Saturday morning, February 16 was an exciting time for four of the new boys who have joined Troop 73.
Along with them, were ten seasoned members of the troop. We were going to one of our favorite winter camp sites,
Blue Springs Cave, near Sparta. Blue Spring Cave has several very attractive features that makes it a perennial favorite of the boys. First and foremost, it contains some of the most spectacular cave formations in North America. Secondly, it has a very large entrance room (behind a heavy steel, locked door) that is available for us to sleep in.
The entrance room is about an acre, has a flat floor and a ceiling that ranges from about four feet high at the edges to about 12 feet near the center. This room has been used (and abused) for perhaps hundreds of years. As a result, most of the structures there have been damaged. However, several hundred feet inside the entrance room is the “real” entrance to Blue Springs Cave.
This entrance, also guarded by a heavy steel locked door, was first discovered in 1988 and developed in 1989. Access to Blue Springs Cave has been tightly controlled. The result is most of the 40 miles of passages are in pristine condition and are some of the most spectacular cave formations in North America.
Rain had been falling most of the week before our trip, and Saturday morning was cloudy but not raining.
Our research with folks knowledgeable about the cave indicated that rain has rarely affected the cave. However, we made plans B and C just in case we encountered situations that would put us in any kind of jeopardy.
We met our guide (one of the requirements for entrance to Blue Springs Cave) Mike Glasure, in Harriman and proceeded to the cave entrance (about two hours from Norris). We had eaten our lunch and were moving our camping stuff into the large entrance room by noon.
Our gear was left on a tarp inside where it would be safe and dry. After a final briefing on cave etiquette and safety, we followed our guide to the second locked door on hands and knees. The ceiling is low in that part of the entrance room.
For the next hundred or so feet, we crawled and squeezed our way through the access corridor that was opened in 1989.
Most of us pushed our packs (containing water, second light sources, extra batteries etc.) in front of us because this passage is too narrow and low in most places to wear them.
At the end of the 100-foot squeeze is a ladder that leads down to the floor of “Johnson Avenue” a corridor about 30 feet tall and twenty feet wide.
It is here where the real adventure began. For the next two hours we squeezed, crawled, rolled, climbed and walked among some of the most spectacular cave formations in North America.
Near the end of our explorations, we paused in a large room to experience the total darkness of the cave and listen to the sounds of the cave. We were spread out across an area of about 40 yards. After we had been in total darkness for about three minutes I illuminated most of the room, so we could all see each other by lighting a simple cigarette lighter.
Near the area we conducted the total darkness experience, there are two spectacular rooms; the Moon Room and the Pool Room. Access to the Pool Room is limited by a small hole, with water running in the bottom of it, at the top of a slippery ramp. It takes a while for each person to get in. Access to the Moon Room is up a long slope of large rocks in a different direction.
So, we split into two groups of about equal size so one group went to the Moon Room and the other to the Pool Room.
After both groups had visited both rooms, we assembled where we had experienced total darkness, paused for a quick drink and began our trip back toward the entrance.
Having experienced each of the crawls, squeezes and climbs once, the boys made good time heading back. What had taken almost three hours to navigate and enjoy on the way in, took less than an hour on the way out.
We did pause to take individual pictures of boys and adults as they crossed the bridge that was installed several years ago to help navigate a difficult area of the cave.
It was almost 6:00PM when we emerged into the quickly fading day light. We began supper preparations with all due haste. It was dark by the time we finished dinner and cleaned up the pots and serving pieces.
We were all back in the large entrance room by 7:30 p.m. and the boys enjoyed a little down time, most of which was spent playing games and building “forts” that corresponded to games they play on the internet (I think?).
It was lights out and quiet time at 10 p.m. Before long all we could hear was the occasional drip/splash that confirmed that Blue Springs Cave is still “alive”. Each drip represented progress in the development of stalactites, soda straws and cave pearls.
We awakened the boys at 7 a.m. That began a routine for the older boys and a new experience for the new boys. Packing up your gear using your helmet mounted lights takes a little getting use to. As the older boys completed their packing, they pitched in and helped the younger boys. By 8:00 AM all the packing was done, and our gear was staged near the outer entrance and we began eating our breakfast of oat meal and bagels sheltered from the torrential rain by a tarp we had erected Saturday.
After breakfast we reentered the cave for our Sunday Morning Prayer Service and our session of Thorns and Roses. We took the opportunity to be reminded that our God is a patient God. He is patient with His creations like the structures in the cave which may have taken tens or hundreds of thousands of years to develop. He is also patient with us, even with all our flaws.
Thorns and Roses went as one might suspect. Lots of roses about the structures, the experience and the adults who made it possible, especially our guide Mike Glasure and our host Lonnie Carr. There were no thorns that we couldn’t turn into buds (things we hope to correct through more practice and better preparation). The purpose of the “bud” is to allow the boys to take ownership and responsibility for their own “discomforts” and find ways to avoid them.
We moved outside (where it was still pouring rain) and transferred equipment into our vehicles and headed for home. It was 11:45 AM when we rolled into Norris. Because of the rain, we unloaded equipment from trucks into the Lions Club Community Pavilion so it could be sorted into piles, each pile being the property of one boy. Once all the equipment was claimed, we released the boys to their parents with the cautionary note that the boys should take off their shoes and outer clothing before entering the house. Caving is a dusty and muddy endeavor. This was a great outing made possible only because we enjoy the support of so many adults. This time we had assistant scoutmasters: Alan Clingan, Jeff Day, and Jon Mohrman. We also enjoyed the support of Chris Curtin.
Of course, I’ve already mentioned Mike Glasure our guide and Lonnie Carr, the land owner, who are extremely gracious with their Time, Talents and Treasures! Troop 73 is truly blessed to enjoy all those who help us give the boys the experiences and the venues where they can learn the skills to make them into independent, productive men in our society.
Thank you all, and God bless.