The Hell Sucker, Jackson County, Alabama AJK3291 By Kelly Smallwood NSS 58745RL and Jason Hardy NSS 56383RL
On July 9, 1994 Mike Thomas, along with Lin Guy and Glenda Fleming found themselves making their way down a steep logging road into Long Island Cove in Jackson County, Alabama. They were heading to check out some leads that hunters had informed Mike about. Eager to take a look they decided to drive Lin’s 1985 Jeep CJ-7 down the old logging road. They parked at a spot near the junction with Long Island Creek and unknowingly unleashed a nest of yellow jackets in the road. They then walked south heading towards Newby Gulf and came upon a tree with the word “cave” carved in its trunk. Uphill from the tree they found a rock shelter like entrance blowing air, which they named Hurricane Gussie (AJK3292) after a bawdy joke. They began mapping the cave and after surveying 1,190 feet they came to a slimy belly crawl blowing a hellish amount of air. Not interested in pushing any further, they decided to head back over to Mike’s next lead. Upon going in the next lead they squeezed into the small entrance and found a wooden ladder that was at a 14 foot drop. They carefully climbed down the ladder and found a large spool of twine at the base of it along with several hundred feet unraveled and strewn about. They made their way down the passageway about five hundred feet until it opened up into a wide gloomy, gooey canyon with slimy sloping walls. Wearing wheat lamps it looked too hazardous to push without a safety line so they decided to turn back. They named the cave The Hell Sucker, turned it in to the Alabama Cave Survey as 500 feet long and they never returned.
Later in 2010, after Steve T. Davis moved back to Alabama, he began exploring the caves near his home on Sand Mountain, including caves in Long Island Cove. Upon entering The Hell Sucker, he realized the cave is much longer than what was listed in the Alabama Cave Survey. A bit timid about pushing the cave himself, he reached out to Lin Guy who was not interested in ever going back. Steve then reached out to Jim Smith. Jim was also not interested so Steve then reached out to Jason Hardy and Kelly Smallwood after seeing their presentation on the Doodlebug survey at the 2011 Alabama Cave Survey meeting. Jason and Kelly agreed to check out the cave but told Steve if they were going to push it then they were also going to start a survey and survey as they went. Kelly and Steve arranged a date for the first trip following the 2012 Convention and Steve arranged access with the landowners and hunting clubs in the area.
On July 8, 2012, nearly 18 years to the day that Mike Thomas, Lin Guy and Glenda Fleming turned around in The Hell Sucker, Jason Hardy, Kelly Smallwood, Anne Grindle, Kim B. Smith, and Keith Sutphin met Steve Davis at his home in Bryant, Alabama to go see what the scare was all about. Steve and his neighbor, Ken Williams led us down the 4x4 road in Jason’s Toyota Tacoma to the valley floor and then to the entrance of the cave. The cave was blowing a lot of air and an equally impressive huge Buckeye Tree was also right next to the bluff at the entrance, which they later measured to just over fifteen feet in diameter and upon each visit Kelly would hug the tree and she always tried to encourage Jason and others to hug it as well. After squeezing into the small entrance we found that the ladder had been moved so we rigged the 14 foot drop to a natural anchor and began our survey. We were able to survey nearly 1,000 feet on this day but it wasn’t easy. There is a lot of mud and slippery slopes along with a canyon running right down the middle that you have to traverse. The last passage we surveyed for the day was a canyon passage that had sharp protruding rocks at neck level so in keeping with the theme of the cave name, we decided to call it “The Highway to Hell”. Standing there at our stopping point for the day, we realized we were in a big cave system that was going to go much farther and despite the dangers that lied ahead the cave called us to continue. We also knew on the following trips we would have to do something to make the going passage safer for a survey and more effective for the team. We were facing a canyon with deep walls that we knew we were going to have to climb out of and onto the muddy slippery slopes above. Over the next week we prioritized our goals to survey the cave safely while also producing photo documentation of the cave. For the next trip we decided we would need to bring back not only a crew to survey but a push team with shovels to dig foot holds for us to traverse through the tricky canyon passage.
