End of 2017 Caving Trip

10:12 a.m. on January 3, 2018 (EST)
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Day 2--Alabama Caving

Fear... I was processing near-paralyzing fear, as I stared down the 190' pit below me. Less than twenty-four hours earlier, I had bounced a deeper pit, but that pit was in the dark, in the shadows. Here on the rim of Natural Well Cave, I was in broad daylight. I could see every detail. I could see all the way to the bottom. I could see how crazy this was.

"I hate this," I muttered to myself. "Why am I even doing this?" I asked.

Surprisingly, a female voice responded, "I don't know. Why ARE you doing this?" 

I didn't realize I had said it so loud. I didn't realize anyone would hear my doubt. 

I had no answer, no response. I only had a choice--get off the rope and regret it, or step off the ledge and face my fear. 

And so I stepped off the ledge. 

20171230_133712.jpgThe view at the top of Natural Well

20171230_115247.jpgMy friend Ralph descending Natural Well.
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20171230_124104.jpgView from the bottom of Natural Well.


Day 1--Alabama Caving

Twenty-four hours before facing Natural Well, five cavers (3 from Illinois, 1 from Tennessee, and 1 from Colorado) met in the Coosa Valley of the Appalchians and hiked up to a tiny hole on the side of a mountain. This was was the unimpressive entrance to Moses' Tomb Cave

20171229_100512.jpgPasture in the Coosa Valley.

20171229_103028.jpgStanding at the unimpressive entrance to Moses' Tomb.
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20171229_123753.jpgMike from Colorado squeezing into Moses' Tomb.

I imagine the folks who first found this tiny hole in the ground weren't expecting much. What they found was a 228' deep pit, with a gigantic 175' flow stone formation. 

As you look at the pictures below, does the formation not seem like a momument to an ancient Egyptian ruler?

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20171229_192141.jpgThe dot of light at the top of this pic is the entrance hole we squeezed in from. 


Day 3--Alabama Caving (New Year's Eve)

VALHALLA

From the Encylopedia Brittanica...

Valhalla--The hall of slain warriors, who live there blissfully under the leadership of the god Odin. Valhalla is depicted as a splendid palace, roofed with shields, where the warriors feast on the flesh of a boar slaughtered daily and made whole again each evening. They drink liquor that flows from the udders of a goat, and their sport is to fight one another every day.

Thus they will live until the Ragnarök (Doomsday), when they will march out the 540 doors of the palace to fight at the side of Odin against the giants. When heroes fall in battle it is said that Odin needs them to strengthen his forces for the Ragnarök.

As intemidating as Natural Well was, it was a mere hole in the ground compared to massive Valhalla. The 227' deep pit could house all of Odin's warriors and still have room for more. 


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20171231_123840.jpgNote the caver on rope in the above pic.

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Behind these cavers lies miles of passages. We spent four hours in the mountain. We squeezed through tight crawlways. We climbed 200' domes and then rappelled through "windows" 100' off the cave floor. Before our return to the pit, we encountered a 160' waterfall cascading down from heights unseen. 

It took nearly 2 hours for the five of us to climb back out of the pit. We hiked back to the trucks under a full moon, as temps dropped into the teens.  

New Year's Eve came and went. I could care less about a ball drop. I'll take the rope drop over it any time!

11:02 a.m. on January 3, 2018 (EST)
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I love these reports...

hey I bet it was much warmer down in there than it was for surface dwellers that were outside. :)

11:29 a.m. on January 3, 2018 (EST)
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Patman said:

I love these reports...

hey I bet it was much warmer down in there than it was for surface dwellers that were outside. :)

 Yes it was!

A cave's temperature is the annual average temp of the surface. Down in Alabama, that's probably around 60-62F. (In Illinois it's 54-56F)

1:21 p.m. on January 3, 2018 (EST)
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Awesome!

8:35 a.m. on January 4, 2018 (EST)
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Thanks for the perspective from below ground - I always enjoy your cave reports.

9:00 a.m. on January 4, 2018 (EST)
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Goose, ignorant question here but how do you get back up that single rope? do you use an ascension device of some kind?

9:22 a.m. on January 4, 2018 (EST)
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Patman said:

Goose, ignorant question here but how do you get back up that single rope? do you use an ascension device of some kind?

 There are different types of systems, but they all rely on mechanical ascenders that will only go up the rope. (We do all the work, so don't think "mechanical" does it for us. Mechanical simply means we aren't using old school prusik knots to ascend rope.)

The two main systems are Rope Walker & Frog. I frog, because the system is much cheaper, but it is harder. I was really pleased that I was frogging out of 227' pits in only 11-14 minutes. One person in our group was taking 35-40 minutes for the same distance. Rope Walkers were taking about 10 minutes on average. 

Here's a video I shot of my friend Ralph frogging out of a pit in 2014

11:43 a.m. on January 4, 2018 (EST)
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I don't think the first picture would put fear in me.Now the small hole one makes me wonder cause I really cant see down.That's the one that would make me think things over.

12:02 p.m. on January 4, 2018 (EST)
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denis daly said:

I don't think the first picture would put fear in me.Now the small hole one makes me wonder cause I really cant see down.That's the one that would make me think things over.

 For me, there is a psychological relief in being able to reach out and touch the wall. Plus, when you can't see all the way to the bottom, it doesn't seem so far down. It's only psychological, because if you fall, you die (You can grab at that wall all you want, but you're going to die.)

The big open pit lets you see it all, and you don't have the psychological comfort of the walls surrounding you. 

1:05 p.m. on January 4, 2018 (EST)
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Great article. Made me nervous just looking at the pictures.  I have to try out that kind of adventure soon.

2:14 p.m. on January 4, 2018 (EST)
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G00SE said:

 

For me, there is a psychological relief in being able to reach out and touch the wall. Plus, when you can't see all the way to the bottom, it doesn't seem so far down. It's only psychological, because if you fall, you die (You can grab at that wall all you want, but you're going to die.)

The big open pit lets you see it all, and you don't have the psychological comfort of the walls surrounding you. 

 

The risks we all choose to take, or not, are funny aren't they. We all have different reasoning behind what we deem "safe" and "unsafe". For instance- I've been asked by friends or whomever a couple times whether or not I'd like to go skydiving or bungee jumping. My answer is always "no, not a chance". They all think of me as the outdoor, adventurous type so it comes as a bit of a shock and is always followed by "but you ice climb and rock climb and climb mountains in the winter?" My fear is always in the unknown of the equipment quality being used. I don't know how that bungee jumping rope was treated- was it left out in the sun? is it seven years old? Basically I don't feel like I have control over the situation I think. Who knows, maybe I'm just justifying being a chicken!

Sorry for the side rant.

Also love these TR's Goose, keep em coming!

3:03 p.m. on January 4, 2018 (EST)
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Jake, I COMPLETELY agree. I run a high ropes course with zip lines, but I'll never skydive. With my other activities, there are many risks, but I can check a knot, a rope, a piece of equipment. With a parachute, I have to trust that someone packed a chute I can't see correctly. 

4:03 p.m. on January 4, 2018 (EST)
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Wow, very impressive, thanks for sharing.

8:45 p.m. on January 4, 2018 (EST)
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Since I jumped out of airplanes for a living at one time and fast roped out of helicopters I would say both you jake and goose.With the activities you do and work makes perfect sense to me why you choose not to do those things.I been climbing since I was 15,,I was hesitant at some things not by fear but common sense...

1:30 p.m. on January 9, 2018 (EST)
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Super awesome!

1:39 p.m. on January 9, 2018 (EST)
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This is awesome. Thanks for sharing!

September 21, 2018
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