My Third Most Favorite Cave, Tumbling Rock
By: Hubert Crowell
Of all the caves that I have explored, Tumbling Rock
Cave in Alabama ranks number 3 on my list of
favorite caves. I have made many visits to this
famous and Alabama's most visited cave. Tumbling
Rock Cave is over 6 miles long and is mostly
walking passage. At one time it was referred to as
Blowing Cave. There is a stream that flows almost
the entire length of the cave and forms a spring just
below the entrance. This is the only cave that I know
of that contains oil, the Asphalt Ooze occurs in
Allens Alley near the back of the cave and covers the
floor with a layer of dust hiding it. It drips from the
ceiling and flows down a long slope to the floor of the cave. I keep a sample of it in a bottle
labeled Alabama Crude!
After a visit with the owners and paying our parking fee, we climb a short distance up the side of the mountain, open the gate and crawl through the three-foot high entrance. Note: The cave is now managed by the SCCi (Southeastern Cave Conservancy inc.). The first room, Ante Room, is large walking passage that crosses over the stream. Care must be taken from the start, if your eyes have not adjusted to the dark, you may step into the crevasse that crosses the path. This is a three foot wide drop that you step over. You then follow the stream to the Saltpeter Works. These are large Civil War vats which have long rotted away leaving the square mounds of dirt remaining.
My first visit
was in July of 1971 with the Dogwood City Grotto and
it was on this trip that I meet John Wallace, a long time
friend and caving partner. John shared that when he
was dating his wife, Youlanda, he spread out a table
cloth near the Saltpeter Works, and set up a candle
light dinner that he had carried into the cave.
A short distance from the Saltpeter Works we climb
up out of the stream passage and into a large room
with two large formations called the Elephants Feet.
If you climb up to the top of one of the feet, near the
ceiling one can enter a small crawl that goes up above
the ceiling and over the stream passage into what is
now called Vujade' Extension.
Continuing up stream we climb over the Wildcat
Rockpile and pass the Little Hall of Mysteries. There
is Formation Grotto off to the left and we have
explored The Sewers to a 15-foot drop. We then
returned to the stream and went through the Wind
Tunnel to the Totem Grotto, Craters of the Moon.
Chucks Music Box is in a side passage to the left and
well worth the visit to view the tall then columns. At
this point you need to be with someone who is
familiar with the cave in order to locate the Hidden Door, if you miss the Hidden Door on the
way back out of the cave one ends up in a dead end stream passage.
Just beyond the Hidden Door and just before
entering the Great Hall of Mysteries, is the Kings
Shower. When the upper passage to the Topless
Dome and the lower passages were mapped it was
found that there were only inches between the two.
So a sledge hammer was used to make a short cut
up to the Topless Dome. The stream from the
Dome now runs down and drops through the hole
creating the Kings Shower. Pulling up through this
hole and going a short distance to the right brings
you to the bottom of the Topless Dome.
The Dome is 396 feet high and was climbed by Don
Davison and Cheryl Jones around 1979 over a two-year period. The climb is 555 feet long, which
makes it the longest underground technical route in the United States. Read about Topless Dome
Revisited in the October 1982 NSS News.
For a long time the Great Hall of Mysteries was the end of the cave. Now there are two passages
to continue to the back of the cave. Both are challenging, I will describe the Blue Crawl first as it
was the first to be discovered. Straight across the room, to the left of the Christmas Tree
formation and up the mud slope, is Johnstons Junction, a short squeeze into the Emperors Room.
Cross the Emperors Room and climb up in a crevice and into a 75-foot long round crawl that one
must decide which arm goes first at the start. Because you cannot change positions again until
you emerge out the far side of the Blue Crawl. When exiting the Blue Crawl it is a narrow ledge
and in order to get your body out of the hole one has to extend out over the ledge. I have made
the crawl one time, but never again. However I think that everyone should try it once.
Exiting the Blue Crawl and into the Inter Sanctum breakdown room and on the far side climb
down and under the Surprise Waterfall into Allens Alley.
The second route that was discovered or I should say was dug open is the Suicide Passage. Back in the Emperors Room climb down and along the right side of the Christmas Tree formation to the stream level. Follow the sandy crawl along the left side of the stream until you can climb up into the rock pile. After several tight bends and climbs one enters Allens Alley. This is a shorter route and is usually preferred over the Blue Crawl.
Allens Alley is a nice long canyon passage with
the stream flowing down below. About half way
through one has to climb up near the ceiling and
crawl through a two-foot restriction. It then opens
back up again into a huge long room. Watch out
for the Asphalt Ooze along the right side, which
crosses the path.
There is a small lead off to the left side of Allens Alley about half way to where it lowers to two feet. It appeared to have some traffic and I wanted to check it out at a later date, but never did. I took a nice picture of John Wallace setting there taking in the cave!
The reward at the end is the Pillar of Fire, and it is well worth the climb up Mt. Olympus. This
large bright red formation sets at the top of a mud mountain called Mt. Olympus. This is were
most cavers stop after a four-hour trip in and another four hours to get out. If one wants to see
the bitter end, Terry's Tiger Teeth, then just before climbing Mt. Olympus, go over to the right
side of Allens Alley and look for the D-T passage. This is a tight break down crawl for about
300 feet. After emerging back into walking passage again in Grants Tomb, the stream is down
and to the right, called Grants Pool. Terry's Tiger Teeth is on ahead to the left.
The cave continues, though the passage may not be discovered, more than the length of the
known cave to a small cave called Timber Cave on the far side of the mountain. Dye tracing of
the water entering Timber Cave was traced to Tumbling Rock Cave. If you are looking for a
good eight hour wild cave trip, then I would recommend Tumbling Rock Cave.
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