On July 21, 2012, two weeks since that last trip, Jason and Kelly woke up and started getting ready for the day. Jim and Rachel Campbell had come up the night before so we cooked some breakfast while we waited on the others to arrive. In the meantime, it had started pouring rain outside. Concerned about the weather and the condition of the road to the cave, Jason checked the weather radar. After determining that it was just a pop up shower we were all very eager to get on the road and back into the cave. This time we came armed with enough cavers to not only survey but to have a team of diggers leading the way for the survey team. Joining Jason and Kelly on this trip were Blaine Grindle, Jim & Rachel Campbell, Danja Mewes, Scott Ehardt, Kim B. Smith, and Keith Sutphin. We knew this was a lot but also knew that we needed all the help to progress the survey team safely and effectively ahead. Blaine, Jim & Keith led the way with their shovels and we later dubbed them as the Fraggles. They dug safe passages with shovels thru the mud slopped walls and following behind was Jason sketching and leading the survey team. We taught Rachel how to read the laser disto while Danja read the compass and taught Scott how to set stations. Along the way, the passage became much wider and so did the crack so we decided to name the passage “Hell’s Half Acre”. After a few hundred feet and past the last known footsteps in the cave we all sat down for a break and admired the amazing view before us. For the majority, this was the first time virgin borehole was witnessed. The best way I can describe it is like fresh snow. The passage was huge and the mud was so perfect with no footsteps in it at all. No human had ever stepped foot in it before. This is what caver’s dream of right! We all felt very blessed to be a part of this project, admired it for a few minutes, took some pictures and finished up our snacks. The digging team then eagerly continued shortly ahead of the survey team and we eventually began to hear the rumbling sounds of water. We had finally reached a canyon too wide and unsafe to traverse so we named it “Come Hell or High Water”. There were a few small side leads here so we checked them looking for a way down. Jason knew at this point we had reached a major junction in the cave and we would have to return to set bolts to continue on. We had already had a good day of surveying nearly 1,000 feet so we called it a day and started discussing our plans to return. Everyone was excited with the thoughts of what could lie ahead so we determined that the very next day would be optimal and we all started carefully routing out. Since Steve Davis didn’t join us on this trip we stopped by his house once we were back on top of the mountain and informed him on the progress we had made. He was very excited to hear that the cave continued on and was also very interested in returning with us the next morning.
On the way home, Jason was excited about what we had found and decided to call Marion O. Smith. After informing Marion of our find, Jason was able to talk him into dropping all plans and coming down to help us the next morning. At this point we also began to feel the fears of being scooped. Not many people had knew what we had found and the anticipation of knowing what lied ahead was starting to tease us. We knew we had a big cave system but just didn’t know how big yet. It was at this point we had to maintain self-control and trust those around us who were helping.
Once back at the house, Jason and Jim had a wild hair to brew a batch of homebrew. While the guys were brewing, Rachel, Kelly and Danja were outside washing all of the mud off their cave gear in preparation for the next day’s return. As they were cleaning gear in the front of the house it began raining. Rachel was in a hurry to get a rain coat so Kelly sprayed her with the water hose and reminded her of the mud they had been in just a few hours earlier. What’s a little rain going to hurt at this point? So they finished up cleaning the gear in the pouring rain, rung everything out they could and hung everything in the house to dry.
Jim, Rachel, Danja and Scott all spent the evening with Kelly and Jason. The next morning they got up and cooked breakfast before meeting Marion at Big Daddy’s Fireworks near Lake Nickajack. Kim and Keith called and informed us that they were running late so we told them to just meet us at Steve’s house. Once at Steve’s we condensed vehicles and started our way back down Gilliam Gap on the 4x4 road to the parking area for the cave. Just about the time we had geared up and started towards the cave Keith & Kim finally showed up. One by one we all made our way in, pass the nuisance 14 foot drop and thru the scary borehole with the crack of doom in the middle. Jim was the lucky one and carried the heaviest pack with the drill. Once we were at the stopping point from the previous day, Jason got all his gear ready to set some bolts. He made his way out onto the ledge and began setting 3 bolts, rigging the rope for a traverse as he went. He then left it up to the digging team to progress us forward. After about 10 minutes of Jim trying to safely make his way across, it was determined that we would have to rappel down into the canyon into the swift water stream passage instead of traversing. Jason re rigged and re set the rope for a rappel instead of a traverse and he took the lead and went down into the water passage. After spending a few minutes and determining this would be the way on, he called for the survey team to continue. Kim was still fairly new to caving and didn’t feel comfortable to continue down the muddy drop so she, along with Keith, Danja and Scott decided to route. On their way out Scott removed all of the old twine that was strung throughout the first several hundred feet of the cave and the huge pile at the entrance.
