Thursday, August 31, 2006

Cave #14 - Gross Skeleton Cave

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.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Yes, All Men Think It's Funny

I was giving Jack his bath this evening, like I have many times before. I've also heard him laugh before, but it's always been a kind of shriek or a quick chuckle, usually when we're tickling him. Tonight I've got him nekkid and in his little blue tub, about to start pouring water on him. Suddenly he starts spraying the entire area with pee, and I give him a really shocked look. I swear he started laughing like Beevis and Butthead. It's the first time I've heard him laugh where you'd have to write it out like "ha, ha, ha, ha!" It's good to see he's got the same sense of humor as his old Dad.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Cave #13 - Basin Cove Cave

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.

Weekend Update

This morning my calf muscles are aching. This is unusual because I've been overweight for quite a while and my calf muscles are probably the most well developed and "in shape" muscles on my body.

My adductor muscles hurt too. You may not be familiar with these, since it's rare for them to get worked out very often. They're the set of muscles that run down your inside thigh from the groin down towards the knee. The old Suzanne Summers "Thigh Master" is one of the ways you can work these muscles if you were inclined to do so.

When I pulled into my driveway Saturday night about 10:00pm, I got out of the Honda and nearly fell over. My right hamstring was completely locked up in a cramp and I had to hobble into the house like I had just pulled up on a dash to the goal line.

They say that if you don't feel like you've been in a car wreck the next morning, then the cave wasn't tough enough. The trip I made Saturday was tough enough, trust me on this. I'm sore from my forearms all the way down to my calves, and there are blisters on both feet around the toes. I ate like a fiend all weekend, and I still weigh 1.5 lbs less this morning than I did Friday morning.

What a great trip it was! Details coming soon...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

August Football

Victoria started eighth grade last week, so football season started with it of course. Victoria is co-captain of the cheerleading squad this year, so we're all excited about that. We aren't so excited about sitting in the stands at 6pm on an August evening in the South though. It was hot and it was humid and all around just a miserable night to even sit and watch football, so I can only imagine how the players and the cheerleaders felt.

One thing interesting did happen though. Our team actually won. They won fairly easily actually. The quarterback this year is pretty fast, and the opposing team just couldn't seem to shut down the option play in the first half, when our team went up 20-0. The other team scored once in the second half and the game ended 20-8. Kicking seems to be an almost non-existant skill at this level, so the teams always go for two points after a score. There was only one punt in the game, by our team, and it went straight up in the air for about 10 yards total. No one ever caught a kickoff either, so anytime a foot connects with the ball it's always entertaining.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Hatch's Reading List

I started compiling the books I've read so far in 2006 on a separate page similar to my Wild Cave List. So far it's pretty pathetic, but time to read is a luxury around here. I'm in the middle of reading 4 or 5 books that I haven't put on the list yet, but compared to how much I used to read earlier in life, the list is very Heff-like in it's shortness.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Cave #12 - Mason Cave

Yesterday morning was one of those morning I really didn't want to go caving. I went to bed fairly early, but I really overdid it last week at the gym and I had been feeling pretty bad Thursday and Friday. I figured I would shake it off, so I woke up about 7:15 and met the others at a McDonald's at 8am at Rivergate Mall.

I knew I couldn't do the low carb diet in a cave again, so I grabbed an egg mcmuffin and a sausage biscuit from McDonalds before we left. Also making the trip to Mason Cave in Sumner County were Don Harter, Joey Stuckey, Aimee Roosenburg, Eve Proper, Dave Wascher and his son Andrew. We entered the cave about 10:30 after a short hike up the fairly steep hill to the cave entrance.

Joey and Aimee had been to this cave several times before, but had recently acquired a copy of the map that showed several passages that they were unaware of. The cave is fairly damp and muddy, and the first large room we came to had a lot of mist in it. Even before we got into the cave good, I noticed a lot of fossils in the rock. There were some ceilings above low crawls where the rock was just crammed with fossilized crinoids. I took some pictures, but few of them came out well since my camera has problems focusing on small objects closeup.

