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Caving Espey Cave
 

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Espey Cave

Cave Details

Type of Cave
Horizontal Cave
Experience
Novice
Accessed Length
3500
Access-Cave
From the top of Rain's Ridge, on the west slope,

Location

State

Geographic Location

Latitude
35.74
Longitude
-86.11

Espey cave is a cave, particularly near to my heart as it was the first wild cave I ever had the privilege of exploring.  It was also geographically close to my home, which made it the spot for weekend caving, and I've probably logged hundreds of trips to this one in particular.  

I was first introduced to Espey in 1996, rappelling down the cliff face, and completely unaware that I would be descending right over the mouth of the cave.  The rappel was thrilling, in military style with nothing but a D ring and some webbing between you and the ground.  Also, being my first rappel, it was indeed a bit terrifying.  Then right in the middle of the rappel, the cliff face fell away and there stood before me, an enormous gaping hole in the side of the mountain with a heavy stream emerging from it.

My trepidation was quickly replaced with wonder and insatiable curiosity as I descended to the stream, soaking my shoes and became nearly instantly obsessed with the adventure of exploring what would be found inside.

 

We ended up leaving that day, but I couldn't get it out of my head.  I wandered back, with a friend and several hundred feet of string and flashlights, and carefully laid my path, breadcrumb style with the string into the cave.  

Clearly not having a clue what I was doing, and something which the experienced caver might find laughable, I only found my way several hundred feet in, to explore the left branch of the cave, which is relatively short lasting 1000 feet or so.  It ends with a couple of domes and vaulted chambers that rather consistently was filled with a bat population.

Later trips, after building some confidence and reading some books on cave safety and rescue produced deeper discoveries such as the rainroom, which is a dome-like solution cavity with a constant light waterfall creating rain constantly in this dome.  With standing 2" of water in the bottom, it was a regular exhibition on nearly every trip as I carried each new adventurer to witness for themselves such fascinating geology.

Other interesting places, we dubbed "the clayroom" with perhaps hundreds of clay sculptures, created by fellow cavers passing through to leave their mark.  

Through countless crawls, we explored every nook and cranny this cave had to offer, finding piles of bat guano, fully exploring the stream bed crawl, crawling on hands and knees and bellies in cold water and across that hard chert and stone creekbeds.

Several mid-cave crawls narrow into coffin-like places, so tight, laying there and holding your breath, you can hear your own heart reverberating off the walls in such silence, with walls and ceiling only inches away.  These places, if you stop and think about where you are can quickly overpower your sense of safety and has led many into an uncontrollable panic, and with good reason.  If you aren't claustrophobic, you will be at least for that period if you let yourself think too much.

Over the years we pushed to the back part of the cave, which appears to end, except that if you scrape the rocks in the gravel floor at the rear, you can feel air coming from up under the wall.  Further digging produced a hole which led to a tight squeeze under the wall, which leads to another stream/mud crawl, only about 2 feet tall.  Another 100 feet beyond, the cave ends in a pool of water, or does it? 

This was a question that plagued me for nearly three years.  Under the water in the pool of water was a passage that disappeared under the wall.

I came back to this place with group after group.  Year after year, voicing the challenge to all fellow adventurers, inquiring as to who might have the stones to attempt swimming into the underwater passage, 2 feet in diameter,  under the wall.  Several men thought they could, getting down to their underwear and getting into the 56 degree water, only to bail out at the last minute.  For good reason, it's very intimidating in that moment.  What lies beyond while you stand there freezing? A submerged water-filled chamber? A puddle?  An air-filled room?  10 more miles of cave?  Had anyone every been back this far?  These questions plagued me day and night.

One summer, the second year of me trying to work up my courage, it had been quite dry, August if I recall, I led yet another group back to this spot, at an estimated 4000 feet back, under the rock wall and to the edge of the pool.  I laid my cheek into the water and looking across the surface, the water was low enough I could see into the passage and seeing about 1 inch of air just above the water surface, and into, what appeared to be air on the other side.  Still not able to work up the courage, we left yet again.

Year three, in the summer, if I recall, my brother BJ was amongst us, and with the water low, we returned yet again and BJ decided he was going to try it, and he successfully swam into the passage and into a room.  Not to be outdone by my little brother, I annoyed by the persistent nagging of the passage, dove in headfirst as well and we emerged in a room not 10 feet beyond the wall.  