With the others gone, this left Jason, Marion, Jim, Rachel, Steve and Kelly. Marion wanted to pull tape and did not want to use a disto. Since we were in water and Rachel was still fairly new to surveying Kelly read instruments. We continued the survey upstream thru a small slot canyon and out of the water into some muddy passage. Here we took of our vertical gear and continued surveying a few hundred more feet continuing in a canyon. It wasn’t very long before we could hear the rumbling sounds of water again and we soon found ourselves in a much wider stream passage. Continuing with the theme of the cave name we decided to call this area “The River Styx”. After surveying a few hundred more feet and nearly 1,000 feet for the day we began looking for a good stopping point. While it’s hard and takes a lot of self-control, it is also extremely rewarding to survey as you go. It keeps the momentum going and your team coming back. None of us wanted to leave not knowing what was around the next corner but we knew it would continue the excitement for the next trip and for the survey. Kelly set up a few flashes and snapped a picture of what lied ahead. Little did we know at the time, but this picture would taunt us for the next two weeks and would also add more paranoia about being scooped.
After two long weeks since our last trip we were ready to get back into The Hell Sucker to see what was beyond that next turn. On Friday night, August 3, 2012 Jim & Rachel Campell, along with Shari Lydy drove up from the Atlanta area to stay the night with Jason and Kelly. Saturday morning they all got up and as usual cooked some breakfast before heading out to meet the rest of the crew for a long day of surveying. Once at Steve’s house, already waiting on us were Steve, Marion, Keith & Marty Abercrombie. The plan for the day was to have two teams – team 1 was Jason, Marion, Jim & Steve. They would pick up where we left off in the borehole stream passage beyond the drop last time. Team 2 was Marty, Shari & Keith. They would survey the leads near the entrance while Kelly and Rachel took photos. On the way down to the cave we also decided that Rachel, Shari and Kelly would pick up the aluminum cans that littered the 4x4 road the entire way down. This would also allow enough time for Jason and Marty’s team to get geared up and in the cave so we would not have a bottle neck of cavers waiting at the entrance. Jason was also going to set some more bolts for a traverse line in the slippery canyon to make it safer for the crews to pass.
