April 18, 2013

Noboru, Laura, Tom, and Adam left Chicago at 9 pm for our most excellent adventure to Huntsville Alabama to find some of the worlds most famous pit caves TAG has to offer.  We drove through the night stopping off at Denny's at 1 am to bring action upon the zombie shift with orders of fresh cut salads and fine sandwich's.  We left the establishment and drove through the night which got us only a few hours of sleep upon entering Monte Sano state park around 7 am.  We slept in the car and waited to get our admission pass to enter the group campground and the waiver for the natural well pit cave on the property ( our first TAG pit at 194 ft with cave passage).  We set up camp and prepared for the cold rainy conditions with tarps over our tents and a kitchen setup after our journeys.
 (thank you Phil), we missed you man!!. 
After our set up we went to get food and got a short cut route from the main office to the natural well.  Knowing I got exactly 2 and a half hours of sleep and about to drop one of our biggest pits of the trip gave me a smile on my face thinking this is going to be one bad ass weekend!
   We walked down the short cut ridge to the pit entrance which was on a trail that bikers and runners take but the only rig point was across the trail where people could run right into the rope.  We made sure at least one person was on the surface at all times with walkie talkies to communicate with the bottom party.  Noboru and Tom were the first to go down and everything went great. I heard a boom sound from the surface but I brushed it off as a series of rocks that they might have slipped on.  Time kept ticking by and I ended up going down to see if they were ok and so we can get things moving a bit more.   The mouth of the cave looked a bit bigger than what I am use to but once I got on rop and over the lip to start my decent WWHHAAA!!!! the shaft opened up and the smooth slab rock with patches of moss gave this grey/bluish pit a very respectful presence.  The decent gave me a chance to not only ponder the size but knowing that there are pits bigger than this in TAG gave me that welcome to TAG feeling I was expecting!!!!!


As I got down Laura said a family showed up with their traditional rock throwing event that seems to happen at natural well a lot.   Thankfully she was at the top and had to explain that there are people at the bottom so don't throw rocks! geez. We went down into the canyon passage passing by a beautiful waterfall and smooth cream colored walls carved like they were stone monuments for a cathedral. We got to the crawl passage and I made the decision to turn shortly after we entered as I did not bring my knee pads.   We started to climb out and I took my time ascending the rope thinking to myself how beautiful this pit is and how I am just hanging on a thread of rope with ascenders and a harness holding me,  listening to every crackly sound my harness was making when I worked my way up to the top. I felt very alive at this point in time and it was a beautiful moment! 


We got out of the pit in good time, checked in with our grotto, and went back to the campsite to meet Colin and prepare for dinner.  We cooked up dinner and sat around a fire talking to Colin (mainly Colin telling us some of his excellent stories) about his Mexico trips and other amazing caving trips he has done.   We got to sleep early knowing it was going to drop down to 26 degrees which was going to make the following morning an interesting DAY 2. 
We all got up quick and got into the car at around 730 AM,  got coffee, breakfast,  and made our way to the Cagles Chasm system.  We spent most of the day at Cagles Chasm as we hiked up a small mountain and split up into smaller groups to rig the three pit caves ( Cagles Chasm 184 ft , Jeep side 110 ft, and Shallow 90 ft Pit). This allowed all of us to go from one cave to the next faster.   We lined the pads, rigged the ropes, and descended into the chasms large gaping pit.  The bottom was bigger than natural well and had another drop bolted which Noboru dropped that lead into a dome room. 


I really enjoyed this one and climbing out was also a charm by giving you a nice twilight reflection off the rock geology as well as the integrity of the pit itself.  Jeep side was smaller but the formations were absolutely beautiful!!! The drapery just below the drop was very dynamic and had a lot of charter, not to mention the massive stalagmite growing in the middle of the dome.
 NICE!!!!!!  There was also a window over looking cagles which was interesting to go down and see people climbing up cagles from a differnt point of view.  There was another dome room with a large stalagmite / flow stone formation which I went around and found a small pool of water.  I took off my shoes and walked across the mud to a ledge that had a rope rigged for a small drop to a waterfall which I went to and it was beautiful!!! 
 I could also hear Tom and Noboru in Shallow pit so I knew that these three pits (as I'm sure it is pretty known) are all connected and could be rigged as such.  That's really cool!  I ascended up jeep side and dropped into Shallow pit which was a 90 ft drop and was a nice pit but compared to everything else, it didn't seem more than just a pit to drop into.  We decided we had enough time to pack up and make it over to Neversink for a nighttime drop in the a TAG classic!   

