Not yet a poet, not yet a person perhaps, or a human, or not so far as
I'd know now,
I lurk in the lobe of a cave, before me sky, a tangle of branch, a tree I
- C.K. Williams
I learned to cave from some of the best folks in the entire Tennessee Alabama Georgia (TAG) region and am still fascinated by the vast underground universe. While above ground (which is most of the time as of late), I spend my climb-time spidering across bouldering walls, hoping my fingers don't give out.
DOGWOOD DAYS, REDUX
Was recently back in Atlanta and stopped into the REI off North Druid Hills Road, revisiting the place where I attended my first Dogwood City Grotto meeting over 15 years ago.
On weekday evenings once a month, the crew would all arrive here and shuffle into a back storage/ employee area where folding chairs and projectors would be set up. We'd hear a talk about a recent mapping expedition, trade talk on new gear, plan which caves we'd be heading to for the weekend.
HITTING THE (FIRST) GYM
PAYING HOMAGE TO CAMP 4
While in Yosemite during early 2015, I got the chance to stop by the legendary Camp 4, where modern day rock climbing got its start. While I see rock climbing more as a way for me to cross-train for my caving adventures (given my abilities, competitively rock climbing just ain't happening for me). I really admired the crowds that were in Camp 4 the afternoon I stopped in. Still high on the announcement of the successful free climb of El Cap just days before, there was not a boulder left un-bouldered wherever I looked and hikers everywhere were hauling rope packs up the trails. Lots of footsteps to follow, lots of footsteps being followed.
CAVERS DO IT WITH THE LIGHTS ON
Things ended with broken ribs and a cave rescue, but I had learned a lot for one of my first times underground.
Knock on granite, the broken ribs weren't mine, but the incident was as educational as if they had been.
In the mid 1990s, a large group of us had done a straightforward descent, no vertical caving, with just a couple of "push your helmet in front of you while you writhe your way through a tight passageway" crawls in the Tennessee countryside. We had all made it into a massively spacious final cavern and Dr. Jerry, a civil engineering professor at Vanderbilt University and lifelong caver, was in the middle of a congratulatory speech to all of us.
We had gathered around a cluster of rocks and Jerry was praising us for a job done well and safely--when he was interrupted by scream from the back of the cavern.
One of our compatriots had lost his footing while standing on a pile loose rock and had flipped sideways onto his rib cage.
By the time everyone returned above ground (Jerry and the wounded and two other experienced cavers stayed back), a cave rescue team had arrived and were making their way into the entrance with a stretcher.
Thankfully a set of cracked ribs was the worst outcome that resulted and he ended up bandaged up and bruised but alive (and not trapped underground).
It may not have been the best scenario to have as one's first introduction to caving, but we learned that even with with the brightest headlamps and sturdiest helmets, underground safety only comes from being focused 100% of the time: where you step, what handholds you grab onto, where you point your light.
Even where you stand.
And bring friends.
I'm a proud former member of the Dogwood City Grotto, the Atlanta-based caver's club full of enthusiasts of the Tennessee-Alabama-Georgia (TAG) system of caves.
Meetings were held in a back storeroom of the REI off I-85. We'd watch slides on caving safety, beautiful photos of rock formations, learn the latest cave mapping techniques.
Afterwards would all caravan over to the Moe's Southwest Grill on nearby North Druid Hills Road for Homewrecker burritos and Sierra Nevadas, planning our next field adventures together.
One of the entrances to Stephens Gap Cave in Alabama.
The artist sculpture at the Tate Modern inspired a sense of being stuck when you couldn't be more stuck. Rachel Harrison (1966) "XLT Footbed" 2013 aimed at being surrealist, commentary on constraint of the art displays (the cord was taken from outside MoMA by the artist!) and the surrealist assemblage of found combined objects and consumer culture. For me, it also demonstrated why running shoes aren't optimized for climbing.