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I finally got around to uploading some cave pictures. Brad and I ventured to Ebeneezer Cave a couple weeks ago. We followed this ridiculous adventure up with a night of talking to East Tennessee Grotto members at the Oak Ridge Civic Center. Enjoy.
When we last left our adventurers, the two scallywags we’re inbound for a delicious feast at Bravo! in Knoxville. For those who don’t know, Rob works as a server extraordinaire at the Italian restaurant on Bearden Hill. The two decided to grace the dining establishment with their mud-slicked hair and clay-coated clothes.
Nick is a long time spelunker who makes a mean pecan-crusted tilapia salad. After a nice lunch, we were well fed and recharged for the next leg of our journey. TO EBLEN CAVE HOOOOOO!
When we parked our vehicle, we were greeted by none other than the great hound, Buttermilk! Who had been our guide in the past, and whom Brad and I named after the road that the cave is on.
Eblen has a massive entrance that Mr. Williams so aptly labeled a canyon with a roof on it. I’m talking HUGE. When we came upon the mouth of the earthen womb we noticed a change since the last time we visited. We were surrounded by hundreds of tiny icey stalagmites that had been formed from water drops in the sub-freezing days we’ve been experiencing. The eerie scene looked like souls creeping up from the ground.
I think it would suffice to say Eblen is the most diverse cave Brad and I have visited. The cave is marked by three entrances, the largest runs directly down the middle and has actually been used as a meeting hall to confer promotions to free masons (I imagine myself in a National Treasure movie played by Nicholas Cage). The left-most entrance is a crawl that opens into the main chamber about 50-100 feet from the entrance. The right-most path heads down to the water. More on that later.
We had two main tasks to accomplish when we set off to Eblen. One: explore a climb at the very back of the chamber, and two: explore the water-filled passage near the entrance. We figured the first task would be more physically taxing so we went for it first.
“I’m a big guy and there was nothing roomy about this part. I call it a crawl, but it turns out to be more of an inch-by-inch slither.”
The most memorable part of Eblen is its signature crawl. I’m a big guy and there was nothing roomy about this part. I call it a crawl, but it turns out to be more of an inch-by-inch slither. With my arms outstretched and my toes pushing me forward, I made it through the 30-40 foot tunnel into one of the largest and warmest rooms of the cave.
This is where the fun began. In the back left hand corner of the chamber lies an old stream bed with a boulder problem. On top of the boulder problem (which was caused by a cave-in sometime in the past is a huge room with a 50-60 foot cathedral ceiling. Brad and I had ventured here before, and with Nick, Brad and a bag of climbing equipment, we decided to tackle the obstacle.
Note: Brad and I are relatively experienced climbers. I myself have taken a course in climbing safety and would not suggest ever doing something like this without the proper training AND equipment.
Brad led the climb and we used a length of webbing and a locking biner to create an equalized top rope anchor to protect the climb for everyone. The 15 foot climb led to a series of tunnels in the side of the room. Our brave and daring friend Nick decided to take the adventure a notch up by pressing through a very narrow tube on what turned out to be a very horizontal belay. The only casualty on the trip was a bit of skin on an adventurer’s elbow.
After everyone was safely back on solid ground, we retrieved all of our gear and headed back to the next part of our journey. The swim.
There were only a couple of problems.
1. We didn’t know how far down the stream.
2. The water was cold, about 35º.
3. I was the only one with a dry suit.
4. We were tired.
5. Swimming in a cave is scary and dangerous.
Luckily it wasn’t a swim. It was more like a belly crawl in seven inches of silt and a foot of water. I was able to keep my head above water the majority of time. The stream meandered under the rock for about 75 feet before the roof and stream hit creating an underwater passage/grave.
Feeling slightly defeated, I turned back towards the rest of the party. At this point, Brad was about 25 feet behind me wading in the frigid water in his swimming trunks. “Thank god for Surefire flashlights,” we said as the glow of our lights lit up the silt and water we were stirring up.
After exiting the water safe and sound, we took a moment to reflect on the situation. It had been an extreme day of adventure and we were happy to find the vehicle where we had left it- safe and sound by Buttermilk the dog. The evening ended with pizza, beer and music followed by a long soak in the tub with good music.
When I first began caving with Brad so many moons ago, I told him, and I quote, ” I’m willing to do a lot of things, but I will never, NEVER, go in a cave with water.” Obviously Chandler cave changed that almost immediately after I made my affirmation, but I never really thought I’d do what I did last weekend.
