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.


Roach said...

After watching those videos I have come the conclusion that you are right. I am way too much of a city boy for that.

Heff said...

The "Wood Brothers" LMAO !

parledge said...

I loved reading this adventure. Is the campgrounf one that I could take my camper to? Take care of those knees!