After looking around a while, Joey found a branch that he had not been down before, so we all headed down it. I was bringing up the rear behind Don, and a few hundred feet down this branch there was a low, tight crawl that Don didn't feel like he could get through. I didn't see it, but I figured if he couldn't make it there wasn't much point in me trying, so we sat in a small room for a while waiting on the others while I tried to get some pictures of the crinoid fossils.

Then my stomach started rumbling and cramping. I don't think it was necessarily the McDonald's, but I guess it could have been. At that point I knew I needed to get out of the cave as soon as possible. I appropriated a roll of TP from Don and headed out quickly. It was still slow going because of some of the low crawls, but I was highly motivated.

Eventually I made it out, but to the relief of my intestinal tract. I decided I wouldn't risk that again and waited outside at the truck listening to bluegrass on Joey's Sirius radio for two hours while the rest of the gang explored the cave. Eventually I got bored and did a little bit of ridge walking along the hillside before they made it out of the cave about 2pm.

I didn't see the entire cave, but I saw enough that I can count it as cave #12. It's not a hard cave to get to, so I'll go back soon and see the rest of it. Joey was under the impression there was a lot of trash in the cave from the last time he was there, so we went there thinking we would bring a lot of trash out. In the end, there was only a small white garbage bag of stuff brought out, so the cave is not as trashed as Joey thought. While were in the cave, the land owner stopped by and left a note on Don't truck thanking us for cleaning it up, so I'm sure he appreciated it.

Sunday Morning Excitement

Victoria, Jackson, and I were leaving for church this morning about 10:30. Marissa was staying home finish getting the house ready for a birthday party we're hosting this afternoon for Marissa's niece. Just as we were pulling out of the garage, Marissa came out and gave Jackson one more kiss, delaying us for about 30 seconds. Then, just as I backed into the street, there was a huge BOOM! and I looked off to my right and saw all the power lines shaking and a plume of smoke coming up from the entrance of our neighborhood, about 150 feet down the street.

Marissa yelled for us to stop, so I pulled back into the driveway, put the car in park, and ran down the sidewalk while I was dialing 911 on my cell phone. I was trying to not get too close since I didn't know why there was so much smoke, but the 911 operator kept asking me questions about who was inside, were they hurt, did I think an ambulance should be called. By this point I could see that it was a single pickup truck that had crashed through the decorative brick wall at the front of the subdivision.

The airbags had gone off inside the truck and the lady inside was acting very dazed and confused. I told the operator that to be safe they should probably send some paramedics and I finally got them off the phone. We were trying to get the lady to sit down, but she kept getting back into the truck and even tried to crank it at one point. I finally had to get a little stern with her, and managed to keep her from trying to get in the truck anymore, but she kept walking around picking up pieces of the wall. We tried to get her to stop doing that as well, but eventually gave up and let her move pieces of the wall around.

There's a big, sharp curve in front of our subdivision, and it's posted at 20 m/h, but there's no way she was going that slow. She basically missed the curve completely and plowed into the wall. When the truck hit, it sent pieces of the wall flying about 30 feet or more into our neighbor's house. It broke their window and knocked the chimney off-kilter. Even as I write this, the truck is still sitting in the wall. The power company had to come cut the guide wires for the pole she just missed, since they are wrapped inside the front end of the truck.

Notice the rebar in the concrete she punched through, which is laying about 10 feet away from the front of the truck. Yet she still claims she wasn't speeding.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Trains vs. Tennesseans

Apparently, people in Nashville are having trouble getting used to the 150+ year old practice of trains crossing streets. Being stuck behind the crossing guard for the 30 seconds it takes for an engine and 3 cars to pass is just too much to bear for some it seems.

My favorite quote from the Rail Crossing Safety section :

"Do not hunt, fish or bungee jump from railroad trestles."

