Horizontal Caving in TAG

Few cavers return from TAG with unused vertical gear, but I managed to find a few enjoyable short trips to beat the campground heat during the NSS Convention. 

On Sunday, I spent the day with TriTrogs in Camps Gulf Cave. Emily G. led me to the air-conditioned entrance where we waited for Mike Y., Taylor T., Carlin, Melanie, Eli, Mark D., and Nick. A mourning dove seemed to be building its nest over an alternate entrance to the cave, and the cool air pouring from the cave mouth was a welcome relief from the summer heat. Upon entering the cave, Emily led us up through a breakdown pile into a huge room with lots more breakdown. We circled around numerous rocky piles and over slick mud into wide stoop-high passages. Big rooms and wide passages.

On Tuesday, I was signed up for a short cave trip in Alabama near Russell Cave National Monument. I rode with cavers new to me from California, Florida, and Indiana, and we talked a lot about our various travels. We parked at the end of a caver’s driveway and strolled into the insurgence of Montague Cave. Roger and Brittany were great guides. Fifty-foot wide walking passage welcomed us as we strolled past some formations and may not have lost ten feet of elevation in our half-mile walk. Coolest thing to see may have been the crinoid stems that were hanging from the ceiling in one spot. About halfway in, I pulled the garbage bag out of my helmet and we started collecting beer bottles and cans, as well as other trash that had washed into the cave. I think we gathered around 20 pounds of garbage before we left the cave.

On Wednesday, I got permission to join Emily, Meredith (Nick’s wing mother), and the Speleothem Repair class for their underground field exercise. Quinn, a Huntsville caver, rode with us to Wonder Cave. The formerly commercial cavern introduced us to a genuinely friendly cave owner with incredibly friendly cave dogs. After a stroll along a cave stream, we ascended the stairs to a beautifully decorated section of cave to repair formations that were located along the tourist trail. Under the direction of this year’s winner of the NSS’s highest award (William J. Stephenson Award) Val Hildreth-Werker, Emily, Meredith, and Quinn located the two missing pieces of a large stalagmite (weighing around 30 pounds) and carefully undertook the process of restoring the piece to its original standing. Then I retrieved various tools for Kristen Bobo (the recipient of this year’s NSS Conservation Award) as she repaired another mite. My big contribution to the trip: I carried out half a canoe.

Wednesday evening one of the first TriTrog members (Karen Willmes) rode with Emily and me down to watch the evening bat flight from Nickajack Cave. Most other TriTrogs joined us, some in kayaks and some aboard paddle boards. The endangered gray bats from the nursery colony were soon swooping over our heads at the observation deck. Tennessee bat biologists had set up a thermal sensing camera that let us see seemingly hundreds of bats emerging from the cave entrance every few seconds.

By late Thursday afternoon, it was hot again at Convention. Mike Y., Emily, and I took off for a free visit to Big Room Cave at The Caverns where the evening photo salon was to be held. Mike forgot his helmet, so he was spared the sticky mud that Emily and I found when we went off trail in street clothes and shoes. I tipped extra at the restaurant where we had dinner because of the mud I dripped on their carpet.