I was particularly excited for this trip as it represented my first serious outdoor excursion since the end of August when I had emergency abdominal surgery. The first week or two of mandatory down-time following surgery proved a useful respite, but by the third week I was growing increasingly stir crazy. A pleasant flatwater paddle and a walking cave seemed like a great way to slowly get back up to speed without overdoing it.
The Anvil Cave is unique in that access is by water only. To get to the entrance you must first paddle your way down Flint Creek, which only adds to the adventure.
|Susan in the bow as we paddle up Flint Creek|
After carefully navigating some distance down the still waterway around downed trees, fishing lines, and an old dishwasher, we had arrived. We pulled out on river right at a shallow, muddy embankment choked with rushes and reeds. We donned our boots, kneepads, helmets, and headlamps and hiked the few hundred feet inland to a short, broken sandstone bluff. However, the small cliff line that greeted us did not look familiar at all. Anvil Cave has four entrances at ground level, whereas this cave had but one entrance down a jagged sinkhole. What was supposed to be a simple reconnaissance of a familiar cave was proving anything but.
We debated our next course of action for some time. Should we go into this unfamiliar cave entrance? Anvil Cave does have sink hole entrances, and this could lead us to familiar portions of the cave, if we could successfully navigate the maze-like passages to get there. But if we could find the sink entrance, why were we unable to find the ground level entrances that should have been nearby? There had been recent seismic activity in Alabama; was it possible that the ground-level entrances had collapsed? If so, did we really want to go into a cave that might be unstable?
We finally decided that we should at least check it out. If nothing else, we had found some entrance to some cave, and for the purposes of our trip, it was more important that we found a cave if not the cave.
Upon entering, we found limited evidence of previous exploration; there were a few dead glow sticks, a Pepsi can, some arrows painted on the walls at various intersections, and a ball of string that ultimately proved quite useful. However, there was little else signifying human passage. It appeared that there had been one or two solid explorations of the cave but not too much other activity.
|A few cool formations we found in the cave|
As we wandered through the grid-like tunnels, we were constantly searching for a passage to "main street," the largest continuous passage inside Anvil Cave and a clear landmark that would, at least in theory, help us locate the ground level entrances. After exploring every major passage short of squeeze tunnels, we stopped for lunch to discuss our options. They were somewhat limited:
1) start exploring random squeeze tunnels in the vain hope that we would find "main street"
2) go back to the entrance, hop back in the canoes, and paddle some more because we were at the wrong cave
3) pack it up and go home
|Stopping for lunch|
Since getting lost in a random cave and quitting without know where we were did not appeal, we decided to go back out to the boats and try again. We stood in the daylight for quite some time pondering our location, which proved to be more of an art than a science. We had a very basic map and a rough idea of where we should be, but little else. The only things we could really identify with confidence were the creek, the cliff in front of us (one of many on the map), and a house in the distance. We had not even brought a compass as they do not usually work properly in caves. Besides, finding the entrance to the cave was supposed to be the easy part!
As we stood knee deep in mud and poison ivy, I realized that I not only had a compass, but even a GPS. I had brought my iPhone along to take pictures, but completely forgot that it could also tell us where we were. I opened up the maps application on my phone and confirmed what we had all just decided--we still had another mile of paddling to do to get to Anvil Cave. We had just explored some other cave.
The blue marker is Anvil Cave. The red marker is the unknown cave we explored.
We launched the canoes and paddled further upstream to a much more familiar looking take-out. We ambled uphill the few yards to the cliff line and were greeted with the unmistakable entry to Anvil Cave, a ground-level entrance indelibly signified by graffiti. The broken sandstone was spray painted with the word "hole" and an arrow indicating the obvious passage into the cave. Now quite confident in our position, we were able to head home, the scouting mission a success. Not only did we find Anvil Cave, we have the option of exploring a more technical, less impacted cave system as well. It's always good to have options.