Cave #11 - Blue Spring Cave

I almost didn't go on this trip, which took place on July 22, 2006. The trip was led by Hal Love, a Nashville Grotto member, and he was planning on going fairly deep into the cave, on a route that involved a good bit of crawling and a lot of climbing over piles of breakdown. He decided to split it into two groups however, with one group making the longer trek to an area called Mega-Junction and the other group going the shorter distance to the Cathedral Room, which was supposedly an easier route.

Blue Spring Cave is located in White County, Tennessee near the town of Sparta. It has an interesting story behind it. As of 1989, the cave had been known about for quite a while, but consisted of only about 500 feet of passage with another 200 foot passage that had lots of mud, but had a fist sized hole at the back that blew large amounts of air. They packed the whole full of dynamite and when they climbed down, found what turned out to be the longest cave in Tennessee. It's currently got about 33 miles of mapped passage, but more remains to be discovered.

The group met up at the McDonald's off Highway 109 and I-40. After waiting for everyone to show up and consolidating vehicles, we headed out. I chose to ride with Joey Stuckey, and Amy Roosenburg and John Hickman were in the truck with us as well. It took us about an hour and a half to get to the parking area, which is in a cow pasture at the bottom of a hill in Blue Spring Cove. Everyone got changed into their caving gear and we made the short hike to the cave entrance, avoiding the cow patties on the way. I chose not to take my jumpsuit, since I was told it was a fairly warm cave and I wouldn't get very wet. In all, 18 people entered the cave at about 11am. It's the largest group I've been with in a cave so far.

One of the guys that was on the trip with us was named Trey, and he was part of the original group that blasted into the new cave back in 1989. It was interesting to hear him recount their amazement as the new passage they went down just went on and on and on. Trey is also a fellow "big boy" caver, and he's only slightly smaller than me. We shared stories of misery involving being a little too big for certain areas of caves. Trey also had the same Swaygo pack as me, so in my book he's just a great guy all around.

The first part of Blue Spring Cave is almost semi-commercialized, since they put down a pathway of gravel to help keep people from sinking up past their knees in the mud that pervades the initial five-hundred feet or more of the cave. By the time you get to the ladder leading up to the historical entrance though, most of the mud has cleared up.

After a brief rest at the ladder, the entire group headed deeper into the cave. At first we passed the turn-off to the Cathedral Room route, since Hal wanted everyone to go a bit deeper before we split up. After we came to a large room just before some extended crawling, Don Harter and I stayed behind while the rest pushed on a bit before some of them came back with Hal to pick Don and I up and head towards the Cathedral Room. In the area where we waited, there was a small rock formation that looked like an animal of some type. I thought it looked like a groundhog, but Trey called it the Bear Embryo, and that will probably be the name that sticks.

Don was having trouble with his home-made light, so while he changed it I explored the room we were in a bit, crawling over some breakdown and through a small hole that led to a low gallery that the breakdown was shoved into. It was full of sand and gravel and there was not much of interest there other than a few cave crickets.

After about half an hour, Hal came back with three other folks and the six of us headed back towards the Cathedral Room route. The first major obstacle involved a tight chimney climb that I almost didn't make it up. The chimney was about 6 feet tall, so I could see out of the top of it, but the only good foothold was about a foot above my knee and I had a really hard time getting my foot up to it. I tried for several minutes, and was about to give up, when I finally got really pissed off at myself. I called myself some really horrible names that I won't repeat here, but I managed to cuss my way up that chimney and get enough of me out of it that the others were able to help pull me on up.

This higher passage was made of flowstone and led upwards a bit, getting progressively lower and then displaying a series of dry rimstone dams, which were anywhere from six inches to a foot deep. Eventually, the passage dipped down to less than two feet in height, and still had small rimstone dams, so that made for really slow crawling on my part. After a little more climbing and another low crawl, it led into a breakdown room with borehole leading off of it.

Most of the passage and rocks from the earlier chimney and up to this point had numerous little gypsum crystals in them, so it looked like someone had flung vast amounts of glitter everywhere in the cave. I've seen this before in caves, but not on the scale I saw it here.

