Saturday, March 5, 2016

It's been a long time

After nearly two years without going climbing, I finally got back on a rope. As climbing trips go this one would barely count in most peoples books. IN fact, the climbing was an after-thought for the day,. We had taken the family down to Ijams to hunt for spring salamanders, and after spending the afternoon doing that, I dragged everyone over to the new Ijams Crag to check out the clibing.

Ijams Crag was only recently developed and opened to the public, and is a small limestone wall with sport routes. I jumped on two of the easier routes on the far left hand side of the wall. Bruce Banner (5.8) was my first taste of rock climbing. I didn't know what it was graded at the time, but it didn't look that hard. At the 3rd bolt was a cruxy move, which is probably responsible for the rating, but other than that it was easy going. For not having been climbing for so long, I felt pretty comfortable leading up. My wife said I wasn't as fluid as I used to be. No surprise there.

I jumped on an adjacent route next, Down on the Corner (5.7). It started sprinkling a little, and the rock started to get slick, and the crux section here felt more awkward for me, but I got up quickly (it is only 4 closely spaced bolts to the top). Liz took a turn on the route next, it's been even longer since she climbed, and I thought she did wonderfully.

As afterthoughts go, this was pretty fun. I may have to try to get in a few more climbing trips before move.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Fox Hole Cave

I had been wanting to visit this cave because of the geocache that exists at the entrance to it. Kind of a silly reason for picking a cave, that is, if you're not a geocacher. There are tons of caves in this area, some of which may be much cooler than this one, but this one has a geocache in it, so it was bumped to the top of the list. If you are not a geocacher, I wouldn't expect you to understand. But silly reasons aside, this cave turned out to be pretty darn cool.

First, let me disclaim that the cave is on the Closed Caves List, but is also on Private Property, which means that you can obtain permission from the landowner to access the cave. I'm not experienced enough to know whether caves on that list are on the list because of poor relations with landowners, or other reasons, but when my friend Natalie suggested I try to get permission, I was game. It took some internet sleuthing just to find out who to call, and I called a few wrong numbers at first. Eventually I connected with someone, only to make a mistake and ask for the person's daughter first (who is listed as the property owner) and then her deceased husband. You might think that after these faux-pas I wouldn't have gotten permission, but the lady I spoke to was kind enough to allow us to visit the cave. I was STOKED!

For the rest of the week I was planning the trip, not just to the cave, but also to a number of geocaches and natural formations in the area. Those other destinations seriously ate into our below-ground time, and it was nearly 2pm by the time we were gearing up for the cave. I wasn't all that bothered by this, but I was lucky that my caving companions were also geocachers. Any other caver might have been seriously miffed. The entrance to the cave is in a 30m deep sinkhole, locally known as the Confederate Sinkhole as it was used as a hide out during the Civil War. I had brought a climbing rope, harnesses and gear for rappelling/ascending, and was prepared to bring it with us. But jsut as we were getting ready to leave the car, a bunch of "kids" (ok they may have been in their lower 20s...) walked by and said they were heading to the cave too. They had no visible caving gear, such as helmets and knee pads, and no visible rope either. We figured if they could get down the sinkhole, so could we. Plus I was a little hesitant about leaving a nice climbing rope at the hole knowing that others could take it. Not that they would.... well, I guess I was just being unfair to them. If we hadn't seen anyone else around, i most surely would have hung and left a rope while were down below. Oh well.

We got to the sinkhole a bit behind the kids, and it turns out they did have 100' rope, cheap 8mm stuff that you might use as a tow-rope for water skiing. Heck, maybe not even that good. They were slowly making their way to the bottom, and offered to let us use their line.  Then, much to my shame, they offered to leave their rope in place even after they had left, since we would probably be in the cave longer than them. Boy did I feel low, having stereotyped them as rednecks, when they were just nice kids wanting to explore. So we descended to the pit using their rope. By the time we hit the bottom they were already disappeared down the main north passage. Rather than follow in their smoky wake (who smokes in a cave?), we quickly located a sandy crawl that took us to the southern passage. The way that this cave splits like this is not at all obvious. In fact, if we hadn't known to look for a southern passage right at the bottom of the sinkhole, we probably would have gone into the main north passage, since it is big and obvious. I think this fact actually helps protect the cave somewhat, since most "spelunkers" will be drawn into the northern passage, leaving the other passage to the "cavers". This was fairly well born out by us not seeing much trash at all in the southern passage, and what graffiti we did see seemed to be from carbide lamps. No spray painting or ugly rock scrapings.

