Eric Hooper and I started our drive from Sikeston, Missouri around noon and headed to the Onrope1 store in Chattanooga to pick up a few things before this weekend’s trip. We ended up on the road to Valhalla around 8:30p.m., and Eric’s 4x4 went out on the horribly washed out road. After getting stuck on the steep hill and having to back down, move boulders and give it another try, Eric took off up the hill and a softball sized boulder shot out behind his rear tire and flew down the hill towards me at a high rate of speed. I tried to move out of the way but I got blasted in the back of my right hamstring with this rock and the blow almost knocked me to the ground. After that we made it to the campground at Valhalla where Buddy Lane was waiting on us. We set up camp and soon after Edmund and Erin Tucker and Dustin “Cosmo” Cramer showed up in Edmunds Subaru. Shortly after that Gary Resch and Barry Smith showed up and we all set up camp.
Since Edmund was turning 30 years old in a few hours, he wanted to Drop Valhalla and be at the bottom at midnight. We used Gary’s super stiff rope on this drop and Gary was the first one in the pit. Anxiety set in as I had never dropped anything remotely close to this depth. After I got over the lip it wasn’t so bad. I could see Gary’s headlamp way down below as I descended into the 227’ deep pit. Water was pouring in through a side dome at the bottom of the breakdown mound inside the pit. It was pretty loud with the rushing sound of water, and ice caps were still on many of the rocks in the bottom of the cave. This made traversing the boulder field very difficult. Erin came in next, followed by Cosmo, Edmund, Eric and Barry. While we had 2 way radio’s set up, we could hear everyone on the surface singing happy birthday to Edmund over the radio. Gary and I got a good laugh out of it. While waiting on the others we scrambled into the massive side dome to the side of the entrance drop. I found a dead bat on the ground as well as flood debris. Buddy told us that the cave flooded in early December when approximately 5” of rain fell in an extremely short time. It flooded the entire parking lot where we camped with 9’ of water as well.
After everyone got into the pit Eric set up his camera on a tripod to start taking photos. Erin climbed out first, followed by Cosmo then I got on rope with my flash to start taking photos of the pit while lit up on rope. As I started up, Gary, Barry and Edmund decided they were going to try and find the 200’ Megadome inside of Valhalla. As I climbed and Eric shot photos, it was a long process as Eric was taking photos with a 30 second shutter time and I was getting off 3 to 4 flashes while the shutter was open. I would climb up 30 or 40 feet and repeat until I reached the top. Eric climbed the rope as I hung out on top of the pit, and soon after Edmund, Gary and Barry. We were all out of the pit by 3:00 a.m. and hung out around the camp fire until 4:00 a.m. when Barry, Edmund and I were all that remained.
The morning started at 8:00 a.m. where Edmund and I got up and got dressed followed by Barry and Eric. We rigged the pit again with my new 400’ Talon. The others decided not to do the pit as we were on time restraints as we wanted to leave by 11:00 a.m. to go to Neversink to meet up with Richard Young and Don Bittle. Edmund dropped first and was on the ground moments later yelling “off rope”. Amazed at this, because of the long rappel the night before on Gary’s extremely stiff rope, I got on rope and headed down into the pit. After a few pictures while on rope at the top, I headed down at a fast pace and amazed at how smooth the rappel was. Moments later Edmund and I were followed by Eric and Barry.
A few pictures were taken this time with long exposures and natural light, then Edmund and Barry headed up the rope, tandem. Edmund took some amazing photos of Barry coming out of the pit from about 150’ up while still on rope. After they were out I headed up, shortly followed by Eric, tandem. As we were close to the top, Edmund took some photos of us while tandem on the rope near the top that turned out really great. Shortly after, we were all out of the pit and loading our gear up in the vehicles for the drive to Neversink.
