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TAG Sump Diving Trip: How to spend a weekend driving instead of caving

Posted on 18 July 2003 by admin

Cindy Butler
Pics: Brian Williams

A report from TAG. The weekend of July18 – 20th, five cavers converged in TAG to hunt down new possible sump dives and maybe a resurgence or two. Cindy Butler, Brian Williams, Matt Vinzant, Forrest Wilson, and Marbry Hardin put in a lot of miles on the road, made some new contacts, found some leads for future exploration, and even managed to get in a little caving.

Brian, Matt and I met at the Waffle house in Alachua to begin the weekend’s adventure. Brian actually showed up on time even after he lectured me on how cavers are notoriously late for anything. He gave me a radio to use on the trip to communicate with them and we hit the road. Traffic was ridiculous and it seemed like there was a highway construction site every 50 miles. After a couple of long single lane jams we decided to take a break on a short side trip to Rockhouse Cave. Brian followed directions given to him by Eric Amsbury and Brian said as usual the directions were right on the money. The cave was interesting and a held a nice arched entryway with a 15 ft. nuisance drop just after the entrance. We did not bring down the rope to the cave and didn’t feel like trusting the line that was rigged there by the locals so we scouted around till we found the other way down. This was not much better with a 20 ft. slippery climb down into a small room with passage leading off in 2 directions. Brian and Matt explored through to the waterfall drop while I played in the entrance area. It’s in shaded woodland area that makes for a pleasant stop to wait out the traffic.


  1. Looking out from the creek entrance to Rockhouse Cave
  2. Looking into the entrance of Rockhouse
  3. The skylight

We were hoping to avoid the Friday afternoon mess in Atlanta, but we ran into more construction zones full of workers propping up shovels, resting in trucks, and generally having a great time watching the traffic they had backed up for miles. We arrived at the TAG house late in the afternoon with just an hour of daylight left. We quickly geared up and headed up Sand Mountain to find some small pits to practice on. After a short search of the area we found Kelly’s Sandstone Monument, a small 70 ft. pit that was perfect to get some vertical practice on including change-overs. My gear turned out to make this impractical and my practice turned into more of an assist after climbing 10 ft off the bottom of the pit, Brian helped me back down and out of my “eBay” rig. Matt loaned me his rope-walker and he climbed out on a “frog” system that he had brought as back-up. I was able to exit the pit without incident. It was a very pretty little pit by the way, with some nice water-cut winding passage down to a second pit and some lower level passage. It was dark by the time we made our exit and we took the “scenic” tour through the woods on the way back to our vehicles. Lessons learned; Ticks have to eat too and a GPS is a wonderful thing when you finally turn it on and use it. We made it to Trenton, GA after midnight only to find that all the hotels were booked! We headed up to Kimball, TN, got a room at the old reliable Budget Inn and finally settled down for a nap.

Up early the next morning we grabbed breakfast and beat it back down to Trenton to meet up with Forrest Wilson and Marbry Hardin. Forgot that we were eating breakfast on Tennessee time and we had to meet in Trenton on Georgia time. Oh well, cavers are never on time anyway, right? Our trip had originally been planned as a sump diving trip to middle Tennessee, however the cave we planned to dive had high water all the way, and even the entrance was sumped so plans were changed and it was decided we would to try and push a connection that we were not sure had been made yet. We thought we’d check on Howard’s Waterfall and locate the entrance to the cave that was the shortest distance to the sump. This was also known as “Run to Howard’s”. We were unable to drive close to the entrance so we parked at a variety store and did a bit of brush-whacking and ridge walking that included barb wire fences, high weeds, briars, barking dogs, a smoke bomb tossed into the woods by some kids, trash piles and a hot hike through the woods. Our party became separated during the search. Brain, Matt and I found a couple of cave openings that we checked out. The agile and willing Matt wiggled his way into one squeeze in a sinkhole cave that obviously took large amounts of water and trash with each rain. The passage kept going but we had to find Forrest and Marbry who had hiked farther downhill and found what they believed to be the opening we were looking for and the spring emergence. However, it became apparent that access was nearly impossible and tank and gear carry without a bulldozer would have been brutal, not to mention the fact that Forrest had crawled about 100 ft. down the passage only to find a sand sump that needed digging before it would be passable. We all met back at the vehicles, tired, hot sweaty and ready for lunch and a new plan. After lunch we spent the usual amount of time trying to decide what to do next, Brian suggested trying to access and dive a spring emergence he knew about on the road to Gourdneck Cave near South Pittsburg. Marbry knew the spring also and said it looked like it had possibilities since all the water from Gourdneck probably came out at this spring. So we loaded up and headed north.

