13/04/2024

Our Hobby

The Fantastic Hobby

Exploring a Tennessee Cave

5 min read
Exploring a Tennessee Cave

In 1984, while visiting relatives in Tennessee, they told me of their water supply. A pump house at the base of a large hill where they pumped water from a cave lake located below. A previous owner had used cinder blocks to block the entrance to a cave in the side of the hill and built a small dam to back up the stream flowing from the cave. As caving was my hobby, I became very interested and at once wanted to investigate this underground lake. This was to good to pass up, I persuaded one of my relatives to go with me and wait at the entrance while I check out the cave.

With no caving gear and just a flashlight I thought that I would just see if it amounted to anything. Raising the plywood door at the bottom of the pump house, I entered the cave by wading in 10 inches of water for a few feet and looked for a way to continue. The ceiling came down to the water, but to the left along the back side of the cinder block wall was a 20 foot long crawl that led to a 4 foot high room at the edge of the water. After wading through about 100 feet of low water filled passage, I was able to stand up in a larger room with the stream flowing along one side. This room had two columns in the middle and several small holes leading off in different directions. I followed the stream for about 40 feet and then reentered the stream which continued in a 6 foot high by 5 foot wide passage. The water was now deeper, up to my waist and was about 55 degrees. I continued to navigate over the rocky bottom around three turns by staying to the sides where the mud and water was not so deep. Alone and with limited light, I called it quits for the day. It would be two years before I could return to push this tantalizing lead.

First Trip, October 25, 1986

About once a month, a small group friends and I would go caving in well known caves in northeast Alabama, northwest Georgia and east Tennessee, referred to by the caving society as TAG country. This area is well known for deep pits and long caves. On each trip I would tell them about the cave on my cousins property and we would discuss checking it out. We at last set a date and drove up from Marietta, Georgia on a Saturday. There had been a heavy storm the night before and my cousin said that he had seen the plywood door pushed up completely open by the water rushing out of the cave after a hard rain.

Before getting dressed in our caving gear, we walked down to the entrance to check the water level, it was running normal, however it is not unusual for caves to flood hours after a heavy rain. The temptation was to great, so we suited up for caving. Each member of the group carries 3 sources of light, with one attached to a hard hat with chin strap. Gloves are required if you plan to take any notes or survey. In addition to the survey gear consisting of a Sonic Tape measure, electronic Smart level with a Laser pointer attached and a Data Scope compass, each member carried water and a snack. We adopted the map as you go method exploration. This requires great restraint on the part of each member not to scoop passage. Scooping passage is when a few members would stop the survey and start exploring on their own. This usually results in explored passages not being completely mapped.

Our first mapping party consisted of Buddy Davis, Roger Garratt, John Wallace and myself. We entered the cave and decided to see if it amounted to much before starting to survey, then we would survey our way out. We followed the stream around several turns for about 300 feet coming out of the water near a T-junction. We followed the main stream through walking passage until it became blocked by breakdown with the stream flowing from under the rocks.

At this point, there were no footprints or other signs that anyone had been this far into the cave. We started the survey at the breakdown, working back down stream to the junction. We then took the survey up the side passage exploring as we mapped. We climbed up about 3 feet with a smaller stream flowing below, we mapped on to the bottom of a large pit and then about 50 feet more before the passage became too tight.

Returning to the pit, Buddy and I climbed up and continued the survey while John and Roger retreated back along the passage to check a lead going up at a formation on the left. After mapping a formation room at one level, we climbed to the top of the pit and found large walking passage going in both directions. We explored in one direction for several hundred feet, then returned to the top of the pit, where we were surprised to hear John and Roger coming up the passage from the other direction. They had found a connecting passage around the pit.

We mapped down the large passage going southeast then turned back to the left to a large breakdown room almost directly over the point where the stream started and where we had first started our survey. Going up over very loose breakdown, we entered another large passage blocked at the end by a small pit with a stream flowing across the bottom. We decided to quit for the day and went back to map the connection John and Roger had found.

This connection passed two of the largest formations in the cave, which I named Clark Columns, in honor of my first cousins family name and owner of the property. On a later trip we discovered a large formation room at a higher level. We exited the cave after six hours, having mapped 2,380 feet, all mostly walking passage with many leads to be checked.

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