The southern trunk was pretty sporting. A short ways in there was a 3m climb up a crumbly wall, aided by a fixed rope. Further in past that was another dicey traverse by some deep pits, once again aided by a fixed rope. The rope had been broken half-way, so it wasn't immediately clear to us how this portion was done, but we figured it out and even tied the two ends together to make a nice handline for the traverse. Mostly the passage was a good walking passage, and dry. There were numerous small leads off to either side which we stopped and took time to explore. I got pretty muddy going in one of them. We were looking for the lead which had been dug out by Hal Love in the 90's and opened up 3 miles of additional cave passage. We didn't know what we were looking for though, and were never sure if we had found it. The trunk passage we were in had survey marks labeling it as the F passage, and carbide markings dating back to the late 60's. It ended at a nice little pool (and some additional muddy crawls which we declined to investigate).

On our way out, we tested one lead with a nasty, tight and awkward z-bend. Natalie was first to get through, and got excited about possibly being on virgin cave. I followed (painfully) but there wasn't space enough for us both to be at the end of her lead. Mitch deemed the tight -bend to be beyond his comfort zone. Eventually, Natalie returned saying that the lead might go a bit further on with some more digging. Something for another day. I exited the z-bend in crazy style, contorting my body in painful ways, with my head smooshed to the ground, and my hips and legs sprawled up to the ceiling. Mitch got some video which I'm hoping to get access to.

When we got to the entrance sinkhole, the sun had already set, but it was still twilight. Rather than exit immediately, we walked a short ways into the North entrance-passage. Our earlier thoughts about cave condition were confirmed, there was a lot more trash and graffiti in this part of the cave, at least near the entrance where we were looking. What's worse, we found some fresh rock scratching graffitti from the kids who had entered just before us. They even dated their graffiti. Made me kind of pissed at them, because actions like theirs is what can cause bad landowner relations. And I stayed pissed at them even after we started climbing out the sinkhole and found that they had indeed left their rope for us to use. Ok, so they are generous about sharing their rope, but they are still idiots for marking their names in the cave. Sheesh. It was good and dark by the time we got out, but we had only been underground for about 5 hours. Not a long trip, but definitely a good one. A few days later Natalie sent me a pdf of the cave map, and there is a tone more to explore to this cave. We had utterly missed Hal Love's "recent" discoveries and their appear to be miles of awesome cave left to explore. It's always fun to have something like this to look forward to.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Some recent caving adventures

I've already written about some recent caving adventures on my other journals. But some links here seemed appropriate. Some of these may not be publicly view-able though.

Reviving this Blog

This blog was always intended to be a simple climbing journal I keep for myself. As my climbing activities have dwindled, and I've starting doing other adventurous activities, the psots here have become less and less. I am adventuring less than I once was, but that is fairly natural considering my life stage. I have a family now, and my leisure time is no longer so focused on the adventures I want to have, but shared with them. But I still have some adventures and would like to continue writing about them. So I'm expanding the scope of this blog slightly to include other adventures.

My geocaching adventures I write about on a different blog already. And my Family Blog (which is open by invite only) is still the best place to capture Family Adventures. Everything else I will try to capture here. For now, that mainly means Caving!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Blue Spring Cave: Fear Chasm

Abby and Matt in BSC

A return trip to Blue Spring Cave. I had contacted Natalie about going caving since it was forecast to be cold. Nothing like being underground in a warm cave when it is icy cold above ground. I was game to visit any cave, but Natalie wanted to go back to Blue Spring Cave, so taht's where we went. We were joined by three other cavers: Abby Harmon, the Chair/Pres of the East Tennessee Grotto of which I am a member. Abby's boyfriend Matt Tomlinson, who is the Chair of the Smoky Mountain Grotto. And a caver and geologist named Sarah, who recently moved to Knoxville to do her Masters. A better group of cavers you couldn't ask for. Our destination for this trip was the Root Cellar, but we were also open to exploring other areas beyond that if we were feeling up for it.

