Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sponge of Stone

John Benson says that we shouldn't be drinking water because it does such destructive things to rocks. That water is caustic and violent, scary stuff to pour down the gullet. It digs deep holes, melts away vast spidery caverns of rock, and drips to dripping drip drip for echoes. TAG stands for Tennessee/alabama/georgia, but usually means the fun-to-play-on rocks of the Cumberland Plateau. You could draw a line around it, but it would be ragged, coved, creeked, bluffed, and a thousand miles long in each and every secret nook. It's a scrumptious eroded crusty sediment cake iced with solid sand. Beneath the sandstone, Karst means strange, strange land on both sides of the surface.

You can boulder, sport or otherwise climb the massive hanging brittle sandstone that caps the flat-top mountain that three states share. Or you can be a caver and let the rock swallow you whole, alive, with nothing to guarantee a return to light from the belly of the mountain. The mountain is everywhere, when you're inside it, it is the land.

As part of a photo project, Benson, Alvarez and I went to Green's Well in Alabama. Legend has it that this was the first place a rappelling rack was ever used in a cave. There is ample reason for bringing a rope and a rack to a sheer stone tube that falls 220ish feet to a dark and puddly nether. This is how the cave starts. With no warning. Just a few hundred feet of air where good solid ground used to be. And no light.

We brought the light though - Stephen, anyway did. There are an undisclosed number of 50s-era magnesium flashbulbs tucked away at the Alvarez estate. We blew through about 100 of them yesterday. This is because the light guns for these photos make the bulb emit all its pent photons in a kamikaze flame of glory for a tiny instant followed by complete self-destruction. Cocked. Fire! blast, gloves, glowing cooldown glass, reload. You don't want to trip one of these without meaning to. That is, before your eyes are tightly shut and your hand is over your face. Consequences include temporary blindness. Eyes are one of those things you want to be using when you're 130 feet off the deck, where managing your rope and hardware is a matter of survival.

We hauled out of the pit after some great, but potentially flawed (thanks to me) frames. At the top, there were a few pounds of fried chicken. And a crispy, delicious day it was.

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