The spring was at the base of a nice rock face and fed a small run led down to the river. The area had completely changed since the last time Marbry and Brian had visited the site. We found the local land owner had converted the spring area to a roadside park and picnic area. There was a nice place to park and a welcome sign. Determined to find some new passage somewhere, we all spent a couple of hours attempting to dig out the fissure that ran down the length of the rock face underwater in hopes that it might expose enough of an opening to allow someone to slip in with a no-mount rig. We all got a kick out of watching the “Amazing Marbry” as he pulled giant rocks out of the fissure and spent at least 45 minutes in cold spring water without any wetsuit for protection. He seemed quite happy and determined to get us in one way or another. We finally gave up after it was determined that the only thing getting in that system today was a trout, maybe… a small trout.


  1. The spring resurgence off Gourdneck road
  2. Cindy Butler prepares to check out a possible entrance
  3. Looking down from above
  4. Marbry Hardin, Forrest Wilson and Cindy Butler
  5. Cindy waits as Marbry goes down for more rocks
  6. Forrest gears up, Marbry is still underwater digging
  7. “That looks painful” Cindy’s face, Marbry’s feet

Unsuccessful at our efforts but determined, we re-grouped and spent another 30 minutes deciding where to go next. Marbry suggested Salt River cave. He said it was not too far from here and it even had a sump we could check out. It turned into one of those “you can’t get there from here” trips and after an hour and a half of driving we arrived back in Alabama via Monteagle, Tennessee and some roads that made us wish we had taken our dramamine. Imagine our surprise when we pulled up to the streambed entrance only to find a huge sign posted in red letters, “No Caving”. It would have been much funnier if it wasn’t such a long drive back. We all had to jump out and take pictures of the sign. Marbry said, “It wasn’t there 3 years ago!” Our next idea was to check out a possible dive site and resurgence that Brian knew of just about 5 miles from where we currently were. Of course you can’t get there from here so we had to go back 10 miles to get to the road. The vans were just not happy with the rutted dirt road and after we got Forrest stuck in the dry river bed, we abandoned them for a trip up the hill in “Rodeo Bob”. We did find an amazing pool of water at the resurgence that you could tell really pumps some water at certain times. By now it’s too late to dive and most of our gear was back down the hill in the vans, so Matt threw on a spare mask and fins and swam around the pool shining his light down a tempting passage that we vowed to return too later this year. Back to Monteagle we drove for a late for dinner of Mexican food and another long drive. Marbry headed home to Murfreesboro and we headed back to Trenton for the night, with visions of going passage and plans for another sump trip in August.



  1. “Rodeo Bob” crosses a stream pouring from a small cave
  2. Checking out a lead in “caving sandals”
  3. Marbry says, “It wasn’t there 3 years ago”
  4. Matt Vinzant braves the chilly waters to shine a light on a good lead

The next morning we decided to try Bible Springs cave on Fiery Gizzard road. This was a wet one and after a few feet in the stream passage it was apparent we had made the right choice by caving in full wetsuits, brrrrr. It turned out to be quite nice little cave with formations, winding passage, cold water, salamanders, and crayfish. A few areas of low air space crawls were intersected by some bigger rooms with plenty of places for Forrest to take a nap while we took pictures. The last big room ended in breakdown with a crappy little crawl that Brian came back from to report that it was not worth going to the end. Good enough. On the way out we checked out some side rooms and Matt and Brian lured Forrest and I up a climb and into a big room that was highly decorated and well worth the climb. As we were gearing up before entering the cave, one of the local land owners stopped to talk. Brain talked with him a bit about allowing us to access his property up the road with several caves on it. A stop over at the farm house after proved fruitful and provided a new contact for some future caving trips.

Our final stop was on the way back home at a spring Forrest knew about. He wanted to see if he could get us permission to explore for a future trip. Brain, Matt and took a nap in the parking lot of a country church while Forrest headed down the road to talk to the owners. He was able to obtain access for the next trip up. We seemed to spend more time talking and driving than caving but it will be worth the effort for future trips. We did check out three possible sites, dropped one pit, and explored one very nice cave. It was great to meet new people and make contacts that will lead to more adventures in the future and hopefully more exciting dive/cave trip reports.


  1. Group shot at the entrance to Bible Springs Cave
  2. Forrest at the waterfall climb
  3. Stream passage
  4. Matt in a decorated stretch of stream passage
  5. Sally-Mander
  6. Matt comes out of a low, wet crawl
  7. Cindy climbs the waterfall
  8. “Cave Gnome”?
  9. Brian thinking that the wetsuits were a good idea!
  10. Taking a break
  11. Cindy acting like she’s not cold
  12. Matt demonstrates his great strength on a breakdown block
  13. “Forrest Fire”
  14. “Forrest Nap”
  15. Matt with some goodies
  16. Brian at the entrance to Bible Springs.