People from around the world visit our area to enjoy all the beauty Tennessee has to offer. Some go to more extremes and challenge themselves. Wild caving enthusiasts come from all parts of the globe to live the good life enjoying the beauty from within.
Southeast Tennessee is home to over 8000 caves. I was able to hang out with Chattanooga Grotto members to see what it is that brings them back week after week. Somewhere below the ground in the Cumberland area, I experienced something not many people will ever see.
After crawling through a small opening and finding our "cave legs", I sat down to ask this close knit group about the sport. Kim Smith feels a spiritual connection. She is fairly new to the caving community and says, "What I get when just stepping inside of a cave is the exact same thing I get from yoga and meditation. And that's profound. The more you go and the deeper you get, the more you feel it and I think that's part of why I have to come back every weekend". She explores the world down under almost every weekend.
Caving is a year around sport. The temperature remains at a constant 60 degrees. Most avid cavers belong to a grotto or group. They say it's the safest way to explore the unknown. Members of the group feel like family and will always have your back. Kim addseah you have to have people teach you and that's what the function of the Grotto is. Really to teach you how to teach you how to cave safely. Within the conservation and aware. If there is anything that goes wrong, rescues and that kind of stuff. So it's a caving community.
But, caving is really a lesson in respect. It's learning to be good stewards of a delicate and unique environment. Each caver gets something different from the world below. Paige Ashwrll is an experienced caver and conservationalist. He travels the world to seek adventure. He teaches me that some would disturb the delicate formations and not think anything about it. Pointing to a ground formation he says, "Look at these undercuts. If your'e looking at it from the top it looks relatively solid but it's actually paper thin. So, a footstep without meaning to do any damage can easily break something".
His passion spills over to the sense of wonder he feels around every corner. He says, "When you come up, you realize that nobody else has ever seen that. Now, quite often you do a climb or a crawl and there's nothing there. But when you do and you come up and there's a huge cavern or passage there, there are few feelings in the world like that. When you really find something unique." Marty Abercrombie, President of the Chattanooga Grotto, has the same feeling. "The fact that other than going way deep into the ocean someplace, you are seeing something that nobody else has ever seen. There's potential of walking around on the side of a mountain, finding a hole in the ground, digging it open and being the first person to explore something new. It's new to everybody else in the world and you're the first person to see it."
We continued deep into the cavern to the big room that's is the destination on this trip. When I first see it open up, all I can think is "wow! This is amazing!" At that moment I know why they do it. You look at the world differently when you see it from the inside out.
Cavers like to "push the passage. But, conservation is always first on the list. Looking at a narrow space, Kim says, "If there weren't all these formations, we would call this a pancake squeeze. We would just scoot our way through a passage like that. Since there are so many formations, we definitely would NOT push this passage. But, you never know what's on the other side of it". It was no more that 10 inches so, I'm a little happy we couldn't push it. Apparently, small cavers are an asset to bring along.
And what about those who might want to solo cave? Marty says to make sure somebody knows where you're at and that know when you're supposed to be home. And then, you have to make sure you are where you're supposed to be at". Paige adds, "Solo caving is definitely a bad idea. No one should ever do it. Really".
For the worldwide caving community, there is no better way to spend time. Exploring the unknown and selectively sharing their locations but always sharing their passion is what cavers love to do.
Outdoor Chattanooga is hosting a camp chair traveler event Thursday, February 13, 2014 featuring wild caves. http://www.outdoorchattanooga.com/3754.htmhttp://www.chattanoogagrotto.org
by: Beth Neuhoff