Have you ever received directions that included things like "Turn left at the
one eyed dog"? The directions I got to find the cave I went to this weekend
were such directions. In fact we deviated far enough from the directions we
were given that I am not 100% sure we even went to the place I was told
about. I believe we went to Gadsden Springs Cave, but who knows?
The directions were as follows:
(From Black Springs) Go about a mile and the spring run will be on your left. Knock the alligator out of the way and go down the hole.
I was pretty skeptical of our ability to find it, so we had Black Spring as a backup. Last time we went to this particular area we spent a lot of time with the Jon boat having less water under it than was necessary for floatation. This time, Kim and John and I rode in a canoe and towed the Jon boat. All the gear was in the Jon boat.
After going about two tenths of a mile and getting the Jon boat stuck about three times, I told John that we should just stash the gear somewhere and use the canoe as a scout craft to find the cave. John agreed. He said we should watch for a good place to stash it. It couldn't have been 70 feet beyond the spot where we agreed to give up on the Jon boat at our next available stashing location that we spotted the spring run. We obviously hadn't traveled anywhere near a mile yet, but where there is a spring run there is a cave. Naturally we turned up the spring run.
We were in trouble almost immediately.
We managed to push, steer, and otherwise cajole our two small craft about 200 feet upstream before we were just flat stuck. The Jon boat was pulling about six inches of water and the stream was down to about an inch-and-a-half to two inches deep.
John and I decided to go for a walk to determine the best way to proceed. We probably walked about 250 feet before we found what was only 150 feet away by boat. A dark blue spring lake about 80 feet in diameter. It didn't have any of that gray-blue tint that would have indicated low vis. On the other hand it also didn't have that sky-blue almost glow in the dark color that you see at springs with perfect, crystal clear, infinite vis. Still this was a very nice blue and John and I were both very excited.
I swam back to Kim and the boats and got to check the depth of the channel. We really only had about twenty feet of that 2 inch water before we were in water that was nearly deep enough to actually float the Jon boat in. One, Two, Three, Heave! We had to work pretty hard for a while there but it was worth it. The spring pool was forty feet deep and we could see the bottom looking over the side of the boat. The vis was about sixty feet. A little less than the typical cave, but quite usable.
On the way into the pool the whole team was treating the bottom just like it
were the inside of a cave. After all, none of us knew where the cave was so
if we carelessly stirred up the silt we might not find it at all. We needn't
have worried though. The cave was easy to find right at the bottom of the
As I entered the cave I saw dark holes yawning to the right and the left. I chose right and started in. I could feel that my primary line was wrapped around my leg but I wasn't worried about it. I figured that once I pulled it taught I could easily disengage with a flick of my leg, but with it loose it would just move up and down as I moved my leg. I had my line almost pulled as tight as I wanted for disentanglement when I noticed that the cave did not continue in the direction I was headed. Just then Kim plucked the line off of my leg and I headed left instead.
I tied off to the two main lines and we headed in. I don't know why there were two main lines. John suggested that someone had replaced the main line but not removed the old one. Sounds reasonable to me.
The first passage we entered was tall enough to be considered a double decker. The passage was maybe ten feet wide and as much as forty feet tall. John and I were very used to this interesting passage type because of our recent exploration of nearby Black Springs Cave. Kim had skipped that dive so she was eagerly pointing it out.
We went a short distance down this passage before it seemed to almost stop. The main lines diverged here. One went under a ledge at floor level where there was 2 to 2.5 feet of clearance from the silt. The other went forward where the passage hadn't quite stopped but had closed down to a gash about four feet wide and twelve feet high. Figuring one line is as good as another until you've explored both and made a determination, I chose the under-the-ledge line without consulting the team.
The passage was low enough that looking behind me without silting out would have been slightly difficult. I could see light behind me though so I was about to go around a corner when John flashed me to indicate that Kim was not following. I glanced left and could see Kim's light coming from the area where the second line went. She wasn't lost or confused. She knew where she was and where we were; she just wasn't through inspecting the double decker passage. The second main line also ran under that ledge (just went farther before turning) so shortly thereafter we were all in the low place and heading down and in.
The cave bottomed out at 110 FFW and continued in a Northeasterly direction. The ceiling was a little higher at the bottom, perhaps five or six feet. I was grateful for the extra height because the catfish were plowing the bottom and had made quite a mess within two feet of the floor.
John and I were both pretty narced. We had a big discussion about it later and some of the things that came up were pretty interesting. Kim wasn't narced. This makes me wonder if there might not be some relationship between the very hard physical labor that John and I had done to move the boat and nitrogen narcosis. Then again it might just be that Kim didn't notice she was narced. I noticed it when the line turned left and headed back up. At the time I thought, "I really want to look at the cave here because it is very interesting. But because the line is going left and up I will have to pay attention to that and ignore the cave or I will lose the line." What kind of sense does THAT make? Obviously my brain (obviously in hindsight) was too narced to pay attention to the cave AND the line so I chose the line. John came to the same conclusion but in a different way. He realizes when he is narced. When narced he says to himself, "Forget about the cave. Concentrate on the line." He says that when he gets like that the cave doesn't even have to be there. His whole world is the line.
