Early December Caving in T.A.G.

12:25 p.m. on December 23, 2016 (EST)
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I have friends who live in the heart of caving regions. I literally know a guy who goes out and finds new caves in Missouri after work every afternoon. While I could say I'm "envious" of such access, the truth is when I go caving it's an event. It's a journey. It takes planning, arranging days off work, finding places to stay. I wish I could cave more. I wish caves were more accessible in Illinois. But I like the fact that each trip is an experience that stays with me long after it is over.

In early December, I joined with two other cavers to travel to T.A.G. (Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia) for three days. Specifically, we traveled to Bridgeport, AL. In fact, the home we stayed in was in the "backyard" of Russel Cave National Monument. 

15235370_10154052931946129_5754249618025One of 2 caves behind the house where we were staying. This cave was accessible (although we never went in). The other cave is actually an alternative entrance to Russel's Cave National Monument and would be a felony to enter. 

On the first day of our trip, we drove to the base of one of many Cumberland/Appalachian Mountains in Alabama, and started hiking towards the top. We were told if we had summitted the peak, we would have crossed into Tennessee. 



Don't blink, or you'll miss the hole near this natural bridge. Welcome to McBride's Cave!


McBride's Cave was an amazing experience. Nine vertical drops ranging from 28'-90'. This was a pull-down trip, meaning, we take our rope with us. After the first drop, there is no go back up. You must continue going down until you reach the bottom of the mountain. 

FB_IMG_1482507481005.jpgRalph coming down the first drop. 

FB_IMG_1482507469976.jpgThis is a pull-down anchor point. The rope is put through the ring attached to the bottom bolt. The chain and upper bolt are backups. (Note, the two older bolts no longer used.) Then the rappel is either going down on a double rope (see pic above), or the rope is tied with a butterfly knot on a 'biner to prevent it from passing through the ring (see pic below). Once down, cavers pull down the side of the rope the knot is on to retrieve it.

FB_IMG_1482507170669.jpgMe on one of the drops in McBride's Cave.

FB_IMG_1482507534387.jpgLooking back up after a rappel.

FB_IMG_1482507460534.jpgRalph coming down the first drop. 

FB_IMG_1482507220054.jpgTodd photographed this lovely cave salamander. 

15403854_1104435859653945_45882479998161Rigging into the 5th drop in McBride's Cave.

FB_IMG_1482507190659.jpgWe were wearing wetsuits and polypro for the wetter portions of the cave, but I was definitely overheating after a few drops. Todd snapped this pic of me stripped down while we waited for Ralph to descend. 

FB_IMG_1482507499187.jpgAs much fun as the drops were, the last 1/2 mile(?) out of the cave is a hands & knees crawl over chert rock embedded in the limestone. This translates into your pack being caught if you try to drag it behind you. Really unenjoyable.

On the surface, I discovered I managed to drown my camera in a wet passage. So I don't have pictures of our visits to Iliad Cave & Sinking Cove Cave. Iliad was a down & up trip. Sinking Cove another pull down. 

There are so many pits & caves in T.A.G. that I want to visit. I can only wait with anticipation to the next trip. 

12:33 p.m. on December 23, 2016 (EST)
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Just realized the pic of me in the wetsuit was actual Sinking Cove on the last day of the trip. Todd & Ralph opted not to wear wetsuits in this cave, since you don't need them until the very bottom (You literally swim out of the cave.). I was warm, but I don't regret wearing it.

6:04 p.m. on December 23, 2016 (EST)
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Awesome trip!! I haven't been in a cave in years, used to have a lot of fun doing it though.

10:23 a.m. on December 24, 2016 (EST)
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Still wonder if I could do this..The crawling on your belly and squirming through a hole to get to the room is just not so appealing...I figure with my luck I get stuck lol But the pictures are grand. I been in caves that you walk around but none that you have  to crawl around...But thanks for sharing these are cool...

6:09 p.m. on December 25, 2016 (EST)
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I must say, Jeffery, your TRs are as enjoyable as they are unique, here on TS.  So the pic of the pull down bolt station had me wondering: how does one know which bolts are the retired ones?  Open air routes I've done the old bolts are removed or rendered unusable, or otherwise clearly identified as such on popular routes, albeit there are plenty of old bolts along obscure routes.

I was also wondering why McBride's is a no turn back route - is that an equipment issue?


10:29 p.m. on December 25, 2016 (EST)
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You can tell a retired bolt by the way it looks. In this case, the pull down ring tells you what you want.

As far as being a pull down,  it's both the fun of doing a "through trip" and the work of carrying extra ropes. To go back up, we would have carried 9 ropes totalling hundreds of feet. That translates to both weight and bulk crawling through passages.

The next day, we did Iliad Cave, which is a down and up. We didn't even attempt to bottom out the cave, because we didn't want to carry that much rope up the mountain, through the cave, and back down the mountain. 

8:32 a.m. on December 26, 2016 (EST)
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With a pulldown trip, you just carry one rope long enough to do all the drops. Or two shorter ropes that can be tied together for the longest pull down. 

11:34 a.m. on December 26, 2016 (EST)
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I always enjoy your caving reports and photos Goose. Thanks.

9:12 a.m. on December 27, 2016 (EST)
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Nice! Excellent report. Gave me the itch to get back underground! I have had several buddies who worked at The Lost Sea and would go yearly to TAG. I always wished to, but never made the trip. When they worked at The Lost Sea we spent many hours exploring nearly every square inch of the cave. Not to mention many after hour trips "sailing the lost sea" on the glass bottom boats. All of my caving is done locally, but we have a few pretty good ones. The favorite is Morgan Cave which has a 4-5 hour thru trip with lots of great crawls.

January 28, 2020
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