Natalie led the way in, taking us through Johnson Hall and the Ships Prow. I tried to keep an eye out for the BO junction, but without Natalia pointing it out I never would have noticed it. It is very inconspicuous. We saw a handful of bats on the walls, but nothing like what we saw at the Drive In Cave. The main passage, which goes through Tamra's Hall and Buckner's Borehole is very large in most places, and has a lot of complicated climbing over break down. It was nothing like the easy walking passages of the M branch that we did on my last trip. Even so, we made pretty good time and were soon taking a break in the breakdown area where we would connect to the root cellar. This junction is not at all obvious, and involves squirming down through breakdown boulders. Before doing this, we checked out the main passageway continuation which would lead to Thunder Falls, one of our possible destinations. No one in the group had been that way before, so it was enticing to scout the passages a bit. But we didn't want to go that way until after exploring the root cellar.
Chert roots in the Root Cellar

The nature of the cave changes quite a bit once you reach the passages around the root cellar. Instead of giant borehole with breakdown, the passages are smaller, maybe 10' high at most and only as wide as a body length. Smaller, but still quite comfortable. There were also a lot of little side passages that branched off in both directions. We checked out a few of these which were crawls, and I succeeded in getting very muddy. The survey markers were FCK and if I ever get my hands on the BSC mapbook, I'll try to look up exactly where we were. The root cellar itself was pretty awesome, with the chert tubes leftover from ancient crustacean burrows. None of the pictures I took really capture them. It was definitely cool.
Fixed Rope traverse..Fear Chasm?

The passage at the end of the root cellar peters out to a low muddy belly crawl, that Matt declared passable. However, no one seemed keen on pressing it any further, so we turned back to check out the Parallel Worlds passages. Parallel worlds, as the name suggests, is a passageway that is initially parallel to the root cellar. There are even a few small window connections between the two, which makes for funny photo ops. one of these openings is just large enough to squeeze through, and Matt and I both tried our luck in it. I needed some help getting through, but made it through, earning some nice ribcage bruises for my effort.
Matt doing the window squeeze between Root Cellar and Parallel Worlds
Natalie climbs the 15' pit past Fear Chasm
We continued to explore passages beyond Parallel Worlds for a while, after dropping our packs. We passed a fixed rope traverse that we assumed was Fear Chasm.Abby and Sarah both decided not to tackle this traverse, as it was kind of exposed. While they stayed beyond Natalie, Matt and I forged ahead. We got split up a bit, when Matt stopped to check out a pit. I ended up sticking close to Natalie as we continued down narrow stoop/crawl passages that just kept going and going. We eventually encountered another pit. A 15' downclimb landed us int he bottom of the pit, where there was a fixed rope leading up the other side. We didn't have gear to climb the rope, but found going passage at the bottom of the pit and kept going for another hundred yards before finally deciding to turn around. Splitting up the group in the cave was making me nervous. On the way back I talked through my fears, and then Natalie reassured me that we'd be able to figure out where everyone was once we got back to where we dropped packs. Fortunately, we caught up to Matt, and then Sarah and Abby and were all together again.
Matt lights up some Alien writing on a cave wall in Parallel Worlds

We backtracked as far as the main passage where the junction to Thunder Falls was, then sat down for a break and some snacks. Abby put on some David Bowie music, which was a fitting tribute to the Rock Star who passed away just days earlier. We munched and sand, and then decided that it was late enough that we weren't goin to explore any further. We were still hours from the entrance and it was time to head out. The return trip was pretty uneventful. Abby attempted to lead us out, to test her knowledge of the cave route, and was mostly pretty successful. I wonder if I would have been as good at navigating through the big breakdown passages. Perhaps some day I'll find out.
Chert root in the Root Cellar