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