Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Cave #22 - Custard Hollow Cave

After I got back to the campground from Overlooked Cave, I put my helmet outside of the tent, leaving it there overnight. Unfortunately, it rained pretty heavily that night while I was asleep, so the Apex got completely soaked again and was back to having the same problems it was having the day before. Everyone was planning on going to Custard Hollow Cave that morning, so I didn't have time to get it all dried out again before we left on the trip.

Fortunately, fellow caver Alan Cook from Birmingham had an extra cheap led light that he let me borrow. I put it on the helmet, thanked him profusely, and climbed into the back of the waiting pickup truck. Custard Hollow is only a few miles from Sinking Cove, but it's on some fairly rough dirt roads, so like true Alabama rednecks we loaded up 30 people in three pickup trucks and headed down the road. It was a pretty wild ride, and dodging the limbs was the primary concern.

Truck #3 Full of Alabama Redneck Cavers

We all got to the parking area with only minor lacerations, and everyone unloaded and got geared up. We took a group photo, then we all headed up the mostly dry stream bed to get to the entrance. After a very short walk we came to the first of three entrances to the cave, which are all pretty close together. Half of us went in the first entrance while the other half went to the second. All the entrances come into the same entry room, which is mostly scalloped canyon with a good bit of water flowing through it.

Group Shot Before Entering Custard Hollow Cave

There was some crawling soon after this room, and the first place you're really required to get wet. This cave has a lot of water in it, mostly in waist deep pools. The water is cold, and the first time you dip your boys into it is not so pleasant, but after a while everything from the waist down just goes numb and you deal with it. There were a few spots that required some crawling and a bit of bent-over duck walking, but most of the cave was big booming borehole that goes on for miles and gets bigger as you go deeper.

As we got deeper into the cave, we split into lots of smaller groups, which changed up a lot as people stopped to rest or one group went off in a different direction. There's a good number of decorations in the cave and I didn't see many broken formations either, even when they were right next to the path like one really pretty piece of cave bacon was. I guess since the cave is so remote and access is somewhat restricted the yahoos haven't gotten in there to break everything.

I went pretty far back in the cave, but didn't push it as far as some people did. I came to another low crawl and was feeling pretty tired at that point, so I decided to turn back with Terry and Van and we exited the cave together. We did get turned around at one point and ended up in a pancake room that may have kept going but I was generating so much fog at that point that I couldn't see far enough to tell.

Also, I really missed my Apex on this trip. The borrowed light was adequate when I turned on my mini-mag to go along with it, but I realized that there has been an arms race going on in cave lights the last few years, and a 15 dollar Walmart light is not going to illuminate much for you when you're surrounded by Sten-Lights, Apexs, and big carbide lamps. When I was away from all of the people with those lights it was fine, but when they were near me my eyes couldn't adjust enough for my spot beam to do much good.

After we got back to the campground, after another wild ride, James and I walked up to the resurgence entrance and rinsed off in the pools. We went back as far as the twilight zone, but we didn't have lights with us. I'm not counting it as a cave visit anyway. I found a pretty large snake skin around one of the pools, but no sign of the snake it belonged it. We had a great meal that night, with Jason Wall smoking up about 30lbs of butt all day and a great buffet of other stuff layed out as well.

It rained again that night, but this time I had all my stuff in the tent. We packed up pretty early the next morning and headed back to Nashville. This cave was definitely a treat, especially considering I had never heard of it until that weekend. There's still more of it to see, so I look forward to going back soon.

If you want to see more pictures, head over to Spelunkologists.com and see the three pages of pictures from the trip that they have up there. All the pictures in this blog post are courtesy of the photographers there.

Hatch and Others Enter Custard Hollow Cave

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Good Week

For the first time since I started using a pedometer about 3 years ago, I've managed to walk more than 10k steps a day for seven straight days. Over the last 7 days, I've put 79,254 steps on it, which is over 36 miles and averages 11.3k per day. I've actually walked enough to lose weight without doing the low carb diet, and pretty much eating like I normally would other than not going to buffets.

I'm going to try to push it out to 8 or 9 straight days this week, although I may rest up some for my caving trip this Wednesday night. The best day this week was when Jack and I went to the Greenway yesterday afternoon. It was really hot, and I burned through almost 2 liters of water, but we walked a little over 4 miles. Here's a picture of Jack on one of the bridges.

The Joy of Leather Furniture

Yesterday afternoon, Marissa, Jack, and I were upstairs together for a while, watching Barney or working on the computer or playing with Jack. Marissa had removed his diaper and we were letting him air out some before we put a new one on.

At one point, Jack was over near the banister and we were not really paying much attention to him. I heard him say something like "pee pee Mommy's chair", but I didn't think anything of it at the time since there was no chair anywhere around. After a few more minutes, we put a new diaper on him and I went downstairs.

As I was walking by the leather chair in the living room, I noticed it had liquid all over it. Suddenly the pieces all came together. Apparently he had managed to pee through the balusters and only got the chair wet. Since I found it, I had to wipe it up, but at least with the leather it didn't soak in.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Best Lynyrd Skynyrd Cover Evar!

You have to love the Internet when it lets you dig up things like this.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Cave #21 - Overlooked Cave

Way back in 2001, during the 4th of July weekend, I went caving for the first time at Sinking Cove Cave in Franklin County, TN during the Birmingham Grotto's annual camp-out. I had a great time, and it eventually led to it being one of my major hobbies. I've been wanting to go back for a while now, so this year my Nashville caving buddy James Wood and I decided to crash the weekend and get some caving done. James is also from Birmingham, and his brother and other friends were going to be there, so we both knew plenty of people.