The room was maybe 30 feet by 20 feet and only 6 feet tall at the highest, ceiling to floor, and water covering the entire floor, with 2 feet of air between water and ceiling.  At the far end of this room, and opposite to the passage we had just swam, was now, yet another underwater tunnel.  Really?  It just couldn't be easy could it?  

Another underwater passage seemed even more foreboding than the first as now we would be even more isolated from the rest of the group, and we were nearly inaudible even from this present water-filled room...  How much more so would we be on the other side of this second underwater tunnel should this tunnel not emerge into air?  What if this tunnel were to emerge into the side of an underground lake, in total darkness?  This is nuts.

The intimidation of this was beyond imagination and beyond common sense, if we weren't clearly already past that point.  BJ and I retreated the way we had come and reported to the group the discovery of a water filled chamber with 2 feet of air and yet another underwater passage to conquer.  

What an insatiable feeling, and clearly past the level of sanity of normal stable individuals.  Should have brought dive gear if you were resourceful enough.  We weren't into that.  Not smart enough, rich enough or resourceful enough for all that... all we had was what we could dig up at Wal-Mart, or the local outdoors outfitter.

And yet the desire to conquer it persisted.

On yet another trip, dragging complete strangers along, we made the water passage the final destination and the pool representing the "practical end of the cave, and trophy of completion" once more.  I offered the story once again to our fellow adventurers and intrigued them with the mystery of "What lay beyond?"  and "Who dared swim into the water chamber to see what was there".

One girl, whose name I cannot recall, proudly identified herself as a witch, of the Wicca movement, a subject which while grossly antithetical to my own Christian beliefs, I found thoroughly entertaining as I asked countless questions for the improvement of my general knowledge on the subject, and of which she answered without reservation, calmly, and as if it were as simple as drinking a milkshake, pronounced "I'll do it.."

Ok, really?  This girl, a stranger, and seemingly without trepidation, was just going to dive into a passage underwater, with a flashlight and swim completely submerged through a rock tube, nearly a mile back into the ground, and with a 1/4 mile of rock above her head,  into the dark water-filled unknown... really? Ok....  I'll go with...  I want this, I need to conquer this for myself.  I need to know what's on the other side, and I don't know why.  Am I insane?  Probably.

So we arrive yet again, to the famed pool, I proudly and without hesitation lead the charge into the frigid water diving under quickly and swimming into the first now submerged, and previously conquered passage, with Wicca girl in tow.  She followed as if it were nothing and to the amazement of 10 other men standing pool-side, disappeared from view under the wall beneath the water.  

We surfaced within the chamber, now slightly deeper than the last time, we swam and waded across the room, now about 5 feet deep at the deepest point, headlight and hardhat amply illuminating the small chamber, light bouncing around off the water and reflecting on the ceiling not two feet above the water's surface.

With intimidation rising within me, I indignantly pointed with an outstretched hand.  Realizing that once beyond that wall, we would be beyond any ability to communicate with anyone at all.  As it were, you could barely hear people shouting on the other side of the first wall beyond that first passage, much less into the unknown of the second passage.

So admirably, and without hesitation Wicca girl dives head first into the unknown and disappears...  No way... she did it!  Who does this?  Who has that level of fearlessness?  A witch I guess??!!  The only person in perhaps 100, and in three or more years with the stones to just do it.  What would happen?  Would she back out, feet-first while holding her breath?  Would she disappear never to be seen again in a current of rushing water?

Then , within 10 seconds I could hear her unintelligibly shouting.  What was it?  At least there was air....she is shouting...  I, not being outdone now by a girl, and yet desiring to pacify the urge to see beyond, dove in after.

I emerged immediately... into....  a mud puddle.  Literally.  It was almost comical.  It was a puddle as big around as a trash can. and not one foot above the water level in the previous room, only 3 or 4 feet beyond the wall.  Stunning, laughable even.  Amazing as the light illuminated a huge tunnel, a passage as tall and long as a subway tunnel! 

Who had been here?  Certainly not many.  Didn't see any footprints.  Realizing we were completely out of reach, we could be already drowned as far as anyone on our trip new, what if someone got injured?  Someone would be left, alone in an unknown, cold, dark, unreachable pocket of space in the middle of the earth, and left behind while the other went for help.  Yet we may not ever come back here again.  

