Exploration of a Tennessee cave, a true story of discovery and adventure.

By: Hubert Crowell

In 1984, while visiting relatives in Tennessee, they told me of their water supply. A pump house at the base of a large hill where they pumped water from a cave lake located below. A previous owner had used cinder blocks to block the entrance to a cave in the side of the hill and built a small dam to back up the stream flowing from the cave. As caving was my hobby, I became very interested and at once wanted to investigate this underground lake. This was too good to pass up, I persuaded one of my relatives to go with me and wait at the entrance while I check out the cave.

With no caving gear and just a flashlight I thought that I would just see if it amounted to anything. Raising the plywood door at the bottom of the pump house, I entered the cave by wading in 10 inches of water for a few feet and looked for a way to continue. The ceiling came down to the water, but to the left along the back side of the cinder block wall was a 20 foot long crawl that led to a 4 foot high room at the edge of the water. After wading through about 100 feet of low water filled passage, I was able to stand up in a larger room with the stream flowing along one side. This room had two columns in the middle and several small holes leading off in different directions. I followed the stream for about 40 feet and then reentered the stream which continued in a 6 foot high by 5 foot wide passage. The water was now deeper, up to my waist and was about 55 degrees. I continued to navigate over the rocky bottom around three turns by staying to the sides where the mud and water were not so deep. Alone and with limited light, I called it quits for the day. It would be two years before I could return to push this tantalizing lead.

First Trip, October 25, 1986

About once a month, a small group friends and I would go caving in well known caves in northeast Alabama, northwest Georgia and east Tennessee, referred to by the caving society as TAG country. This area is well known for deep pits and long caves. On each trip I would tell them about the cave on my cousins property and we would discuss checking it out. We at last set a date and drove up from Marietta, Georgia on a Saturday. There had been a heavy storm the night before and my cousin said that he had seen the plywood door pushed up completely open by the water rushing out of the cave after a hard rain.

Before getting dressed in our caving gear, we walked down to the entrance to check the water level, it was running normal, however it is not unusual for caves to flood hours after a heavy rain. The temptation was too great, so we suited up for caving. Each member of the group carries three sources of light, with one attached to a hard hat with a chin strap. Gloves are required if you plan to take any notes or surveys. In addition to the survey gear consisting of a Sonic Tape measure, electronic Smart level with a Laser pointer attached and a Data Scope compass, each member carried water and a snack. We adopted the map as you go method exploration. This requires great restraint on the part of each member not to scoop passage. Scooping passage is when a few members would stop the survey and start exploring on their own. This usually results in explored passages not being completely mapped.

Our first mapping party consisted of Buddy Davis, Roger Garratt, John Wallace and myself. We entered the cave and decided to see if it amounted to much before starting to survey, then we would survey our way out. We followed the stream around several turns for about 300 feet coming out of the water near a T-junction. We followed the main stream through walking passage until it became blocked by breakdown with the stream flowing from under the rocks.

At this point, there were no footprints or other signs that anyone had been this far into the cave. We started the survey at the breakdown, working back down stream to the junction. We then took the survey up the side passage exploring as we mapped. We climbed up about 3 feet with a smaller stream flowing below, we mapped onto the bottom of a large pit and then about 50 feet more before the passage became too tight.

Returning to the pit, Buddy and I climbed up and continued the survey while John and Roger retreated back along the passage to check a lead going up at a formation on the left. After mapping a formation room at one level, we climbed to the top of the pit and found large walking passage going in both directions. We explored in one direction for several hundred feet, then returned to the top of the pit, where we were surprised to hear John and Roger coming up the passage from the other direction. They had found a connecting passage around the pit.

We mapped down the large passage going southeast then turned back to the left to a large breakdown room almost directly over the point where the stream started and where we had first started our survey. Going up over very loose breakdown, we entered another large passage blocked at the end by a small 10 foot pit with a stream flowing across the bottom. On a later trip Buddy Davis was the first to cross the narrow ledge on the side of the pit, so I have decided to name it Davis Pit. We decided to quit for the day and went back to map the connection John and Roger had found.