Shortly after starting our descent down Gilliam Gap on the 4x4 road into Long Island Cove, Rachel and Kelly began picking up the cans while Shari drove alongside us. A few minutes later, Kelly heard Rachel shouting and as she looked back she quickly realized that Shari had accidentally nearly driven over Rachel’s foot. As Rachel was yelling to move the vehicle, Kelly quickly shouted to Shari to go in reverse. Rachel was a little shaken but luckily nothing was broken. She was able to continue on so we forged ahead picking up cans. Once at the parking area at the bottom of the cove, team 1 and 2 were nearly ready to head off into the cave. Shari, Rachel and Kelly then geared up and started their way over to the entrance. Once there, they made their way in with Marty & Keith. By this time, Jason and his team were long gone on their way to set the traverse line. Kelly showed Marty where the first side lead was and he began surveying with Shari setting point and Keith reading instruments. Rachel and Kelly followed along behind them taking photos. As the team made their way into one room we noticed there were a lot of tiny roots growing all over out of the mud. Once again keeping with the theme of the cave, Kelly said we should come up with a name for the room. Shari quickly shouted out, “The Root of All Evil” and we all liked it. As Rachel and Kelly were waiting on the team to catch up, Kelly noticed a small side lead behind a pretty formation. She told Rachel she should go check it out and see if it goes anywhere for the team to survey. As she proceeded cautiously pass the formation she shouted back that she was able to go at least 40 feet. When Marty caught up to where they were with his team they showed him the lead. As the team started off to survey this lead, Rachel and Kelly knew it was too small for all of us to go in so they decided to wait in the Root of All Evil room, where they made a mud formation for cavers to find in the future. Once the survey team was finished with the lead, we continued on and eventually made our way back out into the main passage creating a loop. After tying back in to the main survey we decided it was time for a break. We had spent nearly 4 hours surveying the side passage and since it had taken longer than expected, we decided to go ahead and make our way down to the rest of the cave and catch up to Jason’s team. Just as we were entering the first canyon area, out of nowhere Rachel took a big fall. Clearly this wasn’t Rachel’s day. As she was falling, to prevent herself from going into the canyon she flung her body onto the ledge. It was very scary to look back and see Rachel grabbing onto the slippery, muddy ledge while her legs were dangling below. Keith and Marty were both very quick to assist her and pull her up. Once she was safe and realized she was ok we continued on. At the traverse line, Kelly was very impressed with what they had done. This part of the cave had been a very scary part for those of us who had passed it many times with no safety line. It is a slippery slope that is above a canyon that is about 30-40 feet deep in some spots and you have about a two inch ledge to put your feet on and slide across. One slip and you could be seriously injured so it was very nice to now have a safety line. One by one we made our way across and finally to the drop at Come Hell or High Water. As we headed down the stream passage we did notice there were several big side leads that Jason had left for Marty. Shortly after, we finally came upon Jason’s team as they were heading back towards us. Unfortunately, they had found a big breakdown collapse and were unable to continue forward. But there was still more work to do. Still very eager to survey more, Marty told Jason he was willing to continue on so Jason showed him the first side lead. Kelly wanted to take more pictures so Jim, Rachel, Jason and Kelly headed towards the end while Keith, Shari, Steve & Marion assisted Marty surveying one of the remaining side leads. As Jim and Jason showed Rachel and Kelly the rest of the cave they set up some pictures using three Vivitar 283 flashes along the way. Once they were finally at the end they were greeted by a huge breakdown collapse that literally blocked the entire borehole passage, a typical TAG ending to a cave. There is water flowing from underneath so there was hope with some more pushing on the next trip we could find a way around this. We took a few more pictures and then headed back to meet up with Marty’s team.
Once back with Marty’s team we found them still surveying. Due to time, Jason decided that the 4 of us should go ahead and start making our way out of the cave. Jason, Jim, and Rachel made it up the climb and as Kelly was climbing she could hear the voices of others close by so we decided to wait on them at the top of the drop. As we were waiting, Marion was the first from the second team to come up. Rachel, Marion and Kelly decided to proceed ahead and finish making their way out of the cave while Jason and Jim waited on the others. When we reached the traverse line Marion said to Kelly, “Do you want to carry this drill out?” She jokingly replied to Marion, “There are some things I feel are a man’s job and one of those things is carrying the drill out of the cave!” As Kelly neared the other side where Rachel was waiting, she shouted back to Marion to let him know she was off the traverse line. As he was making his way across he was mumbling something about the drill. Rachel and Kelly then realized he was carrying it across the traverse line. Kelly shouted to Marion, “When I said it was a man’s job I didn’t intend for you to carry it. I expected one of the younger guys that were behind us to get it”. Once Marion was off the traverse line Rachel decided she would then carry it out. Just as the three of us were finally back at the entrance Marion started looking for the bottle of water he stashed at the entrance. If you’ve ever caved with Marion, you know he doesn’t carry a lot of water with him and he typically stashes it in the cave. He wasn’t able to find it and Kelly asked him what kind of bottle it was. He said it was a small bottle and just as he was saying that, Kelly realized, uh oh. Keith had gone off during our survey earlier in the day because he had to pee. He said he was going to pee in one of the bottles near the entrance. So looking around, Kelly pointed out to Marion the bottle that Keith apparently had peed in. Marion picked it up and gave it a good glare and said, “He peed in my bottle. What did he do with the water that was in it? I can’t believe he peed in my bottle.” Rachel and Kelly started laughing hysterically, they just couldn’t help it. Marion was in such disbelief that someone disposed of his perfectly good water to fill his bottle with their pee. About this time, Jason and Jim showed up giving thanks for us taking the drill out and we shared with them what Marion had just discovered. After we all had a good laugh, we then one by one made our way up the 14 foot drop and out the entrance. Once all 5 of us were out, we headed back the short distance to change into dry clothes and wait for the others. Finally everyone was out, all changed and ready to head back up the 4x4 road in the dark.