We arrived at the Neversink parking lot around 11:30 a.m. and Don’s truck was already parked. We headed up to the pit with my 400’ Talon and Barry’s new 300’ Talon. When we got to the pit we noted that Don was on the lower lip while Richard was on rope. Don told us that their rig was too short (rope shrinkage) and Richard rappelled to the end of the rope, did a changeover and was in the process of coming out of the pit. Richard figured that if he had to do a changeover, he would rather do it 20’ off the floor, than 160’ off the floor. After he got out, we pulled up his rope, rigged both sides of the drop then set up rope pads. Edmund and I were the first two into the pit, shortly followed by Cosmo and Erin. We took some great photo’s while they came in. Richard and Eric were in next, followed by Gary and Barry. Don said over the radio he wasn’t going to go in till someone came out, as to leave 1 person on the surface. I then climbed out so Don could go in.
Edmund and Erin came out on tandem with Erin in the lead, and Eric came out on the other rope by himself. I got a few photos of all 3 of them on the 2 different ropes from high on the left side of the pit. Edmund and I then immediately rappelled back into the pit. Gary and Barry climbed out, followed by Richard and finally Don. One thing to note, quite a bit of the ice draperies from the extremely cold weather several weeks ago was still hanging on the walls, and quite a bit of it fell off on 4 different occasions, coming close to hitting some of us each time.
As Don climbed out on my rope, Edmund started up the other rope, followed by Cosmo on Tandem. As Don got off rope, Edmund got on the radio and said that I had to get to the top in 5 minutes. I guess that was the challenge of the day, but even though I was pretty tired and sore from 2 Valhalla drops and this being the 2nd complete Neversink drop since midnight, I made it up in 4:02. Edmund and I then dropped the pit yet again, shortly followed by Gary. We hung out at the bottom of the pit for a bit while I regained my strength, as I was still whipped from the last climb. I started out with Edmund coming up Tandem from behind me, while Gary got on the other rope. This was the end of the day which we ended by going to a pizza restaurant in a nearby town, followed by the hotel in Kimball, TN, showers, and sleep.
We were up by 7:00 a.m. and eating breakfast in the hotel as we met up with the Near Normal Grotto crew who was also down for the weekend’s fun. While we planned on staying in the same hotel, the group sizes kept us from doing any trips together so this was the first time we were able to hang out with them. By 8:50 a.m. we were out the door and headed to Cagles Chasm. As we pulled up, Andy Zelner (sp) was there with Todd McCartney and Laura Pierce. They were there so Laura could bounce the pit, and that’s literally all they did. I rigged the main Cagles drop while Edmund and Barry went over to Jeepside. Edmund has been in Cagels twice now so he wanted to go into Jeepside for a change.
I was the first to drop Cagles 184’ deep pit, followed by Cosmo, Erin, Eric, Gary and Richard. They told me that Edmund and Barry were in Jeepside and Don wasn’t coming down. I immediately climbed up then heard Edmund yelling from far below when I was about 150’ up the pit. One I was on the top Don showed me where Jeepside was at. I started to get on rope and Edmund yelled up from the bottom for me to come on down. I rappelled in past the massive flowstone drapery and my jaw dropped on rope. Edmund took a couple photos of me while I was coming down as well. Barry’s talon rope was lying on the rope and they asked me if I knew how to rig the rope to do this in cave drop down this passage. I crawled in and got to the bolts and was familiar with what it took to rig the drop, but had never actually got the chance to rig and use the anchors like this before. I tied a hand line back up to the back bolts then a double figure 8 for a free hanging drop down into Cagle’s floor. Eric took a few shots then I threw the rope down and dropped in to the waiting room as Richard was on rope and climbing out of Cagles.
As I was in Jeepside, Cosmo had climbed out of Cagles and was now coming into Jeepside as well. We told him to drop in and go into the small tunnel where he could see daylight. After I was down, Edmund, Barry and Cosmo all came in from the short drop. Gary then climbed out of the short drop and on out of Jeepside. Erin and Barry climbed out of Cagles as Edmund went up the short climb, followed by Eric and myself.
