Friday, December 30, 2011

For my last dive as a “single” man, my Dad, Brother, Brett Hemphill scheduled a trip to Ward Sink for me. It was my first time here, I have heard about the sink for years and it is not far from home, so I was excited to dive this new location. We arrived early Sunday after spending the night in Springhill. The sink was an impressive cobalt blue and filled with Koi, and Paku. We dropped down to 190’ and made a pass around the sink. we slowly and circled back up. This was an incredible place and I look forward to a return trip.

TAG 2011

For the past twelve years I have made it a point to make it to the TAG Fall Cave In. This year was the 34th annual event and it was a blast. Cavers from across the south east come together to party and cave every October.
Vendors set up tents and tease us with new gear, the local Fire Department cooks us breakfast, there is live music and the world famous bon fire. The fire is incredible and it brings everyone together for story telling and fun.

This years trip was very last minute for us. We did not commit to the trip until 3 days prior.  We hit the road around 7:00pm from Lakeland on Thursday and drove through the night. We stopped for a nap and coffee in Adairsville and finished the drive early on Friday. We registered and went to rendezvous with other Florida Cavers in the usual spot. On my way past the bonfire I heard honking and screaming, it was Brian Williams, screaming to tell us that a group was leaving for Iron Hoop Cave in 10 minutes.
We were up for the challenge and unloaded the truck and crammed in 3 more cavers. 45 minutes later…. We left.

The weather was perfect at TAG this year, the skies were clear and the temps were mild, and leaves were just beginning to change their color.
After our breakfast at Hardees and a long drive, both paved and not, we arrived at the parking are to Iron Hoop. This cave is the sole reason I purchased a 4x4. The old road is was torturous; there were steep inclines and declines, cobble stone river beds and rushing creeks. This road was long and dust but easy traveling.

Iron Hoop is one of my favorite TAG caves. There is a tiny hole in a creek bed. Drop through this into a small room, then scramble through a maze of breakdown. Do not follow the obvious path, it does not go. Having spent hours looking for the rout on a previous trip, I remembered exactly where to go this time. I was doubted by other cavers, but I was correct in the end.

After you find the way onward you are met with low hands and knees crawl through small cobbles and water for nearly 1000 ft. Just when you want to quit the cave explodes into massive borehole.

The next few hours where spent exploring the upstream and downstream sections of the cave and taking pictures of some of the incredible formations this cave has to offer. There are monstrous haystacks, skinny totems, awesome rimstone dams and impressive flow stones. My favorite section of this cave, or any cave, are the areas with smooth rock and jagged scalloped walls.

After everyone was tired or cold we headed out, it was uneventful and we hit the coldest Ruby Tuesdays ever for dinner. Everyone slept well that night.

The next day was spent visiting TAG classics. Brian, Sara and I got up early and hit the road to Stephens Gap. While I have been here many times it is still and incredible place. We had the cave to ourselves,  we dropped the pit a few times and took many pictures, and ventured on. When we got back the the parking area there was a group of 30 heading up. Glad we got and early start.

From there we headed over to another favorite, Kennamer Cave. I have been here many times as well, but I still love it! The cave is owned by the SCCi, and makes a fun through trip. It is a brutally long hike up the mountain, but the lower Orgy entrance is “close” to the car.

This was a speed trip, we ran through the cave admiring the winding stream passage, massive borehole, huge dome room and the unique formations this cave has. I always forget how incredible this cave is. I would love to make a trip back just to take pictures.

We made it back to camp just after the fire was lit, cleaned up and headed down to vendors row.  I ended up spending most of my night meeting people at Chrissy’s Rum Bar.  As the night came to an end and most people went to bed; Bill Walker and I closed down TAG.

The next day we had a hearty breakfast at the Depot Diner and hit the road. It was a great trip, it is always nice seeing old friends, making new ones, and getting UNDERGROUND!