Exploring Valhalla – Wendy Randall
I did a double-take. Yes, that was the silhouette of a snake, no more than 10 feet away from where I stood. He was sunning himself in the small beam of light that managed to seep through the mouth of the cave entrance some 230 feet above.
The morning had started out cloudy and cool. The prospect of rain was high. We had waited a long time for the opportunity to bounce the Valhalla Cave Preserve. Permits were issued for the six of us and we waited impatiently for the day to arrive. We were going to do this come hell or high water. Fortunately for us the Sun God was listening.
We woke up early that Sunday morning, loaded the gear, cooler, and grill (minus the buns for our hotdogs) and headed for Scottsboro, AL. The six of us were meeting at the Chevron gas station to pile into the 4Runner since 4wd is required to get to the cave entrance. We strapped our gear onto the top of the vehicle and piled in to begin our adventure up the mountain. After entering the code for the lock on the gate we gained entry onto the premises of our prize. We were excited and it showed. It wasn’t long before we faced our first obstacle of the day. A tree had fallen across the road we were traveling on. Mike managed to clear the obstruction by simply moving it long before Jeff was able to retrieve the axe from the back of the vehicle. There were more than a few laughs about that one. We proceeded on the road all the while saying how a 2-wheel drive Toyota Camry could make the drive to the top. That theory was laid to rest quickly. We bounced and banged our way to the top before finally reaching our destination.
We parked in the open field and unloaded the gear. We found the trailhead and hiked the couple hundred yards to the pit entrance. Immediately upon arrival we noticed a plaque paying tribute to two young men who lost their lives after entering the cave and a rock fell from above, crushing them to death. This didn’t do much for the psyche. You quickly learn when participating in any kind of extreme sport or activity that there is always risk involved. It is also easy to forget.
We suit up and go to work assessing the anchor points, anchors, ropes, and redirects. It is decided that we will run two ropes for tandem rappels/ climbs if anything should go array. After establishing a safety line, we laid down edge protection plus a couple of “Ice cubes” to protect the rope from the hazards that can come from the sawing effect of ascending a rope. Radios were assigned to each individual and the channel confirmed. It’s go time.
Mike volunteers to be the first to make the rappel into this huge whole in the earth. It’s deep and dark, you can’t see what’s below the lip just beneath the edge so it makes you double and triple check your rigging even though you’re just as likely to die on a much shorter rappel than 230’. The team has a vast array of descenders ranging from mini racks to Petzl RIGs. Mike pops over the edge and after 10 minutes go by we decide to check on him. It appears he’s a little tangled up with the two ropes and patiently working through the issue. Finally making it to the bottom he gives us an all- clear and the rest of us proceed to be swallowed up by the earth.
It was an easy rappel with nice foot-holds and a smooth transition over the lip into the vast expanse of the cave. It was breathtaking. I had a hard time believing that the small opening of the earth that you see above turned into this enormous cathedral of a room. We all made it down without any issues. We were standing around trying to decide which direction to travel to explore some horizontal caves that branched off from the bottom of the pit. That’s when I saw it staring at me like I had invaded his space! My legs started shaking and I quickly made my way back over to the rope that I had just descended. I was ready to climb my way back up without ascenders! Mike decides to rescue the snakes after playing with them for a while, so Jason gave him a gallon sized zip-loc bag and Mike climbed them out one at a time. He definitely has a bigger heart than I. After a lot of coaxing, I agree to continue on with our exploration of the horizontal caves within. The entire time I’m wondering how many more snakes are creeping around.
We found an opening, squeezed up, over, and down between the rock into yet another domed room with a high ceiling. We worked our way to the other end of the main pit and didn’t find anything of interest there. By this time Mike had successfully rescued both snakes and we were hungry. We made our ascent, some of us frogging while others used rope walking systems and headed for the car. Time for a break and some hotdogs (someone forgot the buns)! We relaxed for a little while and headed back up the hill to repeat the process. I elected to hang a hammock, relax, and socialize while Jason and Jeff descended into the earth once again.