February 20, 2014

Laura Sangaila in Stephens Gap Alabama

We all got up a little later as the trip the night before went north of 15 hours of solid caving. We woke up sore and in need of breakfast so we fired up our stoves and got ready for a classical place, one of my favorite places, Stephens gap! We make it to the trailhead and there were people getting ready to drop the gap even before we got there. We all shared our ropes so everyone was able to get on rope to drop down to the bottom of the waterfall and onto the platform with three options to choose from. People can also walk out of this cave so if you don't feel like ascending (which I do not recommend), it is an option.
Stephens Gap
Kevin was the first to drop down into the falls.  After about 10 minutes, he ran up and said to me the waterfall is raging at the bottom and gave me this look as if I was sure I wanted to go down there. "ON ROPE!" I said as I have been waiting to get down to the bottom of this hurricane waterfall key line cove madness room for a long time!!
Brian Hunsaker and Justin Thompson looking at the bottom of the waterfall Stephens Gap
I get over the edge and look at the waterfalls raging away below me. As I descended down, I could start to feel the water vapor turn into water drops than into rain which quickly turned into solid rain.  I was about 20ft. from the ground and the water was hammering down on me like a firehouse at times! The pressure of the water and the direction the wind that was created from the water in this circular collection pit was like a hurricane. It was awesome!!!
Laura Sangaila and an unknown person at Stephens Gap Alabama
There are a lot of people that take pictures of this place and there are a lot of amazing photos on Stephens Gap so it is always nice to get some good pics of this place.

Laura Sangaila at Stephens Gap
I climbed back out on rope and pendulum across to another rope and onto the platform so I could stay down.  Laura and I check out the side passages around Stephens Gap.  They didn't go to far but some of the rooms had some pretty interesting canyon waterfall drops. One room had a ragging waterfall coming from a passage 20ft. above us.  We came back out and I proceeded to go to the top of the passage and check out the main resurgence.  To my Surprise, there was more cave at the top so I worked my way through and around some bends until it got to a point where there were a few small holes too small for me to fit through.  I wanted to see if there were any dive opportunities but these holes were too small for me to fit through.  I would not be able to fit through even if it was a no mount configuration.

Inside the upper passage of Stephens Gap Alabama
I came back down and checked on everyone else so see what they wanted to do.  We decided to de rig the ropes and make our heading towards our last cave, Moses Tomb.  Kevin and Justin had to leave for Indiana so we exchanged our goodbyes and we went our separate directions.  After about an hours worth of driving, we arrive at the property that had a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains.  We parked the car and started our journey to Moses Tomb.  We got to the bus and I checked my cords, It appeared the cave wasn't that far and if we were to make a B line to the cave we should be there shortly.  This decision turned out to be a pretty bad one as the terrain drastically changed to thick dead branches, thorny vines that grabbed at your clothing with each step you made, and a dis orienting feeling of wondering which direction to go.  Thankfully it was still light out and we were going up, yet we had to choose which dead bush we should dodge around first to get to the next foot step.  Something must have come through this mountain wiping out everything in its path.  It appears that a tornado came through since there was man made debris laying around the mountain that we would encounter.  After inching our way closer to what appeared to be the longest 1/4 mile hike in Alabama, we get to a small ridge and line that to the way point.  Here we are, well not really.  Now we can not find the cave.  The cords did not bring us to the entrance...shit!! We continued to look around and turned up nothing so I made the decision to go down the rocky wash as it was a bit easier to traverse and hopefully we will find a trail that would either lead us to the cave or back out. Once we got down to a confluence we found another wash that led us right to the cave entrance. 
Entrance to Moses Tomb Alabama

Man that was one hell of find!!! The next challenge was to rig and trust a pair of dead trees that would hold us in place so we could drop this 230 ft. pit. We rig a tension less anchor to a fallen tree and backed it up to another tree.  feeling moderately comfortable with the rigging, we made the decision to drop and pad our way down to the bottom of the pit.  There was no cave passage down here so we quickly ascended and got out in reasonable time.
Brian Hunsaker climbing up the 230 ft Moses Tomb

As I was ascending my Croll was starting to slip and on a 230 ft climb, this is not the place for these issues to come up.  regardless, I made sure I set the teeth in each time I made a revolution and eventually I got to the top.  We de Rig and start our descent down to the valley below.
Noboru Sakabe Ascending out of Moses Tomb Alabama
We get about Half way whacking through the bush and following yellow tape along the rock wash only to realize that I do not have my GPS unit!!! AAGGHHH!! I was not happy about that at all and I made the decision to continue on without it as I didn't want to keep everyone waiting.  I am hoping the next group that visits the cave will return it to me. I hope!!!!  We start to question our route but river (wet or dry) always lead to people and leads into the valley where we want to be but we couldn't see anything ahead of us except for more dead trees.  We turned our lights off to identify the terrain and the ridge around us which was a bit of help so we continued to follow the wash.  Eventually we came up on the old bus that we passed when we made our hike up the mountain so we knew we were on the home stretch into the valley and back to the car!!! it was a great feeling to get back to the car and reflect on what an amazing TAG trip we had let alone what an adventure it was just to get to the final drop at Moses Tomb.
I want to thank Kevin romanak, Justin Thompson, Noboru Sakabe, Laura Sangaila, and Brian Hunsaker for the team work, great memories, and one hell of a trip we had together!! It was a blast and one I will never forget. The next morning we went to the Liberty Café to sign the cave log and start our journey back to Chicago.
Brian Hunsaker in Moses Tomb Alabama

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