This connection passed two of the largest formations in the cave, which I named Clark Columns, in honor of my first cousins family name and owner of the property. On a later trip we discovered a large formation room at a higher level. We exited the cave after six hours, having mapped 2,380 feet, all mostly walking passage with many leads to be checked.

Second Trip, January 31, 1987

We added the following to our survey team: John Huggins, Bill Luchring, Jack Pace and Jeffrey Smith.

We started climbing up at the point where Roger and John found the bypass on the last trip. Finding that the passage continued to the southeast and up with pits and a large upper room very high in the cave we named this The Upper Room. There was a walking lead at the back and one lead going down which was pushed by Jack and Buddy, it would be 1995 before we would map this lead!

On the way back down, we mapped a high passage going northwest through the best formation room found so far in the cave. A passage behind several large columns continued about 100 feet with soda straws covering the ceiling. The length of the cave was now 3,729 feet long.

A nice treat at the end of each trip to this cave was a catfish dinner just down the road, we would change clothes and just walk the mile to the restaurant! They have large ponds where they raise the catfish. The ponds are feed with water from another cave system.

Third Trip, February 20. 1988

Buddy Davis, Mark Gramlich, Roger Garratt and I returned to push the southeast end of the cave as mapping indicated it as the best possible way for the cave to continue. We brought a rubber raft to try and avoid getting so wet in the entrance stream passage. We wadded into the dry area at the first room with the two rock columns and inflated the raft. We could not quite reach both sides of the passage at the same time, so it was difficult to push our way up the stream. Near the end of the deepest section the raft brushed against the sharp rocks and started to leak air. On the return trip out it was useless, we gave up on the raft idea and just decided to tough it out on future trips. You are only in the water for the first and last 20 minutes of each trip and if you can keep to the sides in the shallow area you only get wet to the crouch, slip or step in the middle and your wet to the waist!

On reaching Davis Pit, the pit with the stream, several leads were checked to find a way around. One hole just prior to the pit led to the bottom and a short upstream passage ended with the stream flowing from under a rock wall. Down stream was blocked at the pit's edge. Finding no easy way around the pit, Buddy edged his way out onto the sloping ledge that went around the right side of the pit up a steep slope and over a lip revealed that to the left went down to the stream that was flowing across Davis Pit. This was very dangerous and on future trips we carried rope to use as a safety line in order to keep form falling down the 10 foot pit. This stream was much smaller than the one flowing out of the cave and the passage ended shortly with water dripping from the ceiling. We returned in 1993 to map a 300 foot side passage from this stream passage.

Back at Davis Pit we climbed up to the right into a passage that continued with easy walking about 200 feet to the top edge of a large room with rock sliding down to a good size stream. We decided that we must be back at the main stream level and wondered how much cave we had passed up.

Off to the left of this room was a large, lower room with crystals on the walls and floor, we named it the Gypsum Room. After a short investigation we decided to save it for another trip. This was turning out to be a major cave with 4,343 feet mapped and many leads waiting to be checked.

Fourth Trip, March 26, 1988

John Wallace was back with us, as he was unable to make the previous trip. I had been caving with John from the 70's. We meet at one of the Dogwood City Grotto meetings in Atlanta. I had contacted the Grotto after a trip to Alabama in which we wasted a half day looking for a cave that I do not think existed. However that stirred up a new interest in caving and I wanted to see more wild caves. I caved with John about every month for almost 20 years before he was killed in an unfortunate auto accident. John encourage me to continue my cave map programing, which was a gift that he had, encouraging everyone he came into contact with to work hard at what they loved to do.

Before climbing down the rock slide, we mapped the large room to the left and found large paw marks on the mud walls in sets of four as if a large animal had been trapped.

At the back of a side lead off this room, John pushed a crawl with sticks and surface debris. This is named John's Push on the map and could be checked later for a possible connection to a known cave on the side of the hill that we were caving in.

Returning to the rock slide, we mapped down to the stream flowing under a ledge. At the south end of the room was a small pool containing several small fish. They did not appear to be blind, as they would try to hide from the light behind our boots. The passage continued on to the southeast, we took the upper level with the survey and Roger followed staying in the lower passage.

