,
Tony Groves in the Pit so we finally rigged up a rope and pulley to a tree, tied it around Tony's ankles and he went into the hole head first. He stuck his head in the crack and found that it had a small pit beyond that went down only about 10 feet. So the pit was about 15 feet total, which doesn't qualify as a cave. So we trudged back down the trail to our cars and after a trip to the Wal-Mart and some burgers at Hardee's, we made it to SERA about 2pm, just in time to register, get our tents set up and see what was going on. There were no cave trips being planned that day, so I drove to Cullman to have dinner with my old friend Dave and got back to the campground to get some sleep for the next day.

I'm not really mad at Don, since it came close to being an actual cave. I should have just gone to what I know was a real cave so I didn't waste an entire potential day of caving. There's over 2500 known caves in Jackson County, Alabama so there would have been lots of choices.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Getting Your Learn On Word of the Day - glabrous: without hairs or projections; smooth.

Let's use it in a sentence!

While Heff sat on the patio, his glabrous forehead reflected sunlight into the eyes of drivers passing close by.