James' brother Daniel and some others had a vertical trip planned to Guys Cave on Friday morning, so we left out about 7:30 to get there in time. After a quick stop for gas and a few Hardee's biscuits, we hit the road and headed down past Sewanee to get to Sinking Cove. It's in Tennessee, but you can't get there from here. You have to drive down into Alabama and then back up into Tennessee.

We got to the campground about 10:30, and the Wood brothers and their friends left for their vertical trip. I got my tent setup and all my gear unpacked, and then sat down to work on my main light. I had sprayed my Apex off the night before with the garden hose along with my other gear, and now it was refusing to turn on. I disassembled it and let it sit in the sun for a few hours while I talked to some of the people still in the camp. Jason Wall from the Birmingham Grotto was there to cook for the weekend, and I helped prepare about 100 pieces of chicken that he put in the smoker. He had a spicy Cajun marinade that I don't remember the name of, and he put about two chickens in big zip lock bags along with a can of beer and let them sit for a few hours before he put them on. They turned out awesome. I think one of the reasons so many people show up for the weekend is just the food that Jason turns out.

I talked to Hazard Bryant for a while, and we started talking about a cave he found a few years ago that he named Overlooked Cave. He called it that because people had basically been going by it for years and apparently no one had ever found it. He kept it to himself for a few years while he was exploring it, so not too many people have been in it as of yet.

I decided that if I could get my Apex working again I'd go check it out. I put the light back together and put the batteries in, and it started working. It was doing some funky stuff with the settings changing rapidly, but since it was such a short cave I figured I could do fine with my backup lights if I had to.

I got a few sketchy directions from Hazard which included the phrase "look for the big sycamore tree then go straight up the hill" and hitched a ride with someone leaving who dropped me off where I hoped was near the cave entrance. As he drove off, I looked at the hill and saw about 20 or 30 damned sycamore trees and no signs of a path. I finally just picked a way through the undergrowth that didn't look too thick and started up the hill. I got up to the first rock line after about 200 feet, and headed down it. After a short walk I came to a hole that I figured must of been the cave, although it didn't seem to have a lot of air coming out as everyone had said Overlooked Cave would have.

I rested a minute, got my gear on, and got down on my hands and knees to crawl into the hole. I only went back about three feet and realized that it dead-ended at about 7 feet total. There was a small crack in the back that seemed to be blowing a little bit of air, but this was definitely not a cave. I backed out and decided to keep going down the ridgeline.

After some more bushwhacking and keeping a careful eye out for snakes, I came upon a large, rocky, dry stream bed. No one had mentioned a stream bed in the directions, but I decided to check it out anyway. I climbed up it a good ways, and it was full of old rotten logs and wobbly rocks, but nothing that looked remotely like a cave. Once again, I retraced my steps and kept going down the ridge line. Finally, I crossed a fresh trail of trampled undergrowth and could feel a very nice stream of cool air pouring down the hill, so about 3 minutes later I was standing at the entrance of the cave.

I had worked up a pretty good sweat by this point, so I sat down in front of the cave for about 20 minutes, enjoying enough cold air pouring out that it felt like I was sitting in front of a large air conditioner. There were butterflies and dragon flies all around, and I watched a snail crawl across a leaf for a while too. Very relaxing to say the least. Now I was ready to do some caving.

The entrance of the cave is about 2 1/2 feet high by about a yard wide, and is shaped like a half dome. I stuck my head inside and turned on my light, which had finally settled down and was working fine. I belly crawled in about 10 feet and stopped to consider things. I don't really enjoy crawling very much, so I was tempted to stop at that point. I decided I had to at least go far enough back to get out of the twilight zone of the cave so I could at least claim to have been "in" the cave.

The entrance passage goes back about 50 feet with a slight curve to it and then takes a hard left. I considered stopping here again, but eventually decided to just quit being a wuss and to push on. After about 30 more feet, the cave opens up a little so I could stop belly crawling and sit up and rest for a bit. A that point I was at a T, with one passage heading back in the general direction of the rock face and looking like it got pretty low again. The hands and knees height passage continued further back, so I headed that way. The floor was still dirt, with lots of old vegetative matter laying around. The ceiling also had a lot of crinoid fossils and I spent some time while I was resting looking at those.

I kept crawling further back into the cave, and noticed several times that there were green leaves in some of the holes in the walls, so I guess the cave has several much smaller entrances. After a short while, I came to a room that was about 40 feet long by about 10 feet wide and the ceiling was about 5 feet tall. The floor here was covered in old nut shells, so I started referring to it as the Nut Room. I stopped at the end of this room and once more thought about turning back, but I started hearing what sounded like water in the distance, so I kept pushing on.

After about 50 more feet, the passage started getting taller and I was finally able to stand up in the cave in what was a much bigger room. It had hundreds of soda straw formations on the ceiling, and a small stream ran down the middle of the room, disappearing under a small pile of rocks. The water was making a large echo underneath, so it was obvious that there was space down there, but the hole leading down was obviously too small for me to fit in. I found out later from Hazard that it leads down to a small room with a 10 foot waterfall, but then gets too tight to go much further.

I followed the water upstream and came to another low crawl with a good bit of water in it. I didn't really feel like getting wet at that point and my knees were starting to talk to me, so I decided to turn around at that point. I found out later that it was just a short crawl before it opened into an even larger room with some nice flowstone, so I'm going to have to go back and check that out at some point.

I crawled back out of the cave, stopping frequently to rest and look at more crinoid fossils. I spent about 2 hours total on my trip, and had a nice walk back to the camp where Jason had some of his chicken ready to munch on.

I don't currently have a camera to take caving, but to make Heff happy here's a link that has some links to some video and some pictures taken in the cave last year by Scott Fee of the Birmingham Grotto.