Blood Passage was named for several red formations about halfway through this long, narrow passage. The lower level turned out to be a walking size dry stream bed. Again, we reached a junction, mapped the left lead to low crawls and returned to verify that the right lead continued for another trip. The survey totaled 5,910 feet and the cave was still going! There are some very long caves in the southeast, but most caves are under a mile in length, we were very excited to be exploring over a mile of cave and still going.

On the way out Buddy and I checked a lead going down between the pit and the breakdown. This led to the stream with a possible connection and a good walking lead going up stream.

Trip # 5, July 23, 1988

The National Speleological Society (NSS), holds a convention each year and this year we met in the Black Hills of South Dakota. After returning from the NSS convention, we were all fired up to continue our explorations, so I advised my cousin to save up some drinking water. After each exploration, it takes several days for the muddied drinking water too clear.

Buddy, Roger and I were on this the best trip so far. We started out pushing the stream level and by moving several rocks, we were able to continue at water level for about 100 feet, reaching the place where Buddy and I climbed down on the previous trip.

We mapped up stream with wide walking passage, domes and crossing the stream several times. We named it Roger Hall, after the survey leader. After a low section we came into a large room, studying it for a while, we decided it was the Slide Room. We had connected for a large loop through the cave which would make a good short tour with very little repeat of passage.

Refreshed from our dip in the stream, I was the only one with a wet suit, we continued to the southeast end of the cave. From the Fish Pond on we have seen no moving water, only pools.

Picking up the survey, we began climbing again and about 75 feet ahead we crossed over a deep pool of water, the Blue Hole, then over a lip into a large room that showed evidence of filling with mud and water. The Catch Basin had filled up, spilling over the lip and creating the Blue Hole. We entered a narrow opening in the far wall, down into the water and ducked under a ledge with water to our chests, climbed another wall and mapped about 150 feet of crawl until it got too tight.

Returning to the Catch Basin, we could see a high lead about 20 feet up a steep mud slope. Digging footholds for 15 minutes, we found a large oval room overlooking the Catch Basin with another large walking lead continuing to the southeast.

Mapping through the Crystal Hall, which was covered with calcite crystals, and the Slab room, the floor was covered with large thin slabs of rock, and we finally met our challenge. We were at the top of another large room with vertical walls and two deep pools at the bottom. Along the right side was a large rock leaning out over the pools, leaving a narrow passage between it and the wall. However, no way could be found around the room. Our lights could barely make out a dark opening on the far side at our level about 40 feet up a vertical wall. Buddy climbed down to the pools, slid on the mud side and went in without touching the bottom. He was able to reach a space between the pools where the mud was less than a foot deep, but could not find a way up the far wall.

The topographical map shows a sink on top of EDDY Hill that is about 400 to 500 feet from Buddy's Plunge. Cave length was now 7,698 feet but there is more cave left for future explorations. An account of the exploration to this point was written up by me and published in the July 1989 issue of the NSS News.

Trip #6, August 27, 1988

Roger Garratt, John Wallace, Mark Gramlich, Roy Dunn, Phil Larkin, Mark Pegin and I made a 5 hour trip to try and scale the wall from Buddy's Plunge. This was mostly a sight seeing trip with one goal, to climb the wall on the far side of the twin pools. It took us about 2 hours to reach the known southeast end of the cave. After climbing down to the pools with the aid of a rope, we explored the far wall in detail and found that the bolts that I had brought for scaling the wall were not needed. A narrow opening was found on the right side and we could chimney up to the passage above.

The walking passage continued for several hundred feet before being blocked with loose rocks. Climbing over the loose rocks, the cave ended in a small dome where the ceiling had collapsed blocking any continuing of the cave to the southeast. The length of the cave was now 7,918 feet.

Trip #7, August 2, 1989

The NSS Convention of 1989 was held in Sewanee, Tennessee, high on Mount Eagle at the University of the South. It was only a short drive from there to the cave so I conducted a trip of 11 from the convention, Larry Clauser, Scott Jones, Ken Law, Mark McCandless, Kevin Regan, Paul Donis, Jim Steet, Danny Gillespie, Kathy Welling, Andy Franklin and myself, Hubert Crowell.

