December 04, 2014

Predrag and Phil watching Ken climbing fantastic Pit in Ellisons Cave  Georgia
6am strikes the clock on a cold but sunny Saturday morning in Dalton Georgia as we start to prepare for a cave system that test the limits of everyone in the group.  Pigeon Mountain is a small mountain in Georgia that is home to one of the worlds best cave system known as Ellison's Cave.  What makes this system unusually interesting is that it is home to a number of deep in-cave pits including warm-up 100-12-150ft pits, Smokey 1 and Smokey 2 pits ranging up to 500 ft. the more popular 440ft. incredible pit, and the famous 586ft. Fantastic Pit.  Last year I drove down from Chicago with a group out motivated cavers to meet up with another group of cavers to do a crossover trip, meaning we started at opposite sides of the cave and crossed paths in the cave and climbed up each others rigged ropes that we rappelled from.  Ellison's Cave System has multiple levels of passages, amazing crystal and mineral rooms including the angel hair room with gypsum needles and the north and south pole rooms which contain a translucent Ice Calcite formation which is one of the biggest specimens of Ice Calcite I have ever seen.
Here is the trip report from the Crossover trip:
This time around I am leading a trip to Fantastic Pit and rigging the drop with the rest of my crew in what became a 12hr. journey into my groups physical and mental limitations as well as how they broke through their "glass-ceiling" challenges while practicing safe and conservative cave practices.
 Adam Haydock, Phil Goldman, Dorian Goldman, Ken Williams, Laura Sangaila, and Cody Miller drove to the blue hole at the end of blue hole road and started to get set up for the hike up the mountain. I remember having the hike take about an hour so I wanted to give it about that much time so we could get up there quickly.  We began our hike up and noticed that there was a beaten path leading us in the direction that I had my way point on which was a big help.  After about 30 minutes we made it within 150ft of the entrance and I quickly was able to find the Dug entrance to Ellison's cave and what is known as the ecstasy passage as it is all walking to the warm up pit.   Before this entrance was open, people use to have to take another hour from another entrance and crawl their way through into the ecstasy passage.  We got ready and made our way over the warm up pit, rigged into the bolts with steel biners and started to descend down the 120ft warm up pit. Laura and Cody decided to leave early so we had two less people in the group. 
After everyone got down, I made my way up the breakdown piles with the mainline and a backpack to the 30ft climb.  I made my way around the area to see where the balcony was and I noticed multiple levels of canyon passages and a path in the direction as to where the balcony was located. I came back and ascended up the rope with the backpack and the 670ft of rope with a 2 to1 haul system using the pre rigged rope tied onto my body to make the weighted climb a bit easier. Once I got to the top everyone else started to come up and I ventured over the breakdown traverses to the top of the clearly visible but inconspicuous Fantastic Pit.  It really doesn't look like much from the top but once you get past the balcony level, it opens up, substantially!

Phil Descending Fantastic Pit Ellisons Cave

To get around to the rig point for fantastic, we had to traverse around a very exposed clay/mud bank by clipping into rope and crawling around a ledge to a place where we can all get set up.  We rig the gear to the rope and traverse it around the ledge so people did not have to carry so much stuff with them and weight themselves towards the drop. one slip and the steep slope would cast you into the depths of Ellisons Fantastic Pit. Phil and I Rig into the ceiling and back it up to other local bolts, we feed the rope down and clip in to start our descents. Predrag is the first to go down while I gather what kind of camera gear I am going to use on this trip.  The night before, we had some adjustments to the gear selection and placement which changed a few things around for me. But I rigged a powerful flashlight into the bolts at the top to light the fog cloud and the shadows from the top down.  I clip into the safety and clip into the main line as I lift the 50lb rope and thread it through my rack.  My I didn't feel as anxious as I did the first time I did this but I did take a few deep breaths as I stepped over the edge and swung out into the 586 freefell.

Fantastic Pit Ellisons Cave Georgia

 I pop two bars off and start my descent down slowly as I passed the balcony.  Once I got past 100ft I noticed the vertical passage bell out and a enormous fissure crack with consecutive dome rooms in the distance that I never noticed before.  I also noticed a house sized boulder leaning into the wall which was quite a sobering sight to see.  I could see tiny light that looked like distant stars as a continued to descend through the fog cloud and as my ears started to pop from the elevation loss. Eventually the lights became more identifiable as well as the silhouette of Predrag as I made my final descent and contact with the rocky bottom.  phew!! what a crazy place this is. 

Ellisons Cave Fantastic Pit Georgia

Ken descending Fantastic Pit, Ellisons cave

Ken came down the rope a changed man before I got on rope as he tempted himself to not do what he was about to do a few times and I am sure everyone else had the same feeling before they got on rope. Dorian stayed at the top as he felt that it was too much of a climb for him at this point so Phil got on rope and started to descend down.
Phil descending fantastic Pit Georgia
Phil attached a bunch of Christmas lights to him as he descended which looked like the grench took Christmas lights to the bottom of the cave and stashed them away.  Hilarious! I was wondering what that red tail was that was hanging off of him.

Ken Descending Fantastic Pit, ellsions Cave

So here we are, all at the bottom of fantastic pit.  I wanted to hang out for a bit and take some more pictures so Ken was the first one to ascend up the rope which took him 30 something minutes.  I got a pic of him from directly below him which looks like he is 50ft. from me but is actually over 300ft. off the ground.

Ken More than half way up in Fantastic Pit, Ellisons Cave Georgia

After Ken got off rope at the top, Phil climbed tandem to save a little bit of time and have the experience of climbing fantastic on tandem.  I am not the biggest fan of tandem climbing so they started to climb out. She said she kept on thinking about the gear that she was using and if it will keep her in place. 
After an hour, they made it to the top and I got on rope.  I started to climb and climb and climb and times it felt like I was not making much progress but I started to notice the house sized boulder and the large fissure crack so I took a lot of breaks and took it all in.  I REALLY enjoyed the climb and although it only took 20 minutes to get up, I got a chance to take it all in and appreciate the place that we were all experiencing. Predrag climbed out last and we de rigged the rope and started to shuttle gear back through the drops and up the warm up pit.  We finally made it out of the cave and got to the car in around 12hrs time which is right around how long I thought it would take. Everyone got a chance to experience how amazing this cave system was and I was glad we all got to go on this trip.

 Phil Climbing Tandum in Fantastic Pit, Ellisons Cave Georgia


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