It is too bad about the nitrogen narcosis, because I was missing the MOST AWESOME feature of this cave. (Luckily I saw it on the way back.) From 110 FFW where we came out from under the ledge while turning left the cave soared to an excellent 45 FFW in a super-massive chimney fully twenty feet wide. On the way back Kim and John had both gone down and disappeared under the ledge and I was still hanging mid-chimney just gaping. Discovery of formations like this is a near religious experience for me and probably my favorite part of caving (both dry and wet). The idea that you can squirm through some small muddy hole and pop out into some massive edifice worthy of a Gothic cathedral is precisely what propels me to continue to squirm through small muddy holes.
As this passage continued the ceiling height was more or less constant but the floor continued to slope up. The passage was running almost due north and running a constant 30 feet wide. The double main line continued through this passage with one line on the left and one on the right. Occasionally one would be at the top and one at the bottom so they were quite far apart. There were black strata lines in the white walls that ran horizontal at a given depth the entire length of the passage. These prove to me that the limestone remains level and the reason for the sloping floor is just the lay of the debris.
We ducked under a place where the ceiling dropped markedly. Right there we all noticed twigs leaves and hickory nuts on the floor. Kim started to finger spell "Another opening". The funny thing is that the first letter (A) is a fist and the cave signal for "Hold!" is also a fist. So when Kim started finger spelling I stuck my fist out and I was holding. Kim laughed, waived me off, showed me dancing fingers, and finished spelling. The opening wasn't right there though and we continued to spot twigs and such as the floor continued to slope up.
The trash on the floor started getting bigger. Soon we were seeing foot long branches. The passage then got extremely low and the line was buried under about seven inches of silt. I decided it was worth making a mess now to have the line available for later. The line was buried for about eight feet and then the passage turned up and to the right.
As I rounded the corner I practically screamed into my regulator, "What the heck is that!"
There was a big beige overstuffed chair sitting in the middle of the passage 900 feet from where we had come in. As stupid as this sounds, my first thought was, "How/why did a cave diver bring a chair 900 feet into a cave. That stupidity passed in much less than a second and I rolled over and looked up.
There was a bright orange cloud over my head.
The water above me was like pond water, very muddy. I was still in clear water under it. The way it was lit up it was obvious that there was at least a fifteen-foot opening there. I usually enjoy surfacing into Karst windows, but this foggy orange stuff really didn't look too inviting. That's funny because it is really intriguing me now. Silt is heavier than water. What phenomena was keeping the silty water up high and clear water down low? I have formed and rejected several hypotheses but here is my best guess. I think that deer and other animals probably drink at this pool and continually stir up mud. The silty water DOES settle into the cave but the clear flow just sweeps it away. We didn't surface through that muddy water, but I told everyone to recalculate thirds.
Just beyond this hole, there were lines everywhere. I really thought this was an excellent opportunity to be on a line and still be lost. So I got out the clothespins. There were at least two passages there and it may have been as simple as two lines per passage equals four lines. It seemed insane at the time. I was paying close attention to the line and asking myself the right questions. "If I got to this tee in a blind silt out would I go the right way?" Actually there wasn't one decision point that was marked badly so maybe I overstate. Still it gave me comfort on the way out to retrieve my clothespins and know for sure that I was in the right place.
Not too far down this West North West pointed passage there was a brown fossilized vertebra sitting on the white ledge on the left wall. It stuck out like a sore thumb. I figured some cave diver had found it and placed it there for display. I was kind of wondering what was keeping it there seeing as how the ledge had quite a slope. I reached out and touched it and was very pleased with my discovery. It was still attached to the cave! The limestone of the ledge had weathered down over an inch but the darker mineral of the vertebra was not quite eroded completely free.
Just beyond that the passage turned to the South West and started getting shallower again. We came up this hill and there was no doubt that we were about to find something great. There were logs two feet in diameter and ten feet long. Also there were a bunch of new strings tied in. Surely we were right at another karst window. Just then Kim turned the dive on thirds. I knew her approximate gas and knew that she was turning on standard thirds rather than recalculated thirds from the orange window. I stuck my thumb out immediately but it was frustrating to know that she had turned us just short of a second karst window when the first karst window had already given us some play. As we were swimming home I noted the time and wrote Kim a note. "Didn't you realize that we recalculated thirds at the orange hole?" Her response was chilling. "How do you know it really goes up?" I started thinking about writing her a note that explained that the orange cloud was lit by at least a fifteen-foot shaft. Further more even if the orange light was some kind of diffusion trick the hole was wide enough for that easy chair. Ultimately I didn't write anything. I just nodded put my slate away and kept on trucking home. If that was her logic then she made the only decision that COULD be made.
I am pretty confident that this was about a 1500-foot penetration. I took us in really slow giving everyone lots of opportunity to look at every thing. Maximum penetration took 50 minutes and I estimated that we had been going about thirty feet per minute. John on the other hand took us out at a zippy 50 feet per minute. (John always does this to cut down on the deco.) When we had just started to leave the cave I reasoned that if my speed estimates were correct it would take 30 minutes to get out.
We hit the deco stop at EXACTLY 80 minutes.
This doesn't PROVE that we went in at 30 and out at 50. All it PROVES is that our in to out ratio was three to five. It does make me feel that my 1500-foot estimate is probably pretty good.
You know I just realized that we COULDN'T have gone to Gadsden Cave. After all we didn't have to knock an alligator out of the way and that was fully a third of our travelling instructions. Ferris if you are reading this then thanks for the directions. (Sincerely) I still can't believe we found it.
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