Although this was the largest group to enter the cave at one time and only a 4 1/2 hour trip, two major discoveries were made. When the group reached the first breakdown, where the tight water passage starts, several members climbed up through an opening in the right side which led to the upper rooms of the cave. This saved about 30 minutes of caving to reach that level and was used on almost every trip that followed.

After exploring the large upper rooms someone asked about a lead down through the breakdown on the north side of the room When I looked down I saw a very familiar rock, one we discussed each time we crawled under it. It was fastened to the wall by flow stone and the floor had dropped away leaving it extending about 3 feet from the wall at a right angle.

Climbing down this newest connection provided easy access to the back part of the cave. I led the group down two climbs from this point to where the stream picks up again and we finished up with a round trip through Roger Hall, the Slide Room and back out.

Trip #eight, February 17, 1990

Survey team Hubert Crowell, John Wallace, Mark Gramlich, and Roger Garratt explored for about 5 hours. After making the new easy route to the large upper rooms, John found a passage leading down and south near the first large pit in the big room. Before climbing down into this new section we stopped for a good view of the Lost Column. At one time there was a large column here which was cut away by the water and formed a pit. There is a nice window that you can stand in and look down the pit, the edges of the old column forming the sides of the window.

Our new survey started here and went down and to the south. We mapped through large walking passage with large deposits of bat guano and several leads going down. After several levels and a tight vertical squeeze we returned to walking passage for about 50 feet. The passage split and then both leads ended with about 350 feet mapped. We named this John's Grotto.

We then went to the stream level and mapped a short up stream lead. We now had a total of 8,366 feet of passage mapped.

Trip #9, June 23, 1990

Buddy Davis and I returned to check out the latest discovery at the south end of the cave and check or more leads.

Returning to John's Grotto we pushed one of the lower leads to a low lead with a mud cobble stone like floor and named it Cobble Stone Alley. Several leads were checked and one smelled like gas. It was in this area that we found a strange side passage with the strong smell of sulfur. We were not able to remain in the area for too long due to the odor. After another short walking passage the south end of the cave ended with loose rock. I believe that we were very close to the south side of the hill. All of the cave is above the valley floor and contained in one long narrow hill.

After mapping about 610 feet of new passage with more leads remaining, we exited the cave. Neil Philpott, wanted to see the cave and said that he had gone a short distance into it when he was a kid. We took him back to the area we had just explored where he pushed a new lead and discovered a small room. This was the first cave trip for Neil, he is the son of Bonnie and Billy Philpott, who own the cave. We named the cave after the owners and the pump house, Philpotts' Pumphouse Cave.

Trip #10 January 26, 1991

On the second trip into the cave we noticed that the west end of the large upper room was a question mark as out light would not reach the distance wall. However there was a ravine to cross before we could explore that end of the cave, so it was left for another time.

John Wallace, Mark Gramlich, Frank Dalton and I explored and mapped for a short 3 1/2 hour trip. We mapped along the stream and up through the new connection to the waiting lead. I was able to jump the 5 foot gap and set a hand line.

We mapped up the Mouse Passage, named for the small field mouse seen in the passage, which curved up and around with nice formations. The passage ended with a nice grotto of formations and roots hanging from the roof. The roots had formations growing from them leading up to believe that formation growth can be very fast under the right conditions, these were about 3 to 4 inches in average length and were not connected to rock except by the roots.

The length of the level survey was not 8,859 feet with many leads remaining to be pushed.

Trip # 11 June 19, 1993

A 6 hour trip by John Hickman, Annette Oeser Ken Oeser, Doug Dewitt, Rob Morgan and I. Doug discovered Doug's shortcut another shortcut from the middle cave to the lower stream level. This was in an area just prior to Davis Pit, a side lead to the right that looked very dangerous, just as you entered the side passage the floor had a hole and the edges looked like very thin rock with a large opening below. We marked the map with a note, Danger thin floor.

After carefully walking around the thin area Doug climbed up to a small opening near the ceiling and found that there was a passage continuing down with several short drops with the last drop being about an 8 foot drop into the stream passage below.

Ken was on a photo trip and took some great pictures of the large main room, one level up from the stream passage.

