Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Jason & Dan Wolfe talked me into going along on a caving trip last night, to a place called Tytoona Cave down southeast of Tyrone in Sinking Valley. It's a pretty wet cave in a part of the state which has been honeycombed by quarries & open-pit mines. For some reason I expected it to be slap up against a mountain, but instead we ended up down a nondescript back country road, and a bit of a steep walk down a deep, fairly scenic sinkhole facing a limestone rockface.

You can see the pictures on that website, Tytoona is a flat, horizontal cave of about six hundred feet on a single level, before it "sumps out" and turns into a water-cave where the cave divers *used* to go diving before a woman got turned around & drowned a number of years ago. We were not, of course, cave diving, but rather just splashing around in the safe section of the upper cave.

We were promised "stooped-over" wetness, but it turned out that the last few years of deluges - Ivan among others - had changed the cave a bit, and it turned into a stomach-crawl through chest-deep water about a hundred feet in. I kind of freaked out the first try through, mostly due to Dan's remarkably gonzo approach to the challenge - he porpoised right on through. The prospect of having to do that, in the chilly shock of actually getting down into the water, was a bit much. After I calmed down a bit & followed directly behind him along the sharp pebbly shallow section instead of trying to swim around the other way, I got into the spirit of thing.

There aren't any really grand stalactites, but there was some "flows" that Jason was excited about. There were a number of side-holes going off the main chamber which we passed by on the way in to the back of the cave, the "sump". This is where the air pockets run out, and all the floating crud caught in the cave's creek floats along the surface in a mildly nasty agglomeration of scum. Since we were relying on headlamps, it wasn't too foul, but the scum kept us out of the sump-water, even though Jason and Dan thought that there was a couple dozen more feet to the cave further on, due to slight changes in the lay of the rock.

We found a lost, miserable toad and a bullfrog in this last sumpside gallery, washed downstream along with the rest of the rubbish. We supposed they were surviving on the random bugs also washed into the cave. Other than those, the only living things we encountered were good-sized brown and orange salamanders, which weren't afraid of us. Too blind to see our lights? I didn't bump into any fish, although they must have been in the water.

On the way back, people went crawling into the side-holes, one of which featured a tiny little stream, a remarkably long run of at least fifty feet, and more mud than I had really counted upon. I didn't get all the way back - by the time Dan went in, we realized that it was past sunset & was getting dark outside, and we broke for the exit. At first we forgot about Dan, and I had to turn around & yell that we were leaving. There's a section in this side-hole where the person climbing through either dams up, or pushes forward, the flow of the stream in a quite striking fashion - the first time it happened, I mistook it for the sudden onset of a rainstorm upstream, until someone reminded me of Archimedes' Law.

All in all, a lot of fun, but massive, massive amounts of dirt. Not a clean hobby, spelunking.

[Some history on the cave here.}

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