Wet Cave Pulldown
November 18, 1989 is a warm, pretty day, and more than twenty cavers gather for a trip to Wet Cave. Three individuals, however, disdain the easy horizontal trip, having declared their intentions of doing a pull-down from the upper entrance. Otis Farmer, Rick Hill and I leave the group at the lower entrance to Wet Cave and start up the hillside with the owner's dog leading the way. Many questions are before us. Will we find the entrance? Will the low airspace crawl be sumped? Will we have to dig the crawl open? Will we be able to complete what Mark Wolinsky has termed "a download" of Wet Cave?
What makes this trip so interesting for us is the fact that none of us have ever done the upper cave before, so we will be pulling our ropes down behind us without having seen the cave ahead. Normally, such a plan would be more than a bit foolish, but in this case we have a map of the cave (which isn't all that complex), we know how deep each of the drops will be, and we have Buddy Lane outside to come in and get us if we don't show up.
The question of finding the upper entrance is answered easily as the dog guides us directly to it. Twenty feet inside is the first pit, a 28 footer, but this turns out to be an easy climb. A small squeeze through water leads on, but this has already been dug open and we get through easily. Ha! As we pass ropes and packs through the constriction, I little know the horrors that lay ahead: a foot high space, half filled with water, extending into the distance. Pushing my pack, helmet and battery ahead of me, I enter.
I am kissed simultaneously by hard rock overhead and soft mud beneath. Half my face is submerged in brown, organic water; I have to keep my right eye closed. I plow a small trench in the muck as I push my pack forward, and enlarge with my hands. Gravel and stream cobbles tear at me and I wish for my gloves, for the trowel I've brought for digging, but to open my pack and retrieve anything in these conditions seems hopeless. Ten feet, twenty feet I wiggle, and suddenly reach paradise: room to turn my head, to get my face out of the water, to talk to Rick and Otis and tell them to come on in, it's not so bad.
The 600 feet of crawl that opens the route turns out to be exactly as advertised: a long, wet, belly crawl. After the initial 30 feet of low airspace slime, we are predominantly on cobblestones. Two small domes provide a welcome mental relief, a place to sit or stand up, if only for a moment. Finally, I hear the roar of water falling, and reach a cascade into walking passage, and our first rope drop, a 59 footer down a spacious dome.
On bottom, we pull our doubled ropes down and hastily coil. None of us knows exactly what lies ahead, but now that we are committed we are all confident. We have no choice to be confident. After a hundred feet of stoopwalk and a short swim under a flowstone, we reach the next pit, the Triple Squirt, a 35 footer. More stooping passage follows, then short drops of 10 and 15 feet. One of these is just a handline drop, but I cut a new sling for the rig point, just in case.
We drop another pit, and start losing track of how many we've done. Is this the fourth, or the fifth? There are supposed to be seven on the route. Suddenly, we are confounded. There doesn't seem to be a traveled route through a breakdown. I squeeze through a tight hole and see where it has been hammered; we are back on track. A climbdown follows, and then a wet drop of 20 feet. A hundred feet later is another drop of about 30. The rig is a 5/16" PMI in good shape, but it looks old, so I rig a loop of webbing as backup. Down we go. On bottom is an immediate drop of about 50 feet down a wet dome. We have done it. We are in the lower cave, back in familiar territory. About three thousand feet of mostly walking passage later, having negotiated the infamous Mud Room for Rick's benefit, we emerge triumphantly at the lower entrance. The crowd cheers (okay, so they didn't cheer, but we did).
"We didn't think you'd make it," they say. Buddy, we hear, had waited an hour for us at the bottom of the pull-down route before getting cold and going out. We eat veggie subs and chili at a place called Shenanigans in Sewanee and drive off into the sunset.
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