Caves and water, as it turns out, go hand in hand. With the majority of caves being formed by moving water, who wouldn’t expect that? Duh. So this adventure, starts out like some of the best I’ve had as of late, on a boat with Brad.
It’s funny; with Brad being the highly coordinated breakdancer/tai chi teacher that he is, you’d expect him to be able to paddle a canoe. But then I guess the real problem was, I let him steer.
We started the morning by getting a canoe from Riversports on Sutherland Ave. After spending the beaucoups of money that I have there, they know my name, and we’ve formed a love/hate relationship. I.e. I hate going there and spending money, and they love taking it. But that’s neither here nor there. So Brad and I got a boat and headed to Sequoyah Hills park to set sail.
Our boat must have looked like it was piloted by clowns. We were spinning in circles and not making any real progress until Brad got distracted by a phone call and I took the helm. Apparently I shouldn’t have put him at the wheel. After getting settled in a paddle pattern we made our way to the bottom of Cherokee Bluffs ( my favored climbing spot in K-town.)
Cherokee bluffs are laden with cave systems, and I would venture to say that the majority of the caves connect to some degree with micro pinches. The beauty of caves that are directly on the water lies in the difficulty in their approach. Because of the relative challenge of needing a boat, the caves are often much less littered and graffitied, which is always a plus.
Essentially there are 2 major cave sections below the bluffs. The first one has an overhanging entrance that is wide enough to drive a four wheeler through. After entering the crevice, the room opens up into a tall cathedral ceiling (30-40 ft.) with relatively wide passages. From the main chamber, you can go right or left. The right path terminates in a small pinch, whereas the left terminates with a crawl that leads to a second chamber and two more exits to the cave.
The two exits are both relatively passable, with one being a tad bit tighter.
The second cave in the grouping is much more interesting and treacherous. I won’t divulge the exact location of the second due to the beautiful flowstone formations in the area. (If you’re part of a local grotto and would like to visit it send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org)
The second cave has a small crawl to get into the entrance chamber, which subsequently has no sealed roof, so you tend to get a bit of a draft. Once you enter the earth, you are forced to take a right turn into a tight vertical squeeze. Past the sphincter, are some of the most beautiful flowstone features I’ve ever seen. I regret that I didn’t take pictures, but the columns are fantastic.
The columns actually connect to a rock shelf that you must pass under to explore further in the cave. The shelf is literally suspended five to six feet above the ground and little more than a foot or so thick. The cave terminates relatively quickly after that point but it’s worth exploring.
Once we returned to the boat, we were surprised to find a massive barge approaching us down the narrow river (the water was exceptionally low). Brad had to take a break to climb on the chains that hang from the bluff walls as well.
With the caving at the bluffs accomplished for the day, we returned the canoe and headed to Bravo! for the second leg of our journey.
I have caved all over Knox County now. I have been to four of the six caves Brad and I have in our guide books, and the only two I haven’t visited are on private land. Friday, April 17 I went to three of the four with my pal and fellow adventurer, Stephen Townsend.
The first cave we visited was the Cherokee Bluffs cave system. This underground adventure land is directly underneath the cliff face and extends underground for about 700 feet. The passages snake their way under the thousands of tons of rock above. The first room in the cave is pretty tall but narrow. A crevice extends about 30 feet in front of you. Luckily, you can climb down into it and traverse it with little or no added effort. After that, you drop to your knees and crawl another 30-40 feet until the passage opens up again.
The next room is about 30 feet tall and 5 feet wide. In the middle of the room, a large rock protrudes from your right and gives you two options: squeeze beneath it or friction climb up the rock wall face and go above it. I recommend the latter; it’s fun :-)
After that chamber, the cave shrinks again and you’re reduced to a crawl until it opens up in a large room with a 20-foot deep pit. The beautiful cave is so marred by graffiti in this room. It really hurts me.
Don’t go down in the pit in this room; there’s nothing down there except a bunch of trash from visitors before. On the far side of the room there is a chute that goes straight up. It’s clearable. Use your palms to thrust yourself up over the lip. The cave extends another 100 or so feet afterwards.
You enter one final room shown here:
After Cherokee Bluffs, we headed to Ijams. There aren’t many caves left at the nature park, but we found two.
We parked at Meades quarry and began walking down the railroad tracks towards the boardwalk. About a quarter of a mile later, we turned left off the tracks and followed a path downward to a manmade quarry area.
