December 02, 2014

 Predrag in Valhalla Cave Alabama
For the few vertically inclined people in Chicago, we have to travel a pretty substantial distance to get to a mecca of world class cave systems in a region that the cave community calls TAG. For my esteemed friends, it usually takes is between 10 and 12 hours to make the drive from Chicago to the Chattanooga area. On this trip we had three cars venturing into the night and through a ice storm just to get to our first destination across the border in Alabama Called Valhalla. 
Valhalla is a TAG classic with a large 227 ft. vertical free fall entrance with a enormous room at the bottom and around a mile of cave passage including waterfalls and a 200 ft dome. The cave community has considered this place to be a true gem and even though I consider all caves to be gems, I got a chance to understand why this gem is called Valhalla. 
 Predrag, Phil Goldman, Dorian Goldman, and Adam Haydock set out to drive through the night so we could arrive at Valhalla the next morning within the restricted time schedule that we were slotted to arrive by. While we were on the road just passing Gary Indiana, Phil realized that his beast of a truck we call "Inner Mountain Mobile" was not performing like she should be.  Phil shifted gears and we quickly became aware that the transmission was no longer operating!
We just got on the I 65 and we just barely made it to the top of the bridge that goes over the 80/94 as the car slowly came to a halt on the side of a busy highway. It's around 7pm and we are dead on the highway.  I was thinking to myself that this is going to be a long night and that even if we are able to get another car, we were not going to make it to Valhalla by 11am central time. 
Cody and Laura were in another car driving down the I 57 so we called them to let them Know about our situation. Phil called a tow truck and they said that they can only fit two more people in their truck so we were going to have to get dropped off at the nearest restaraunt by the police or get picked up by someone else. That would have meant that we would have had to wait a few hours just to get picked up, but thankfully Cody and Laura were awesome and came to where we were just as the tow truck showed up!   We called Ace rental company at the airport and we were able to get dropped off at the car company to get a full size car (never use this car company BTW, more on that in day 3). Cody and Laura took off for TAG after they dropped us off.  After waiting 30 minutes,  we were driving away with a rental car. Next we had to get all of the gear so we met Phil back in Des Plaines where the car was towed to so we met him there and loaded up the rental car. We were able to convince Phil to take his other car and come down to TAG with Dorian so they left the following morning. Predrag, and I, took off once again and drove through the night and made it down to South Pittsburg Tennessee at around 8 am just in time for breakfast and a little nap time. 
Laura and Cody got caught up in a ice storm so they were 150 miles from where we were at 9 am which meant that they would be cutting it close to get to Valhalla within the allotted time. I was not able to reach out to them so I ended up driving to Valhalla with Predrag.
We get to the property, and park the rental close to the bottom of the mountain that we have to hike up.
We proceed to hike up and after a few meanders around the road we came up to the parking lot where 4x4 cars park.  We walk over to the trail and the limestone walls start to become apparent with a large hole at the base.  We made it!

I have been waiting to do this pit for a long time so I am glad I got a chance to make it.  This pit will also be the first American pit for Predrag since he is a caver from Serbia so I wanted to make sure he was ready for what we were going to do this weekend by practicing and going over why we don't use rebelays like European caves. I rig a pigtail high and the mainline near the edge, pad the trees and set pads for the 227 free fall open air pit entrance. 
on rope and working her way over the edge in excitement and fascination as to how large the room is inside of this cave. The openness of this cave also allows some moss to grow on the limestone walls which gave the entrance some personality.

Valhalla Cave in Alabama

 made it to the bottom and Predrag started to get on rope and rappel into this large hole in the ground.  I got on rope and started to work my way over to the edge. Oddly enough, I could feel my nerves reacting to the drop but I think it was the 2 hours of sleep and the 12hrs in the car that motivated my nerves to be extra sensitive on the edge.   I could feel that jolting muscle twitching feeling that I use to get when I started vertical. 

At the Bottom of Valhalla Cave Alabama
 I worked my way over the edge, and find myself staring into the mossy gray concrete slab looking limestone walls cracked and weathered through eons of activity and climate change. The descent down was breath taking! the waterfall echoed as the reverb from the room made a soothing white noise sound of sorts which added to the mystique of this karst feature. I take my rap slow to soak up the majestic walls and a the gothic monolithic spires rising back to the top. Wow, what a beautiful place.

Valhalla, Bottom of Valhalla Cave Alabama

The room is massive, the breakdown boulders are massive, and everything about this place is just enormous. This room also has a lot of history as two cavers had the large boulder you can see in the picture fall from the ceiling onto the two cavers below. This is a very unfortunate event that happened June 10th, 1984.

Valhalla, Predrag Ascending Valhalla Cave Alabama

Predrag and I go poking around in the waterfall dome room to see the falls moving pretty good and to poke around in the immediate passage rooms. I did not bring any knee pads so I just stayed out of the cave section and continued to take some more pictures of this beautiful place.
Valhalla, Predrag ascending Valhalla Alabama
It was starting to get late so I decided to have us work our way back up the rope and get back to the car by nightfall so we could make it to Dalton Georgia in good time to meet up with everyone else that missed out on visiting Valhalla.  We got to Dalton in time for some dinner and I was so freaking tired I just crashed out to get rest for the next days visit to Flowing Stone Cave.

Valhalla Cave Alabama

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