I left Mystery Falls and headed west towards Stevenson, AL in route to the SCCi's Sinking Cove preserve last Saturday. After a little trouble locating the gate, I made my way up the hill, past the hunting club, and down to the valley. In my small, two-wheel drive SUV I cautiously stared at the creek bed before punching the gas to get to the camp site. "This is already getting interesting", I thought to myself.
I pulled in, said hello to my contact, and was introduced to the rest of the cavers at the site. A couple grottos were represented, mostly from Georgia and Tennessee. M told me they had gone in to hard rig the cave the previous day. It was about 6:00 when I arrived, and everyone had clearly just exited the cave as they were soaking wet and starting to relax after a long trip. That night I had the pleasure of meeting more veteran cavers from the area. Although their celebration started strong, the majority retired to their tents early- exhausted from a long day in the cave.
Out of interest in doing a climbing trip and then getting the ropes out of the cave, one of the trip leads had suggested that we do an up trip and then a pull-down immediately after. Me being the young, rambunctious caver that I am I will pretty much agree to anything. If it has to do with caving and someone who has caved a lot longer than me suggests we do something, I'll agree to just about anything.
After everyone got situated we made our way to the lower entrance of the cave. Talk about some airflow. I mean, WOW. M and myself stood on the rocks outside the entrance and waited for the rest of the group. I had two layers of polypro, everyone else had wet suits. Regardless of what you are wearing, I believe that first dip into the cave water is going to be chilly. Even so, that entrance is very pretty. Crystal clear water surrounded by flowstone that continues for a few hundred feet. About this time, R, R, and myself were the only ones walking. We had passed the entrance to the low crawl and were in route to the Wolf Creek Sink Entrance.
I remember thinking to myself, "This isn't too bad," as I was free-climbing the small 8' waterfall in route to the crawl. I followed the line of people to the start (Although I don't think I realized what was about to begin or I would have taken a minute to get ready), got low to the ground on my knees and got slapped in the face by cold water and blowing air as my first taste of the crawl made its way down my neck. This definitely took me off-guard. I mean, I had done some wet crawls before, but nothing like this. I started to stop at one point -I think the cold was making me hyperventilate a little bit- and R, who was behind me, said "You got to keep going". I moving, but still struggling not to panic. I quickly made it out of that part of the crawl and into the next section.
The second crawl put us right by the bottom of the last in-cave drop. Everyone changed out of their wet suits and into vertical gear. This took me a while as my hands were shaking from the cold. By the time I got up the second climb -both are back-to-back- my body temperature was back to normal.
I climbed the third in-cave drop and started to make my way up to the canyon. I looked around for a little while at the formation room that was perma-rigged and then waited for the others to ensure I wasn't going to get myself stuck somewhere. We worked our way up the huge canyon towards a huge breakdown room. This is a very interesting cave. It has a lot of canyon passage, large borehole passage, a couple giant breakdown sections, I think I saw one dome, and all the rappels, assuming I remember correct, are drops. The diversity of Sinking Cove is really a fascinating sight between all those features and the junction pool at the bottom.
After climbing out of the canyon, we made our way through the borehole passage (Some of which reminded me of Tumbling Rock) and to the bottom of the first in-cave drop. One-by-one we climbed up the pitch and made our way to the Boulder Entrance drop. I remember having to crawl around and follow the water to get out. Nothing serious, just a minor hang-up.
Up top, M restated how he thought taking the ropes down now instead of after breaking down the camp site would be a better idea. I remember being hesitant, only because I hadn't communicated with my parents since I hit the dead zone (Although they are probably used to asking themselves what part of the Southeastern underground their son is by now), but I was very pumped to do a U-turn and start a pull-down trip. After some debating (A and R wanted to opt-out of the second trip haha) the four of us made our way back in the cave. T threw down the rope to us at the bottom of the entrance drop and we were on our way.
On our way out, I had more time to look at the geology of the cave. Again, what a sight. It is truly a wonder to see so many diverse features in one system. On a darker note, we had some time to examine the bolts and other remnants of the rescue that took place there a couple years ago. We rappelled, pulled, coiled, and repeated the process all the way down to the crawl.
Going back through the crawl I was fine. I was a lot more calm -maybe because I had already done it or maybe because I knew what to expect, I'm not really sure- and I had a blast exiting the cave with everyone. We climbed down the waterfall and swam out of the cave, stopping by the rimstone dams for a little more sight-seeing on the way out.
In retrospect, a wet-suit would have been helpful. To be honest, I think a Swaygo would have been more helpful. I can't wait to get one of those damn things. They made pushing gear through that crawl look effortless. What a great cave though. I originally hoped to get out to Cave Fest that weekend, but due to personal reasons (My life is a one day at a time kind of deal now) I decided it would be best for me to sit this one out. Between Mystery and Sinking Cove I had a great weekend, though.
Hope to see everyone at TAG!
DCG, SCCi 3501