So we pushed the tunnel, quickly...  it drove beyond, maybe another quarter of a mile, high and long.. foreboding, inaccessible to sanity filled future trips.... maybe virgin ground.  Perhaps no human had set foot here?  Perhaps we were just a few of many?  Exhilarating to consider you may be the first human eyes to set gaze upon a piece of earth in all of time.

Within that 1/4 mile, the passage seemed to tighten and end rather abruptly.  I quickly scanned for new leads, and not finding anything terribly inviting, or likely to go beyond a few feet, we quickly returned the way we had come, now armed with the knowledge of what lay ahead, we made two more subterranean dives to our crew anxiously awaiting the outcome of our disappearance.

As we emerged and excitedly reported our findings, we left the cave over the evacuation's hour and a half journey.  I was bathed in a strange feeling, a feeling of having now conquered it.  Nothing left to explore.  5 years, 7 miles of passage, found the furthest point back, maybe beyond anyone else. having largely conquered my own self, my own fear, maybe more so than the cave.  

Except the Wicca girl had some level of courage that I did not yet know.  Would I ever find that level of courage?  Would it be unhealthy to have that level of fearlessness?  A question to ponder over the years to come.  What was I going to do now?  A new cave?  Was there any reason to return here?  Not to explore anymore, it's played out.  Only to show it off to new adventurers maybe?  That was the mostly end of my trips to Espey.  An enchanted place.  Warm in my memory now, nearly 20 years past.  That experience drives me at present, even in recent caves, and throughout everyday life.

If today were your last day on earth, what would you do with it?  Would you live it to its fullest without regret?  Don't shy away from challenges, embrace them and confront them head on, with everything that you are.  Push yourself to do extraordinary things and you may just surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.  Live every day like it's your last, for we never know when the Lord will call us home.

-Shane

 

 

 


GEOLOGIC ANATOMY AND HISTORY

Espey Cave (sometimes called "Jamison Cave") is the largest cave in Cannon County and is well known to the residents of the area. Candled on the ceiling of an upper-level room are names and dates as old as 1847. The cave is mentioned in the Tennessee edition of Monteith's Compre-hensive Geography (1884). The cave stream once powered a mill a few yards below the mouth. On March 2, 1957, the writer estimated the flow of this stream as (6 cubic feet per second.) 

The entrance is large and impressive in its beautiful natural setting at the head of a steep-walled hollow which cuts deep into the Highland Rim. A stream flows out this opening, which is 30 feet wide and 15 feet high. The length of the main channel of the cave is 3,500 feet, and the total length of the passages explored by the writer is nearly 2 miles. The amount of overburden attains a maximum of 250 feet or more.

The main cave trends generally eastward but is very sinuous and irregular in shape (fig. 36). At 150 feet from the mouth is a fork to the left which runs for 450 feet northwest, through a large collapse dome 75 feet in diameter. The dome exhibits concentric cantilever breakdown. Beyond this dome the northwest part of the cave averages 50 feet wide and 10 feet high; it ends in a breakdown.

At 900 feet a split into upper and lower levels occurs. The lower level is a dry, gravelly stream-bed crawlway which extends for 1,150 feet before rejoining the upper, larger level. The upper level contains a number of large breakdown and formation rooms, and averages 25 feet wide and 15 feet high. On the west side of the main passage in the upper level is a domepit 75 feet high, from which water cascades into a pool 15 feet in diameter.

Some small helictites are found in one part of this branch of the cave. Near the end of the cave is a long wide crawlway with large piles of bat guano at the end. The last 300 feet is a low, gravelly stream passage which finally ends in a narrow, water-filled fissure.  A crayfish was seen in this pool, and a breeze was blowing through the fissure. In lower level of the cave the limestone contains many beds of chert, which projects as ledges from the walls and contribute to the irregularity of the floor.

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Editor reviews

 
Espey Cave 2012-04-16 00:06:56 Shane Lewis
Overall rating 
 
3.5
Safety Rating 
 
4.0
Formations/Geology 
 
4.0
Accessibility 
 
4.0
Fun Factor 
 
3.0
Big Nuts Tilt 
 
3.0
Reviewed by Shane Lewis    April 16, 2012
#1 Reviewer  -   View all my reviews

Recommended if in the area. A good well rounded cave, especially for beginners.

Review

Good Points
Easily accessible, and fairly easy not to get lost, lot's of neat formations and geology, the rainroom being most notable.
Bad Points
None
Do you recommend?
Yes
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