TAG Caving - Spring Break '02

The following are excerpts from Ryan Moran’s TAG (Tennessee Alabama Georgia) caving journal:

“Friday night, March 8th. Angela (my girlfriend) flew into Atlanta around 7pm. We headed up to the Camp’s Gulf Addition of Fall Creek Falls State Park just east of Spencer, TN. I was leading a trip this weekend for a group of POC cavers as well as an IU spelunker and Matt and Paul, two friends from home. Angela and I got to where we were camping around midnight, and Matt and Paul showed up around 1am. Matt, Paul and I drove back down the jeep trail to Camp’s Gulf Cave. This cave has 4 very large rooms, the biggest measuring 769’ in length, 369’ wide, and 164’ high. This is still no where near the size of what we will see tomorrow. We toured the large borehole entrance passage in our camp clothes and helmets to where the breakdown begins...only about a couple hundred feet. When we returned to camp, there was still no sign of the POC group. Finally, at around 5am, they showed up and instantly hit the sack. “

“Saturday morning, March 9th. I woke up and roused Matt and Paul around 8am. We headed up to the nearest gas station to get supplies. I picked up a copy of the local newspaper where the cave we were about to visit was on the front cover. (For those who don’t know, the Rumbling Falls Cave System is one of the hottest environmental issues in the country right now. It has gained international attention due to the fact that the town of Spencer is about to open it’s Waste Water Treatment plant which will dump treated effluent (sewage) straight into the cave system...undoubtedly killing the many rare forms of cave life that exists in it. This cave was a secret cave of Marion O. Smith and John Swartz, who surveyed it in secret until 1998, when news of the Sewage Plant came to light.) Our plan for today was to tour back to the Rumble Room, the 2nd largest cave room in the country. Travel beyond this would not be possible due to the force of the underground river which goes for approximately 14 miles beyond this. Everyone eventually got up and we began to get ourselves situated to head into the cave around 10am. We loaded up in Brandon’s pickup and drove to a quarry near the cave entrance. After a little thrashing on the hill side, I was able to locate the rather diminutive entrance. The 15’ wide by 5’ high hole gave no precursor to what was about to come. Just inside the entrance I ran into a Chattanooga caver, who said that the group in front of us was also 8 people big. This would make for a long trip. Just inside of the entrance was a 68’ pit. I left a 100’ rope and two rigging biners at the top in order for the Chattanooga group to rig it for us on their way out (not something I would recommend...since this was breaking the rule of you tie it you fly it). At the bottom of the drop, we began following a large, 75’ high, winding canyon. This canyon quickly pinched down to body wide. We chimneyed high in it and followed it upstream (odd for a deep cave to be going against the water initially). After several hundred feet we rejoined the water and made to 14’ waterfall climbs. The first was free climbed by all with the aid of Paul and I from the top, but the second would prove somewhat trickier. I had expected both of these to be pre-rigged. I made the second climb, followed by Paul. I then rigged the tail end of our 250’ rope off of me and then backed up to Paul in order for the others to climb on. Paul wedged himself behind a boulder, as I stuck myself on the edge of the falls, blocking an redirecting what water I could. Everyone made it up without incident and we continued on. After a 200’ stream crawl, we popped through a squeeze into a tight 20’ tall canyon. It was body contact the entire way. I followed my nose through the canyon, sometimes pushing down into a 10” tall crawl. Soon the airflow turned into a strong wind, and the next thing I knew I was standing on the edge of Stupendous Pit, the 201’ drop into the Rumble Room. Wow! One huge black void. This chamber is the second largest cave room in the country. It is 4 acres and approximately 400’ high from top to bottom. The rappel landed us on an enormous pile of breakdown. Most of us toured the room and down to the river, but then we had to wait for the Chattanooga group to climb out. After what seemed like an eternal 5 hour wait, it was finally our turn. We climbed, derigged and routed. Total time in-cave was about 12 hours. We headed back to camp, packed up, and headed south for Scottsboro, AL. We got onto Scottsboro Mtn. (one of TAG cavers’ main hangouts) around 2am.

