Saturday 21 September 2013


     As a kid, I liked to imagine myself an archeologist, discovering an unknown cave, exploring it and coming across ancient Indian artifacts.  Those were the things of my dreams.  Later in life when I became enthralled with the science of the natural world, I found caves an interesting part of geology.
     During university years, I did a few spelunking trips with a science club and also with my cousin, Dan who had fallen in with a group of spelunkers.  I remember one trip where the lower half of the cave entrance was a creek and we had to bend down and wade through the water to get inside.  I remember how creepy it was to be lying on my stomach in the cold mud, moving forward like a lizard as I crawled though a horizontal crack which was not much wider than I was thick, deep in the bowels of a cave.  At the time I thought it was exciting.
     The last time I had been spelunking was in one of the alpine caves in the Small River headwaters of the Robson Valley.  By that time, it had been probably been 30 years since I had been in a cave, and I really didn't find it very enjoyable.  Everything was dark, moist, and brown, there was no color to stimulate the senses.  I was happy when I finally crawled back out of the small hole, back into the world of color.
     I had heard several times that Molly had a cave on their property, and when I arrived at their place in Tennessee, her sons, Ezra and Silas, were eager to show it to me.  Lucy, the eldest daughter became the leader of the expedition.  I had assumed that I was just going to be shown the entrance to the cave, but after the two boys came out of the house with headlamps, I realized we were going into the cave. 
     The four of us walked across a pasture, scattering their timid sheep, then at the edge of the hill, we had to cross a creek, because I didn't have boots, I took off my shoes and socks to ford the creek.  When I got my shoes back on, we walked up a forested slope, crossed over the top, and there, on the other side of the hill was a small hole in the ground--the entrance to the cave.
     Lucy, in her skirt, was the first one in, I followed the boys, sitting on my rump and sliding down the incline, and straightening out my body as I entered the dark and restrictive entrance.  Immediately the air became cooler and moist.  At the bottom of the slope, we found ourselves in a small chamber, illuminated by the dancing beams from our head lamps.

     It seemed to me that this was the extent of the cave, but Lucy, bent down and disappeared through a small crevice beneath the huge chuck of rock that had broken loose from the ceiling, fallen, and had wedged itself against the walls do the cavern.  Ezra and Silas followed her and I brought up the rear.  As we continued on, the cave became a narrow tall vertical hallway with a high ceiling and several more huge boulders blocking the way forcing us to clamber over 8 ft (2.4m) obstacles, using depressions in the walls as grips and foot holds. 
     Eventually, 150 ft (45m) in from the entrance our progress was halted by wall that gave us no alternative but to stop.  The wall was blacked by moisture coming down from a high vertical shaft that I assumed was the source of the water that had hollowed out the cave over eons of time.   We sat there, then we all turned out our headlamps and experienced total darkness.  That's pretty dark!  
     In my struggles, climbing and descending, my camera, which was hanging at my side, must have gotten banged around a bit too much, because when I tried to take some photos, the camera would no longer focus.  I really depend on my camera, so that was distressing news.  (Fortunately, several hours after leaving the cave the camera experienced an immaculate correction, but unfortunately, some of the photos taken in the cave were very blurry.  

     Lucy pointed out some geodes which were on the wall, as we slowly scrambled up and down the boulders on our way back out of the cave.  As we finally got to the point where we could see some light filtering in from the entrance, and started crawling up the slope to the cave opening, Silas fulfilled the dream I had always had and found an artifact--the jawbone of some unknown animal.  Unfortunately, because the front teeth were missing, including possible canine teeth, we couldn't identify what kind of critter it belonged to, although you wouldn't expect to find a deer jaw inside a cave.

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