Friday, June 20, 2014

To the Batcave

This was around 1975, so I was in my early 20s – ready for most anything.
A friend, who I will call The Instigator, approached me and a couple of like minded (crazy) friends with an idea for an adventure: “Let's go up to the Batcave!”

Always the responsible one, I replied: “We can't do that, I know where the trail starts, but it's covered up with No Trespassing signs!”

Oh, it'll be OK. I went up there last week and nothing happened. It's awesome! There's a big cave, and a bunch of cliffs. I want to go back up with ropes and do some rappelling.”

Well, that sounds like an adventure all right, lets go!”

The Instigator got his rope and the rest of us grabbed some flashlights(!) and the 4 of us headed out. We parked on the side of the road, walked around the No Trespassing signs, and followed the trail up the mountain. It was steep and rugged – just the way we liked it. The cave itself is in the line of cliffs that run along the gorge, so when we got up that far we were surrounded by rock faces and boulders. Beautiful!

We found the cave entrance easily, and went right in. I'd never seen a cave around here that big! A description I found online says this:
One of Bat Cave’s coolest features (pun intended) is its natural air conditioning: a cool moist draft constantly pours out of vents on the side of the large cave. Bat Cave is the largest known granite fissure cave in North America. The main chamber is a dark cathedral more than 300 feet long and approximately 85 feet high.”

We wandered around just checking it all out. And yes there were bats. Lots of bats! It was eerie! In several places around the sides there were cracks or holes that were just big enough to crawl though, but were too scary looking for any of us to attempt.

After we finished exploring we went back outside to where the cliffs were. My friend set up his rope on a 50 footer and was rappelling down in big swooping jumps. Having nearly gotten myself killed the year before in an attempted rappel off the side of Eagle Rock I was content to watch.

So I was standing there minding my own business when I heard a noise behind me. I turned around in time to see a man pop out of a hole in the ground, followed by two more, all with helmets and headlamps. Spelunkers! We got to talking, and one of them asked if we'd like a tour of the caves. Alrighty then!

So we went back into the main cave and he went to one of the cracks in the wall and crawled right in. We followed with our plastic flashlights and entered a whole new world. Since it's a fissure cave there were no more big open spaces, just cracks in the rock. There were passages leading off to the left & right, up & down. I felt like an ant crawling in a rockpile! It was a maze, and I soon realized that if I got separated from the group I wouldn't have a clue how to get back out.

A lot of places were a tight squeeze, including one spot where you had to lie on your back and wriggle under a huge slab of rock. It was so tight that even with my 32” waist I had to reach down & pull my belt buckle loose from the rock. I was on the verge of claustrophobia there, it felt like the weight of the whole mountain was pushing down on me, and one tiny movement of the rock would cut me in half! One of my friends who was just a little heavier got stuck, and it took one of us pulling his arms while another pushed his feet from behind to get him through.

The passages had holes in the floor, you had better watch your step! At one hole a couple of feet wide we stopped to see if we could tell how deep it was. All our lights combined showed only blackness. We tried tossing rocks down and listening to them bouncing off the sides. The sound faded away, and we never could hear it hit bottom...

Then we started climbing. It wasn't vertical enough to need ropes & gear, but dang nearly! I was a pretty good boulder scrambler, but this was as difficult as any I ever did. And did I mention most of the rock was wet? And we were in pitch blackness with our Kmart flashlights? One spot was an inclined rock over 50 feet long at a 45 degree angle. You needed both hands to climb, so we took turns holding a light for the person climbing. I made it about halfway up and got to a real sketchy spot. I barely had a foot-hold and was searching desperately for a hand-hold before I slipped. Right then somebody yelled: “I need some light over here!” My trusty light holder switched his beam to the other guy, leaving me in total darkness! I may have cussed some. I needed my light back NOW!

I'm not sure how far we went, but it was a long way. I do know I was relieved when we crawled up out of a hole into the sunlight again! We had to hike down about a quarter mile of steep mountainside to get back to the main cave again.

Whew, what an adventure! We went back down the trail tired but pleased with ourselves and what we had done. But when we got nearly to the bottom of the trail we looked through the trees and saw a sheriff’s car sitting next to ours. That wasn't part of the plan! We didn't want to come popping out of the trailhead with all the No Trespassing signs, so we bushwhacked away to the side til we were out of sight and then came walking up the road looking all sweet and innocent. Of course he knew where we had been, and proceeded to tell us so, along with a long lecture on Trespassing and arrest and prosecution and punishment. Mixed in with questions and checking of IDs and generally making us very uncomfortable for about 20 minutes. And the he let us go and drove away. Like I said, Whew!

The current status of the Batcave as I understand it is that it's owned by the Nature Conservancy. They used to do guided hikes up as far as the main cave. But now there is an epidemic of White Nose Syndrome decimating the bat population in many states, including WNC. In an effort to quarantine and protect the bats from infection the area is closed to the public for the foreseeable future.

I found some pictures online. The first half of the page is some good shots of the Rumbling Bald Cave, scroll on down for Batcave pics.

1 comment:

  1. Incredible. That's the kind of adventure I would have loved. Bob Underwood had a similar story of the black rock cliffs cave at grandfather mt. Now a days, that one has a barred entrance to keep people out, but allow the bats in & out. I wonder if the sheriff would be so lenient now a days.