 We got to visit the city of rocks before which is a field of painted rock formations.  We had fun visiting the site and went to climb the mountain to get to neversink before darkness rolled in.  We rigged the massive sink hole and descended this monster with the sound of a waterfall flowing in a tranquil harmonic tone.  We got to the bottom and I lit up the waterfall with all the lights I had so we could get a different point of view of neversink.  Afterwards, our tired bodies ascended the rope and we got back to the campsite around 10 pm.  Sleep was on our minds but we quickly made dinner, re packed for the following day and quickly went to sleep for DAY 3. 


We were dreading the weather forecast for the following day as it was showing rain all day and cold temps.  We met up with two more cavers Chris Hacker and bob Ausdenmore.   Chris, Colin, and Bob have a lot of experience caving together in TAG, Mexico, and have done EL CAP in California, so it was nice to be joining a great team of experienced cavers!  We were offered to stay at the hotel room they got which was a great moral booster for everyone. Something about a warm dry roof over our heads makes a days end more favorable to look forward to.  We all geared up and rolled out to War Eagle Cave.  It took us some time to find the cave as there was no trail so we ridge lined the area until we were able to find the cave.  War Eagle has a 135 ft drop into a two mile walking stream cave passage.  It was a small entrance but after rigging and making our decent into the pit, the atmosphere changed. It was like going down an elevator like tour of sorts I made my descent on rope through the different stratification's of rock and formations made over 1000's of years.


We got to the bottom and found our way across the stream into decorated rooms, over breakdown, and following the large highway like tunnel passage upstream to where the ceiling gets lower and the water gets deeper. 


 I continued on into the water until my core was exposed and the chill of 54 degree cave water started to settle in. I turned knowing that the rest of the party will not want to get cold. 


It was a beautiful experience and also interesting to learn that the downstream was surveyed by a cave diver up to where the cave re surges out of the mountain as a waterfall and into a river. 
 Afterwards we went for traditional TAG Mexican food for drinks dinner along with a debrief of the day that we had. 

          The last day of caving for us we woke up early to get back out to Pipe side Pit, Stevens Gap, and to Pretty Well. We got to the parking space for Stevens gap and made our traverse to pipe side pit.  this was a short 70 ft drop and everyone was able to make it down but me.  I was having rack problems and confused as to why I was having these issues.  I think it was a combination of lack of sleep, wet rope, and not paying complete attention to what I was doing so I got off rope.  We got to Stevens gap and we were welcomed with a large waterfall over the cliff down 150 to the bottom of a pit cavern along with another bore hole blasting water out which was an AMAZING SITE TO SEE!!! I am so glad everyone got to see this as it reminded me of Puerto Rico and the waterfall cave entrances out there. 

Everyone made it down and once again I was having rack issues with the same result.  Colin let me use his rack and said "everyone gets a ride here" so I got right back on rope and finally I was able to get this going.  I have since got a new rack with a 90 degree twist which makes the configuration much more comfortable for me.   I took my time coming down as the waterfalls raged around me, feeling the mist from the water, and watching the hydrology at its best!!! love waterfall caves!!! When I got to the bottom water was trickling everywhere. It was pouring over the rocks and into the lower section of the cave. This was my highlight!!!!!!! We only had a small amount of time to stay so I  was not able to check out any of the side passages but I want to come back.  I took pictures as Noboru and Bob climbed in tandem and everyone else made it up rope.

I had to climb up this one and once on rope, I was able to pendulum off the bench and out into the drop.   This was the best climb I have ever had which allowed us to take in the beauty of the waterfall and the geology of this true natural wonder.  Everyone seemed to have a special moment for themselves climbing Stevens Gap and it is one I will never forget. We de rigged and swiftly made it to the mountain side where Pretty Well was located. 


Pretty Well was the last pit cave and at 208 ft with some cave passage to explore, it was a bitter sweet ending as well as a emotional ending to a wonderful experience.
I want to personally thank Colin Gatland, Bob Ausdenmore, and Chris Hacker for the amazing experience we had in TAG.  We dropped around 1000 ft of rope and had a blast doing it!!!!  These guys were extremely helpful, knowledgeable, and just great guys all around.  They made our TAG experience one we will never forget.  I hope one day we will be able to return the favor and pass on the tradition to a worthy group of future cavers so they can learn the ropes of caving in TAG! We will see you guys this summer!!!!


To see all the pictures from TAG 2013 go to:

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