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Rambles in the Mammoth Cave System

Babs Williams & Jeff Price.

The most important thing to know about Mammoth National Park is that is in a DRY county!!  The Jatrrats gave us this useful tip - buy a cool box $3.50 - ice $1.50 and lots of beer before you enter the state.

All facilities are available in the park at reasonable prices e.g. camping $10.00 per night. Each camp area has its own barbeque and table & chairs and is situated in idyllic woodland.  The park visitor’s centre has an auditorium showing various films all day on caves & related subjects e.g. bats.  It also has gift shops, restaurants & cabins to stay in if desired.  Caving books are very cheap so keep some cash aside if you are that way inclined.

There are a variety of caving tourist trips to choose from which are also quite cheap ($4.00 - $5.00) taken by very knowledgeable park rangers.  We would recommend the frozen Niagara and Historic tours, although you may be going along with 100 other people.

On Sunday morning we met Jim Borden and Nancy Kovabik at the visitors centre to do a trip in an extension of the Mammoth system called Rappel Cave.  They took us to Nancy's home about 5 miles away and offered us the cave research foundation’s cabin for accommodation that night - typical caving hut but with bunks.  We then went back to the National Park to break camp while they had breakfast.  In true caving tradition we buggered about and finally set off at midday.

Rappel cave is a through trip so we took two cars, leaving ours at the lower entrance ( Downey Avenue) and took the other to the upper entrance (Khan).  After a 20 minute walk we arrived at the entrance only to discover that dipstick Williams had left the car keys safely stashed in Jim's car.  After D.H. Williams had thrashed herself thoroughly with birch twigs, Nancy and Jim very kindly walked back to get the keys.

We were finally ready to start the trip at 14.10 hrs.

Khan entrance was dug by Jim and others in the mid 70s.  It is the 24th entrance into the Mammoth system.  It is also the highest, furthest east and furthest north.

We entered the cave down a 40' steel ladder pitch into the chamber.  After a short crawl we arrived at Ghengis river and made our way through phreatic passage to the start of the crawl.  This crawl is hands and knees, not very restrictive but very long (4000') - knee pads essential!!  They don't call it the Fisher Ridge Special for nothing!  We then went past the Blob and into the Turbine Blades, which is a gnarled and sharp rift passage, which we traversed (or straddled which is the Kentuckian term).  Then on into Thickwater Canyon _ aptly named as our boots sank about a foot into mud all the way through.  This canyon emerged into Fairy Land, a very wide water passage with fabulous mud formations and mud covered stalactites and straws.  Very pretty.

We then entered Elysiann way a spectacular large passageway with Ghengis river running through it. In places it was very similar to the green canal in Dan-Yr-Ogof and in fact much of the cave was like a large Dan-Yr-Ogof.  Jim and Nancy were horrified at our love of swimming in the water, the Americans do not like water!  So bad is this aversion to H2O that when discovering the new cave from Downey Avenue they reached "impassable water" and turned back.  At this point J & N let Jeff & I lead so that we could see the cave fauna, this was one of the highpoints of the trip for us.  We must have seen about 30 white crayfish and one white fish.  They are translucent and blind but sensitive to light and heat.

We passed the Sentries, which are big stalagmite bosses perched on a shelf, they looked quite majestic and very sentry like.

Black river started off as a rift passage, gradually getting bigger and deeper sometimes to about thigh deep.  Lots more crayfish.  At this point we had been going for nearly 5 hours.  Then it was into the Easy Way which was a winding tight rift passage and a relief to be upright all the way.  This was followed by Black Canyon which was walking and traversing leading to Halloween Junction.

We then gradually started to ascend, doing a few climbs into Arley Way.  Around here was a 300' easy hands and knees crawl that was in fact agony on very tender knees.  (Just keep thinking about the beer in the car cool box at this point!).

A ‘T’ junction here goes led to Mammoth main system nearly 2 miles away and 5 miles to a main entrance called Dayle Valley.

Finally into Downey Avenue, which is basically a boulder ruckle, and out via 4 steel ladders varying from 30' - 50'.

We emerged tired but happy after just over 7 hours having done the best through trip either of us had ever been on.

Then it was just a matter of picking up the cars and going back to Nancy's where her excellent husband John had prepared a delicious SpagBol and had chilled some beers for us.

Jim has been at the forefront of the exploration of this section of Mammoth and we are very grateful to both Jim and Nancy for giving up their time to take us down.  Also to John for feeding us and to Nancy & John's son John for the Geode and computer game!

Jim is at present just finishing a book which will be the sequel to “The Longest Cave" by Brucker and Watson.  If anyone is interested in a copy, please contact us.  We may even be able to get it signed.

SELECTED READING:

R.W. Brucker & R.A. Watson The Longest Cave 1976

W. Halliday Depths of The Earth 1966

A. Bullit Rambles in the Mammoth Cave (Reprint) 1973

Babs Williams.