After crossing Davis Pit, we went back down to the north stream that we explored in 1988 to check out the side passage running north. We mapped about 300 feet and stopped with the crawl containing rim stone dams. To continue on would have destroyed the formations. The passage was named after Ken (Oeser Passage). Total cave length was now 9,444 Feet of level survey. There are two lengths used in measuring a cave, the total survey length and the total level survey, the level survey is the most common way to refer to the length of a horizontal cave, and total survey when discussing vertical caves.

Trip #12 October 1, 1994

This was a family gathering as well as a caving trip and we hoped it would turn into a yearly event.

Roger Bartholomew, Buddy Davis, Doug Dewitt, Rob Morgan, Jerry Zeiger, Stacy Story and I returned to show Roger and Jerry the cave. Roger flew in from up state New York and Jerry, my first cousin drove down from Kentucky, this was his first cave trip and he loved it. We took the original trail in wadding the water then climbing up and to the left at the first junction. At the first formation we climb up to the left through the passage that John and Roger discovered on our first mapping trip. We then climb up into the Clark Column room, these are two large columns named after our grandfather Luther Clark. Bonnie Philpott was a Clark and Jerry and my mothers were Clark's.

Roger took pictures throughout the cave while Buddy took Doug and Rob off to explore a passage he looked at on the first trip into the cave. After several hours we all met at the Clark Columns where we discovered a strange formation around the base of the column.

About a year after the cave was discovered, Bonnie allowed a teacher from the local high school to bring his class into the cave. We had cleaned up most of the trash left by the students, but one of them had draped a shoe string on the side of one of the Clark Columns. When I first spotted the string it had already started to crust over with calcite and had become part of the formation. I left it there as a test to see how fast the formation was growing. On this trip I was surprised to find that it had almost disappeared with a 1/32 inch coating of stone in only 8 years with no water flow, only the moisture of the cave! I do not think that you would be able to find it now.

Leaving the Clark Columns, we continued through a nice clean crawl, then over some Racoon bones and up into the Hope Room. We named this room in the hope that we had found the main trunk passage of the cave on that first mapping trip. However the large passage ended a short distance to the northwest and to the southeast, became a lower passage, after climbing around the pit that I climbed in 1986.

This passage continues for about 200 feet then makes a sharp right turn for about another 100 feet of break down. The end of this passage is directly over the main entrance stream were it flows from under the break down. A short distance to the left and up brings you to a very noticeable rock of about 500 pounds stuck to the left wall. Minerals had glued the rock to the side of the cave and the floor settled away, leaving the rock exposed. You do not spend much time under this rock! It did however make a good marker for the spot to climb up into the main room just north of the Lost Column. The fastest route to the back of the cave would be to climb up from the stream passage and over to the Lost Column and then down at the over hanging rock. We then continue over the break down crawl, this would be to the right if you were climbing down from the main room. A short distance and you reach the hard climb up from the stream. At this point half of the group was tired and decided to exit the cave. Roger, Buddy and I continued taking pictures along the way. We took this easy route climbing down, hard to climb up, and plan to return via the slide room and the 20 foot pit. After reaching the stream and strolling down Roger Hall, we turn back to the left and wade bent over to the slide room.

Crossing the Fish Pond and enter Blood Passage. From the Slide Room, when you look at the Blood Passage, you can see three levels of passages, we had explored two of them but had not found the way to the third upper level passage. We followed the lower Blood Passage as it was all walking and arrived at the large junction room.

Just prior to the Junction Room, I climbed up to the middle level and then found that I could inch my way up the slope to the third level. With the passage heading back toward slide room, we decided to save it for a future survey trip.

We then climbed up through the right passage from the Junction Room, across the Blue Hole and down into the Catch Basin. Up the mud foot holes that were dug on a previous trip, through the Oval Room, Crystal Hall, Slab Room and at last to Buddy's Plunge.

Roger brought a bright flash unit and took some great pictures, he seemed surprised and said that we sure had a great cave here.

Trip #13 September 29, 1995

Doug Dewitt drove down from West Virginia for two days of caving, spending the night at my cousins. The two of us returned to the Upper Room to explore and map the side lead that Jack and Buddy check out in 1987 and that Buddy, Doug and Rob looked for on the previous trip.