After I got out of the crawl I noted that Edmund and Cosmo were on a ledge 45 feet up from the floor inside Jeepside and Barry was in the process of swinging over to them on the rope. After he got onto the ledge, I did the same thing then we pulled up the rope and threw it into this hidden side pit. Edmund rappelled into the drop first and landed in a 2’ deep flowstone pool. I followed him down but I managed to swing over to a dry spot. Cosmo came down, followed by Barry. We took lots of pictures in this area and found a register book hanging on the wall in a sealed plastic container with a bat sticker on it. We signed the book then proceeded down the passage. Moments later we were back into Cagles Chasm, 10’ from our rope, but it was too far out to reach. We returned to the rope and climbed out.
At this time I rappelled back down to the ground, followed by Edmund. I rappelled down the drop where I rigged Barry’s rope, and Edmund untied the rope and dropped it down to me so I could tie it to the main rope in Cagles for the pull out. I climbed up and began pulling the rope out with Eric and Richard. We had 700’ of rope to pull and my cave pack was tied to the end. Minutes later Cosmo, Barry and Edmund came out of Jeepside and we coiled up all of the ropes and headed down to the parking lot. We decided at this time to go back to the hotel and change into dry clothes before heading to Moses Tomb.
Edmund, Eric, Cosmo and I headed to Moses tomb after regrouping for an hour at the hotel. The drive was uneventful except for the face that Edmund took us on a wild trip through the hills which ended up in us getting lost. Many jokes were made about this. We got to the gate and drove back to the parking area and loaded up our gear for the hike up into the mountain. After 15 or 20 minutes we were at the entrance, and I was whipped. The 400’ talon was soaked from Cagles and weighed a lot more and I could tell from every step.
After we got to the entrance I rigged the rope and got ready to drop the pit. I dropped the pit first, and the entrance was tight but it opened up immediately. I was looking down as I dropped in and I could see a flowstone below me as the rope angled off to the side. Beautiful flowstone draperies were all around. I got to the flowstone ledge and made my way past it, being sure to put the rope into the grooves worn in the flowstone by other ropes in the past. I then looked down again and thought I could see the floor of the cave. There were massive draperies on the walls again and as I got closer to what I thought was the floor, I realized it was only a flowstone cap. I still couldn’t see the bottom of this pit and the thoughts of “What are you doing this for” were running rampant in my mind. As I continued down the rope, admiring the sheer size of this belled out pit, I could see the ground below me coming up fast.
After I touched down, Cosmo got on rope and came down while I filled out the log book at the bottom. This thing was in extremely poor shape. I looked up to see what looked like a star in the sky as Cosmo was making his way past the flowstone overhang, which was about 190 to 200 feet over the top of my head. After he landed, Eric came down, followed by Edmund. Since we were just bouncing the pit, I immediately got on rope and began climbing. After I was about 40 feet up, Eric got on rope and started making his way out as we tandem climbed the pit. It was a long climb as I was extremely tired by this point. My legs were fried and my lower back hurt from running almost 1800 feet through my rope walker in the past few days. As I got to the flowstone over hang I noticed the massive formation chunk which was broken off and wedged in between the flowstone I was climbing over, and the rock ledge in the pit. As I got past the flowstone, I swung Eric rather violently into the wall of the flowstone, simply because I was pushing off of the ledge to get my foot ascenders past the rock. It was easy climbing after that until the entrance, which was sort of challenging with someone on rope below you, weighting my legs down so I couldn’t pick them up freely. Moments later I was out, as was Eric.
Edmund and Cosmo came up tandem with Edmund in the lead. After Cosmo was out, Edmund wanted to bounce the pit again so I told him he had to be in and out in 10 minutes. He managed to rappel in and climb out in 7:32. It was an extremely long day and we finished the night out eating at the Shoney’s restaurant right next to the hotel. The service was left to be desired, but I was just glad to eat something. While in the restaurant, Richard and Barry came over to see how the trip went. We then retired into the hotel for the night.
