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The Longest Cave

Author: Roger W. Brucker and Richard A. Watson

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf 1976

Size: 316 Pages, Hardback 6.5" x 9.5"

Available for loan from collection of Tom Clifton

ISBN :

For mountaineers, the ascent of Everest was the ultimate challenge. For cavers, the great dream was to descend into Kentucky's two vast cave systems, Flint Ridge and Mammoth, to discover a link between them. The story of that spectacular caving adventure is told here by two participants, Roger Brucker and Red Watson, who with a few dozen men and women for twenty years shared an obsession to make that connection. For more than eighty miles, they penetrated farther and farther underground, squeezing through tight passages, sloshing through under-ground rivers, chimneying up shafts, climbing down. deep pits, and squirming on their bellies through virtually endless crawlways without making the connection. At last, in 1972, Pat Crowther forced her wiry body through the Tight Spot, making possible the seven-mile connection trip.

This is a firsthand account of that extraordinary breakthrough and of the personalities involved: their courage, their humor, their monomania, and their coolheadedness, even when a companion was injured or lost. Some-times rivalry spurred them on, and they were often propelled by a kind of cavalier bravado, in desperate moments repeating to themselves the old but dubious caving adage: "Anything you can get into, you can get out of." Brucker and Watson make you feel the caver's passion: the lure of the unknown coupled with the fear of it, and the thrill of going through darkness to places where no one else has ever been before. Here is an entire subterranean world, a curious shadowy landscape few people have ever seen, where delicate crystalline gypsum flowers grow eighteen inches long on the passage walls and the fish in pools and rivers are translucent and eyeless.

Here, too, is the history of human exploration of these enormous caves: from the prehistoric people who mined gypsum 4000 years ago (whose footprints have been found in the dust on the passage floors), to Stephen Bishop, a black slave who was Mammoth Cave's most celebrated guide in the nineteenth century; Floyd Collins, the famous caver whose death after fifteen days trapped in a crawlway made sensational headlines in 1925; and a host of colorful characters and great cave explorers who found this exotic labyrinthine world fascinating and irresistible.

 

Preface

xv

 

Acknowledgments

xix

1

The First Connection. Caves and cavers have secrets. Unknown Cave and Crystal Cave are connected.

3

2

The Flint Ridge Connection. Jim introduces Roger to the Kentucky caves and to the idea of connection.

22

3

The Rinky-Dink. Bill takes the Ohio cavers on a run-around that makes them dizzy with the vastness of Crystal Cave. They are filled with the desire to explore it.

26

4

Attempt to Extend Crystal Cave. National Speleological Society cavers try to extend Floyd Collins' Crystal Cave. lessons from the C-3 expedition lead to new techniques

31

5

Big Discoveries Expand Unknown/Crystal Cave. An effort to connect Crystal Cave with Salts Cave fails, but opens the heart of Flint Ridge

40

6

Refining the Cavers and Their Methods. The cavers again try to connect Crystal Cave with Salts Cave. They fail, but again improve their caving abilities.

52

7

Cave War Political obstacles confine the explorers, but harden their determination to explore the caves of Flint Ridge.

57

8

Unknown Cave. Bill and Jack secrety explore a big cave near Crystal Cave. Now they make the Ohio cavers conspirators.

62

9

To Explore the Longest Cave. The explorers organize a power base, the Cave Research Foundation. A new kind of caving is developed. The National Park Service opens the caves of Mammoth Cave National Park to exploration and scientific research.

83

10

Lost. Getting lost is a serious risk. Bob gets lost and Jacque remains calm.

88

11

The Colossal/Salts Link. Explorers trying to connect Colossal Cave with Unknown/Crystal Cave surprise everyone.

92

12

Futility in Great Ony' Cave. Explorers try to connect Great Onyx Cave with Unknown/Crystal Cave, but are stopped dead.

100

13

Across the Top of Colossal Dome. Adventure is found looking for a passage the old-timers thought would connect Colossal Cave with Mammoth Cave.

104

14

Jones Pit. Injury is a serious risk. A brush with death leads to preparations for emergencies.

108

15

The Unknown/Salts Link. The connection between Unknown/Crystal Cave and Colossal/Salts Cave integrates the Flint Ridge Cave System. It is still not the longest cave in the world, but it is the third longest.