“Sunday morning, March 10th. This morning, Angela, Matt, Jamie, Brandon, and I went down to breakfast, where we hung out for a bit with my friends, including Marion O. Smith and John Swartz, discoverers of the Rumble Room. They were taking off to go do nerd holes all day. We decided to do something a little more exciting. After breakfast we headed back up the mountain, stopping along the way so I could point out where the pits within walking distance of camp were located, in case anyone wanted to do them. We packed up again and were on the road for Stephen’s Gap. This 142’ open air pit is one of TAG’s classics. I rigged the 50’ diameter sinkhole pit through a slot which dropped you directly onto a pedestal about 30’ off the floor. This was across from the two large waterfalls. From here you could walk 100’ or so out the side entrance. Most of us bounced the pit several times. Many pictures were taken here. After this, we drove north to another area in Jackson County, AL. This time our plan was a sink that contained Guy’s Cave and Major’s Pit. We began the hike up the mountain (about 500’ vertical gain). I located the pit in about 25 minutes or so and bo’ed the others in. Jamie and Brandon did the 50’ish drop into Major’s Pit, where they found a good lead to get into more passage in the cave. Nate, Paul, Brian, and I began our attack on Guy’s Cave, a 467’ deep clean-washed, wet, multidrop cave while Matt took photos of everything. I rigged the entrance drop, about 23’, and headed down. I pushed on to the next pit with a 250’ rope in hand and a sling full of rigging biners. I started rigging pit after pit, dropping deeper into the cave. Depth fever got the best of me and I rigged as conservatively as possible in order to go deep. At the bottom of the 6th drop and about 350’ down, we ran out of rope. We routed and I had a relatively fast derig. The last of us made it down the mountain by 8pm and we raced to Western Sizzlin to make it just in time for the “All You Can Eat” buffet. Afterwards, I took the group up to one of our “secret” campsites in Kimball, TN, so they could be close to the other caves that I had for them to do. Angela and I headed home to Atlanta. Pulled in the driveway around 12am.”

The following is Jamie's report for Monday and Tuesday:

After our Sunday trip to Stephens Gap Cave, Majors Pit, and Guys Cave, our group split up. Ryan, Angela, Paul, and Evan headed back to everyday life. Nate, Brandon, Brian, and I stuck around until Tuesday for a few more adventures. Monday our first stop was the classic Neversink. I had been here during the 2000 TAG Fall Cave-in event, but no one else in the group had seen it. It's a 170' free drop to the bottom, and you do not need headlamps here due to the large diameter entrance. After Neversink, we attempted to find a 292' deep pit called Deep Well. Just finding the pit was an adventure, since all we had was a GPS coordinate and a map that showed roughly two square miles around one side of the entrance. We spent much time driving on one road after another, until we could find one that went in the right direction. Even after we figured out which mountain was the correct one, we had to figure out where the road was to get to the top. And THEN we had to figure out where to park without getting shot. We decided to park on the edge of a field, assuming it was close to the parking spot marked on our map. Almost immediately after we parked here, we noticed headlights approaching. They turned onto the drive along the field. Nate and Brian were parked behind us a ways. I was sitting in Brandon's truck with the two-way radio when I hear the comment, "He's got a gun!!" come across from Nate and Brian. About this time Brandon starts banging his hands on the window with a look of horror on his face, apparently he locked himself out. Luckily the gruff looking man with the rifle was friendly, and just wondered what we were doing out on the mountain at such a late hour. When we explained the cave were were looking for, and the fact were were dumb lost Hoosiers, he led us to a great little parking spot where we could follow a TVA powerline cut down the mountain to the vicinity of our pit. Along the way Nate and Brandon found a small animal hole that they decided must be a new discovery waiting to happen. The worst part was waiting for them to try to dig on the hole using a trekking pole previously found that day. I must have waited on them nearly an hour, dozing and ocassionally making a cynical comment in their direction. Finally they admitted defeat, but by the time we found the pit, we were all too tired/lazy to drop it (plus it was cold and started raining). The 300 foot deep pit is a continuous narrow crack with sharp ledges to abraid the rope and loose rocks constantly getting kicked down. The pit looks like an entrance to hell. We all rapelled to the first ledge, about 60-80 feet down into the pit. We could not see the bottom from the ledge, rocks seemed to echo forever, so we swtiched to ascending gear and left. I plan to go back with more rope pads some warm sunny day. The hike back in the rain with a 600+ foot elevation gain was exciting, especially at 2AM...

Tuesday was probably our least successful day. We decided to find Cagles Chasm, a 186' foot drop that is a popular destination for cavers. Not realizing we had a GPS point for this cave, we set out on our own after glancing at a topo of the area. Of course we ended up hiking all over the wrong ridge. We found sinkholes, a spring, and a small cave. After heading back to our vehicles, wet and tired, we discovered the GPS location. Brandon and I said something along the lines of, "you have fun, we'll wait here." With that, Nate and Brian decided to quit too, so we headed back to Indiana. I'm glad we didn't do this pit that day, since it leaves a TAG classic waiting for the next visit. Tuesday was just as rainy as Monday evening, but I still enjoyed the ridgewalking we were able to do.

To sum up my opinion of our trip, TAG is incredible. But if anyone finds a Lost Creek rope pad in Rumbling Falls (or anywhere between here and there), I'd love to have it back, thanks!

Pictures from this trip

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