Blue Spring Crystal Cave (TN)
Monday, 8 January 2018
‘This had better be good’ was one of the thoughts going through my head after waking up the morning of my final caving trip in Tennessee. I had changed my flight so that I could go. The briefing that we had been given was that the trip would be 10-12 hours, and was highly recommended by Wm.
Alicia arrived at 8:30, and with little faff we set off, only to turn around 2 minutes later for forgotten turkey sandwiches. After a 2 hour drive we arrived at the diner, meeting the other four people joining us for the trip. It was 11F (-11C) according to the car as we pulled up to the cave entrance, making everybody especially eager to get inside, where we were greeted by ice formations. This was at the new entrance, which had a particularly well fashioned path through a series of dour pools, leading to a ladder marking the location of the old entrance to the system (marked by a particularly tight 90 degree squeeze can be seen 8ft off the ground). By this point the temperature had risen significantly, almost to the 70F (20C) that we were expecting. Layers were shed and we moved on.
Now what would a caving trip be without a dodgy traverse? A bridge made it quite civilised, leading to deeper dour pools and calcite formations, however these were some of the least impressive formations we saw. A little further on we passed a section of passage covered in panther paw prints.
1,800ft (550m) of crawling soon followed, after a headfirst entry and ditching the dungarees. This was broken up slightly by short stoopable sections, pretty corals on the ceiling, and a chamber to eat lunch in.
The gypsum formations started becoming common into the second part of the crawl, with beards, fingernail-like formations and sheets peeling off the ceiling. After climbing a 90ft pitch, a 20ft absail left me with a slight problem ‘“ the rope was too thick and muddy for it to go through my simple at all. A suggestion that someone attached themselves to me for the descent to add more weight was made, however I ended up resorting to using an Italian (or Munter) hitch. This made me understand why racks are used, however I still believe that European methods are superior for efficiency.
Gypsum needles became a more prominent feature, protruding from the floor making sticking to the path more important (the hedgehog was pointed out as a significant feature a couple of hours before we turned back). The penultimate chamber we investigated was incredibly well decorated with calcite and followed a low muddy crawl, the last section of which could have been considered a squeeze.
The last section involved walking through some narrow meandering passageway, passing some lithified desecration cracks (I might have got a bit excited by this) and carefully passing a pristine white formation at the entrance to the final chamber. When we reached it, it looked like a muddy room with what used to be small dour pools scattered across. We were told that 6 months ago, that room had been completely covered in dour pools, with only one muddy path reaching the back of the room. Now it is trashed. This emphasised the importance of teaching conservation practices to those who don’t know.
The way out lead me to using a rack for the first time. This was viewed by everyone as probably the best way to descend, as my simple had proven incompatible with the rope, and I wasn’t comfortable to do a 90ft free hang on an Italian hitch. I used the rack that Kristian had been given to use, using 4 of the bars as the rope was too thick for the 5th to fit. It was a bit sticky, and I’m looking forward to being able to use my simple again.
We completed the trip in 9 hours, at a leisurely pace. It hadn’t got any warmer outside by the time we left, making changing particularly unpleasant.
Thank-you to everyone there for such good company!