113

16

Why Does a Good Caver Quit Caving? Six major explorers drop out, but others take their places.

118

17

Under Houchins Valley. A 3000-foot-wide valley stands in the way of connecting the Flint Ridge Cave System with Mammoth Cave. Then the explorers find a muddy lead. It goes to a complex of passages under Houchins Valley.

121

18

Under Mammoth Cave Ridge. The hell of far-out Flint Ridge caving is close to the heaven of Mammoth Cave Ridge. A breakdown pile at Q-87 closes the passage only 800 feet from Albert's Domes in Mammoth Cave. Page

132

19

Q-87. Red thinks about caving on the first big attempt to connect with Mammoth Cave. That is where your friends are.

140

20

Fatigne and Politics. A threat to the future protection of the longest cave halts efforts to connect the Flint Ridge Cave System with Mammoth Cave, so Joe finds some cave in a blank spot on Flint Ridge. Bureaucrats say there is no cave in Joppa Ridge, so Gordon discovers the Joppa Ridge Cave System and a new connection dream emerges.

150

21

From the Mammoth Cave Side. Joe authorizes one party to resume the effort to connect the Flint Ridge Cave System with Mammoth Cave. Red sends ten parties.

156

22

The Pressure Builds. There are two styles of connection fanatic. The romantics line up against the engineers. John Wilcox enters the running.

163

23

Q-87 Again. John decides to force the Q-87 breakdown pile that may block a way from the Flint Ridge Cave System to Mammoth Cave. His crew learns about engineering the hard way. They do not get through.

167

24

The Bracker Strategy. A romantic fling at connecting the Flint Ridge Cave System with Mammoth Cave leads to the reality of a cold Flint Ridge river. It sends the explorers back to try again from the Mammoth Cave side. They fail to connect.

178

25

Again Q-87. John cons another party into trying to force a way through the breakdown pile at Q-87. On the way back, Pat goes through the Tight Spot to discover a stream that drains west from the Flint Ridge Cave System toward Mammoth Cave. However, the Tight Spot may have separated the woman from the men.

186

26

Separating the Man from the Boys. The Tight Spot Strains out the father, but the son goes on to find a river in the caves beyond. This must be the way to connect the Flint Ridge Cave System with Mammoth Cave.

194

27

Pete H." Pat leads a trip down the new river. Tom makes a startling discovery of a name on the wall and an arrow pointing downstream toward Mammoth Cave. Wasn't Pete Hanson a Mammoth Cave guide? John counsels secrecy until they know where they are.

203

28

The Tight Spot. Joe aborts the trip of a lifetime. Everyone is worn Out, but they advance not one foot beyond the point of previous penetration.

214

29

Go up Roaring River, Boys." Explorers return to Mammoth Cave to see if Pete Hanson had followed Marty's advice. Perhaps the river containing Pete Hanson's name that was found from the Flint Ridge side is a tributary of Roaring River in Mammoth Cave. Explorers fail to find it.

222

30

Lenkr Tom lets the secret out, forcing John's hand. John must connect the Flint Ridge Cave System with Mammoth Cave while the rumor spreads that it has already been done.

226

31

The Final Connection. John Wilcox, Pat Crowther, Richard Zopf, Gary Eller, Steve Wells, and Cleve Pinnix make the final connection between the Flint Ridge Cave System and Mammoth Cave.

230

32

Victory. The longest cave is 144.4 miles long. The Everest of world speleology has been climbed.

249

 

Epilogue

253

Appendix I

Historical Beginnings

 

1

Prehistoric Cave Explorers

259

2

The Early History of Mammoth Cave

263

3

Stephen Bishop

265

4

Lute Lee and Henry Lee

273

5

Max Kaemper and Ed Bishop

274

6

Edmund Turner

276

7

George Morrison

277

8

Floyd Collins

279

9

Follow the Water to Mammoth Cave

285

10

Pete Hanson and Leo Hunt

286

11

Jim Dyer

290

Appendix Il

Chronology

294

Appendix Ill

Glossary of Cave Terminology

300

Appendix IV

Picture Glossary of Cave Maneuvers

306

Appendix V

List of Participants

309

 

Annotated Bibliography

313

Index

Follows page

316

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