National Geographic : 2009 Jun
simply disappeared into the yawning darkness. "I started throwing rocks off the edge and counting the seconds," Smith says. "I counted at least four seconds, which meant the drop was 200 feet or better." Although Smith and his team didn t know it at the time, they had just discovered the Rumble Room, a cavern measuring some 350 feet, oor to ceiling, and four acres in size. Comprehen- sive records of cave sizes don t exist, but it s no stretch to say that the Rumble Room may well be the largest such chamber in the eastern United States and the second largest in the en- tire country. "It s the kind of discovery a caver dreams about his whole life," says Smith. The itch to see what no one has ever seen before, "that s the main thing for most cavers," agrees Bobo. " ere are so few places le up on the surface, but down here completely un- explored wildernesses still exist." STUCK IN JAGUAR CAVE, I did calm down, even- tually. I had no choice but to lie there and let my body go limp. My clothes were so slick with sweat I could slide inside them. With enor- mous e ort I inched my chest forward inside my jacket and suddenly slipped into the far antechamber. Crawling forward, I was soon stopped by an- other wall of dirt. I thought it was a dead end until the beam of my headlamp spotted a pin- hole above me. Putting my face to the hole, I could feel air moving. Another of Smith s many caving maxims is "if it blows, it goes." I sud- denly found myself digging fiendishly. I was awash with the overwhelming, visceral urge to push through and see what was on the other side---cave fever. I hit rock immediately but managed to pull out several football-size pieces. rowing my arms up through the hole, I twisted and turned and groaned and cursed, tore the skin on my chest and stomach, but, by God, popped out into an enormous chamber. I was ecstatic, perhaps as much for getting through what we would eventually dub the Colonoscopy as for reaching a place no human had ever been. An hour later, with considerably more digging, the whole team made it through the Colonoscopy, and we began to properly explore the cavern. To the trained caver s eye, discoveries were everywhere: A pile of ancient bat bones. e skeleton of a prehistoric rodent. Stalactites of an unusual tubular form. An in- tact crinoid fossil, a seabed animal with feathery arms used for feeding. A tiny hole beckoned at the far end of the new cavern, and Bobo, being the smallest, was even- tually pushed through. We heard her screaming with delight. She had discovered helictites, pure white, spiderlike formations never before found in Jaguar Cave. " ey are utterly gorgeous," Bobo exclaimed when she reemerged from the hole. "Tiny, deli- cate, like rare owers frozen in time. And..." She was trembling with excitement and obviously had something else she couldn t hold inside. I looked over at the Goat, and he had a wild gleam in his eyes, like some nocturnal animal you catch a glimpse of just beyond the camp re. He knew what Bobo was going to say. " e cave goes! I could see a passage continu- ing, I just couldn t t through the hole." j Lighting up the night with a massive bonfire, avid TAG cavers gather every fall on Georgia's Lookout Mountain. They celebrate adventure and the lure of the undiscovered country waiting underfoot.