We passed under this beautiful looking Greco-Roman archway and made our way into this large box of marble. In front of us was a gated cave. This the was one we were hoping to find. We walked around and found a few cave mouths, but they didn’t go anywhere. One produced a large room, and the other two were belly crawls that terminated quickly.
Disappointed and craving more, we headed directly to Chandler’s cave. You can read all about the cave here.
This time was no different. We found several large salamanders and one coiled snake. Snakes are not common to caves. The exothermic animal requires warm temperatures to thrive, and the cool cave wouldn’t be good for them. He was sitting perched on a rock in the middle of the stream running through the cave.
Unfortunately as I write this, I am sitting staring at my camera, sans mini USB. I’ll add more videos later.
I don’t have the time to sit down and write about everything that happened to day but suffice it to say, it was pretty adventurous.
Me and my friend Stephen Townsend explored three caves in the Knoxville area: Cherokee Bluffs, Chandler, and a couple near Meade’s quarry. I’ll update with video and photos a little bit later tonight.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been exploring caves with Brad Williams, of the lifeofadventure.wordpress.com. According to the guidebook Brad procured from the Knox County Public Library, there are six caves in Knox County. We already spent a day in Cherokee Bluff’s cave.
We also spent Monday March 23 in search of Ten Mile creek cave.
So Saturday, we decided to try and find the remaining caves in north Knoxville around Powell and Halls: Campbell Cave, Roaring Spring Cave and Chandler’s Cave.
The first one we drove to was Campbell Cave, and unfortunately, we found that the grotto was on the private property of a man named “Walker.” We tried to get a hold of Walker but weren’t able to reach him for permission to enter his land and explore his cave.
This left us no option but to trudge on and find the next one: Chandler’s Cave. Luckily this cave turned out to be a treasure trove for spelunkers. I’ll talk about it in a bit.
The third cave, like the first cave was on private land. We were forced to write down the address in hopes of finding the owners later.
So back to Chandler’s cave.
The entrance to the earthen shelter was at the end of a sink immediately off the road. In the sink, a small babbling creek twisted and turned until it reached the opening, which was about 10 by 4 feet. The creek then tumbled down a 25 foot waterfall into a chasm.
Brad and I ventured into this cave twice. Both times successfully, but we decided we needed to change our gear choices before we went in the second time. I had been wearing boots that filled with water from the cascade, and anyone who hikes knows wet shoes and socks spells the end of an adventure.
On the first descent, we used the rope that was left there, which on further review was probably a mistake. One of the ropes broke on my climb down, and while I wasn’t harmed, I was definitely shaken.
We managed to make our way around about a third of the cave before ascending out. We didn’t take any cameras with us the first time because we had no way of water proofing them.
We left the cave and headed back to my apartment. We both needed to change if we were going to adequately tackle this monster of a cave. I threw on my Keen sandals, which were perfect for the job. And we headed back via my Smart car.
The second exploration was incredible. I took some old rappelling rope this time. Rope I trusted. And we clammered back down the waterfall with cameras in tow. Brad had recently bought a Surefire flashlight like my E2L Outdoorsman. And with our powers combined, we lit the cave up.
Once we got to the base of the fall, we took a quick jaunt into a room to our right in search of salamanders we had seen our first trip down the hole. We were sadly let down until we began walking out when I spotted one in a crevice.
Brad affectionately named her Sally. I don’t know the sex, nor do I know how to find it out, but this one was named Sally.
We then began our trek down the main tunnel that had bested us before. The tube which ranged in height from 5 feet to 20 feet and had a width of about 4 feet snaked along with the creek in it for about 1,500 feet. Each turn leading you further and further underground.
I can’t say I wasn’t happy to see daylight when we left, but this was one of the best adventures I’ve ever had. I plan on leaving a geo cache in the cave during a subsequent adventure.
Be careful. This is not a novice cave. But when you get out of the dark, you will feel empowered, like Brad and I. Awesome adventure.
Lighting in a cave
• I use two methods of lighting while in a cave, a headlamp and my Surefire. I rarely leave home without one or both of the above. Having light when you need it is absolutely crucial.
• For a headlamp, I use Petzl Zipka Plus. This is an awesome ultralight headlamp. It does away with the cumbersome strap of many headlamps by creating a retractable version that can be attached to just about anything. Great product at around $35. 35 Lumens
• The next item I use is my Surefire. If you looked at the above link you will note the price. And while I know it is a bit pricey, it is worth every penny. The near indestructible light throws out a beam of light equal to a 3D Maglite at a fraction of the size and weight. An awesome deal at $150. 3/60 Lumens