The borehole we were now in eventually led to a room with a large flowstone formation at one end. Originally this was a dead end, but at the top of the rimstone they blasted a small hole that is affectionately known as the Birth Canal. It's a small, wet hole that leads upwards at about at 60 degree angle and has very few hand or footholds. It wasn't very easy for the others to make it up this obstacle, and it proved to be too much for me.

I made two attempts, but I just couldn't get my knee up to the only foothold and I'm too heavy to get pulled up it. They offered to try to pull me up with some webbing, but I knew I didn't really have enough energy left at that point so I told them to go ahead without me. I spent my time resting, eating a snack, and taking lots of pictures. Over the next hour, I slowly made my way back down towards the small chimney, exploring some small side leads on the way and taking the time to look at anything interesting.

Hal has his Ph. D. in biology and is acquainted with Dr. Thomas Barr, who is one of the leading experts in cave biology. Dr. Barr had asked Hal to be on the lookout for anything interesting in the cave, especially small beetles. On my way out I looked everywhere I could, but the only living things I saw were cave crickets, which seemed to be there in abundance. I did spot what might have been a beetle carapace, but otherwise we didn't see any beetles during our time there.

After the others caught up with me on the way out, we headed back towards the entrance. I spotted what I thought was a small white spider on a rock, and yelled for Hal to come back and have a look. It turns out it was a white pseudo-scorpion, and Hal collected it for Dr. Barr to have a look. A few minutes later I spotted two small white centipedes, which Hal also collected along with another slightly larger pseudo-scorpion. It's entirely possible they could be new species, but we'll have to wait and see.

We exited the cave after being underground about 6 hours. The other group had further to go and didn't make it out until almost an hour after we did. Most of us went for large helpings of Mexican food in Cookesville afterwards, and I didn't make it home until almost 11pm, only about 5 hours later than I thought. I guess I'm going to just have to stop trying to guess what time I make it home from these cave trips since I haven't been accurate yet.

While we were waiting on the rest of the group to get out, Hal unrolled a poster sized map of the cave on the tailgate of a truck and we all had a look. We had spent six hours in the cave, so you'd think we got pretty deep, but we were about 5 inches from the edge of the map at our deepest point, which means we saw only a small fraction of the cave.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Happy Birthday Nana!

My Mom's birthday was this past Friday. For some reason I always get the day mixed up so I didn't call her until Saturday. I've been doing this for 30 years now, so eventually I may finally get it right. Sorry Mom! Anyway, Mom's looking great for her age. She's lost a lot of weight recently and is getting around a lot better. Here's a picture of her and Jackson taken on her recent visit.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Anniversary Dinner

Here's a picture of my beautiful wife and I taken at the Melting Pot restaurant in downtown Nashville last night. I couldn't stop looking at her all night. It's been a while since we've been able to go out and enjoy a nice dinner with just the two of us, and last night was very special.

I never think I'm going to enjoy the Melting Pot, but I always do and we weren't even able to finish all of the food last night. They have a curry sauce that is just insanely great, and the Coq au Vin broth we cooked everything in was excellent as well. I'm thinking we might have to go back there for Marissa's birthday in November.

Grotto Newsletter

One of the things I've become active in lately is the Nashville Grotto, which is the local chapter of the National Speleological Society. I run the local website and recently I started editing the monthly newsletter, so I've had to learn how to use and despise Microsoft Publisher, although the Beta version of it in Office 2007 is much better than previous versions.

The latest issue came out pretty nice I think, and I've only been able to spot two very minor problems that I need to correct. I'm not very artistic but I'm slowing learning what works and makes everything look nice. I can't decide if I should put frames around the pictures or not.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Four Years of Love

My beautiful wife, and mother of my beautiful children, and I have been married for four years as of today. It's been a long strange trip so far, but I love her more today than I did then. We're celebrating tonight at the Melting Wallet, uh, I mean the Melting Pot with a romantic fondue dinner where Marissa says I'm trapped with her for two hours. Heh, heh, heh. Hey, back off with that skewer, woman! Ouch!

I love you baby!