We woke up at 7:00 a.m. on Monday morning, packed all of our gear up, ate breakfast, loaded up the vehicle and hung out with the NNG group for a few with some last minute directions to Mystery Falls from LJ Tognetti. They headed to South Pittsburg Pit and we headed to Chattanooga. After we got to the parking area, we got our gear together and made our way to the cave entrance. It took a few moments of fumbling with the key in the lock before I got it unlocked. We then headed into the cave and into the mud. Immediately we were at the Dam, and I walked past it to the other side of the stream and into the upper part of Mystery Falls to the desired rig point to stay out of the water. All of the bolts I found were truly undesirable except one eye hole bolt that looked new, the other was rust, and the others simply looked downright dangerous. Why hasn’t a local chopped these old nasty bolts so someone has no way to use them?
After I got the rope rigged pads set, I dropped into the pit with the water flowing through the pipe. I was a bit nervous on this drop, as it was the deepest drop that I had ever done before, a waterfall was gushing several feet away, I couldn’t hear anything and I couldn’t see the bottom of the pit, or the walls on the opposite side due to the amount of mist in the air. I don’t know how long it took me to get down, but it was probably over 2 minutes. I wasn’t in any big hurry as there was a lot of detail in the pit to look at while going in. As I reached the bottom, the water spray was everywhere and the thundering crash of the water was deafening. I radioed to the top that I was off rope and they plugged the dam for Edmund to come in. After he got down they pulled the plug on the dam to drain the water before Erin got on rope and rappelled down into the pit.
The resulting event was caught on Edmunds video camera. We could see the water start to flow from the pipe, then seconds later, the major gush of water began spraying out as the water pressure forced the water out of the pipe. As the water came flying down the 284’ drop, the sound of the water falling began to pick up and it got extremely loud as the water crashed to the ground. Water spray filled the room and a huge vortex of wind began whipping through the entire cavern. We couldn’t hear anything and the site was amazing yet terrifying at the same time. As the water flow stopped, Erin rappelled into the pit and I immediately got on rope and climbed out. This left 2 in the pit at all times as we began to do 1 in 1 out for the rest of the trip. I made it out in about 12 minutes and I definitely felt the wear and tear from the last 2 days.
Eric was the next one in then Erin came out. Richard went in and Eric came out, Cosmo rappelled in and Richard came out followed by Edmund coming out and then Cosmo bringing up the rear. Erin started taking photos of everyone coming up from the pit towards the ledge. I even videotaped Cosmo rappelling into the pit from the top all the way to the bottom. It was amazing how he kept getting smaller and smaller. While Richard was on rope a train was rumbling by outside, but the entire cave was shaking inside. Edmund said that the rumbling at the bottom of the pit, which was level with the tracks, was extremely loud. After everyone was up we started gathering gear, and pulling up the rope for the last time. We could definitely tell that the rope’s characteristic had changed on this trip. It went from dry and lighting fast, to saturated and jerky in some places. It is also covered in a fair amount of mud and grime. As we left the cave, we were amazed at the amount of water that had flooded in closely to the entrance of the cave. We all got wet up to our thighs in the water.
As we exited the cave, Edmund and I read the sign posted at the entrance to the cave, which showed the history of the cave. We then climbed up the hill and found the concrete capped top to the pit which was actually the site of blasting where a shaft was blown through the rock from the surface into the pit. Everyone changed clothes, a few of us toasted with a cold beer then we headed out and departed ways.
I don’t know how much footage everyone did in the pits this weekend, but essentially Edmund and I did all of the same pits, the same amount of times, except for Moses Tomb which he did twice. The weekend ended with Edmund climbing 2331 feet and I did 2096 feet, give or take a few. My legs and back definitely feel like they have climbed 2000 feet.