We climbed down about 30 feet to some white soda straws and formations and then the passage split with a lead going straight down and one going along the side of the wall to the left. We mapped about 50 feet to the end and then returned to the down climb. This downward passage continued down to a tight duck under, I pushed under and down, Doug called me "LOOPY" and the name was given to the passage.

Loopy Passage reached a small drop to a lower level passage but was blocked with two large rocks. Doug managed to dislodge them and let fall into the passage below. The passage looked very familiar and after finding foot prints I realized it was the Cobble Stone Alley. We completed the map from the Upper Room down to the Cobble Stone Alley. I was thankful that I did not have to climb back up that passage. We have never repeated that route. We exited the cave through Johns Grotto.

Trip #14 September 30, 1995

The next day Doug Dewitt, Stacy Danniel and I mapped Stacy Passage (64 feet) going north from the Fish Pond. We then mapped Blood Passage lower level (410 feet). Checked out the left passage at the Junction Room and Discovered Crystal Crawl. Doug got very excited about the Crystals on the ledge near the end so Stacy and I climbed up to check it out. The Crystals were large, up to four inches in length and 1/2 inch across. Doug continued up the passage to the end of the previous survey and named the passage Crystal Crawl, this was a low crawl that Doug pushed through with some difficulty. He started digging and moving rocks to the side, after 12 feet he found, Doug's Room and the Root Cellar (150 feet).

The Root Cellar reminded me of the bottom of a cellar or septic tank? There was water dripping everywhere with roots hanging about 20 feet with water running down them. The ends of the roots were about 4 feet from the floor. I was not to sure about the place as I knew that there was a house located on the surface nearby on this side of the hill. While Doug was setting a survey station at the end of the Root Cellar, Stacy found a low crawl at the base of the pit with loose gravel that lead to another dome about 8 by 10. We did not dig into it but left it for Stacy and another day. On this trip we reached 10,292 feet of cave passage mapped, 1.9 miles.

Trip #15 January 25, 1996

Buddy Davis, Jan Poler, Doug Dewitt, Donna Oliverson, Stacy Danniel, Jason Johnson and I returned to the junction room just after Blood Passage and climbed up to the third level of Blood Passage. We discovered Jason's Attic and Jason Squeeze.

Trip #16 April 20, 1996

During the Clark family reunion at the Dubose conference center ant Monteagle, Tennessee,

Gene Zeigler, Jon Zeigler, Stacy Danniel, Jason Johnson and I took a four hour sight seeing tour to show Gene, Jerry's brother the cave, more Clark cousins.

We made a large loop through the front section of the cave visiting Clark Columns, the Soda Straw room, Hope Room, Upper Room, then down through Loopy Passage to the Cobble Stone Alley and out.

At Clark Columns Gene explored a grotto that went up, near the Soda Straw room and found a long root about the size of your small finger. We named the room the Rope Root Room. The Soda Straw room was mapped on the first trip. This almost makes a loop, after going about 100 feet through a room full of soda straws, hollow water filled formations hanging from the ceiling, the passage drops down to a walking passage for about 50 feet. Near the end you can climb up through a hole and across a nice pool into a 3 foot high room about 50 feet long. At the end there is a small opening that you can shake hands with someone who has gone down a side passage to the left of the columns.

After leaving Hope Room and at the edge of the large pit, Jon Zeigler explored a new formation room for about 20 feet with very nice red and white formations. We named it Zeigler's Grotto.

Although we did not survey, we have some new areas to map later and we did pick up some old survey markers left on the last trip.

Trip #17 August 2, 1998

T. John and I, after the 1998 NSS convention, which was again held in Sewanee, Tennessee, stopped by for a photo trip to the upper formation room. T. John is his real name, just the letter T.

Trip #18 April 28, 2001

Buddy Davis , Jason Johnson, and I mapped the upper level, which is the third level, over Blood Passage. (427.18 feet). Level survey is now 10,856.93 Feet and the total survey length is 11,296.52 feet. We have passed the 2 mile mark!

Our thanks to Billy and Bonnie Philpott for letting us explore their cave.


I started caving in the 1970's and joined the National Speleological Society, local caving clubs and several survey clubs in the southeastern United States. I have also developed a cave mapping program called CAPS, which is available on my web site.

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