We had three vehicles in the cove and since Shari’s vehicle was at the back of the line she was heading up the mountain first, followed by Jim and then Jason. Kelly was sitting in the front seat of Shari’s vehicle and Rachel and Marty were in the back. As we were heading up the road, Kelly mentioned to Shari that she was driving a little fast. She assured us that it was ok. Kelly then asked her if she had ever driven up a road like this before and she began telling us she used to have a Bronco that she used to 4x4 in. Just then, Kelly looked ahead and said, “Shari, go high here.” Instead she went low and when she realized she was in trouble she gunned the gas. Kaboom, POW. We hit and all of a sudden like that we were stuck. The tires were spinning and we were slanted at an angle. Kelly got out of the Jeep and yep, it looked pretty bad. Jim was behind us so he got out of his truck to come see what was wrong. Kelly then walked back to Jason’s truck to let him know of the situation. By this time, everyone was out of the vehicles standing around Shari’s jeep, scratching our heads. Bewildered by what had happened, the guys quickly starting making a plan on how to get her out. After a few unsuccessful attempts and knowing that food was waiting on us on top of the mountain we decided it would be best to return with new energy the next morning. Luckily for us Shari was stuck in such a way that the two trucks behind her could still get by and up the mountain.
Once back at Steve’s house it was around midnight. Thankfully his wife, Karen had cooked us two big pots of chili for dinner. We all ate at least one bowl and some two. Knowing we would need to return the next morning to help Shari free her vehicle, all very exhausted, Jason, Kelly, Jim, Rachel, Shari, Keith & Marty all left. Since it was so late Marion decided to stay the night at Steve’s. Once back at our house we drank a few beers and finally made it to bed around 4am. After a bit of sleep, we woke around 10am. Shari had already been up making some phone calls to figure out how to get her jeep out. Jim & Rachel cooked breakfast and we all got ready to leave. We headed back up to Steve’s house where Marty and Blaine also met us. Once back down at Shari’s vehicle, Steve made quick work getting some of the big rocks underneath out of the way. Blaine brought some 6x6 pieces of wood that were strategically placed under the tires with more rocks. Jim got in the drivers seat and after a few hard pushes on the gas was able to free the vehicle. We all cheered once it was clear.
It had been 3 weeks since our last visit to the cave and we knew it was time to get back in there and finish up those side leads. Hunting season was fast approaching and we knew we wouldn’t be able to get in the cave during winter due to water levels. So on August 25, 2012 Jason and Kelly met Nancy Aulenbach at the Big Daddy’s Fireworks Store next to Lake Nickajack. The plan was to leave her car here and ride up to Steve’s house. However, as soon as we got to Big Daddy’s, Jason realized that he left his caving boots on the front porch. Good thing we live close. Nancy got in with us and we drove back by the house and picked up Jason’s boots. We got to Steve’s around 9:15 and Jason asked him if he would be willing to cut 100 foot off the 300 footer that he had mentioned we could use in the cave for a permanent traverse line. After spending a few minutes measuring out the rope we were once more on our way down Gilliam Gap on the 4x4 road to the cave. Once at the entrance the plan was to start surveying the side lead near the entrance off of station A6. This would also give Jim Campbell enough time to catch up to us in cave before the traverse. Jim was driving up from the Atlanta area but had a late start. We had only been in the cave about 30 minutes when we could hear Jim at the entrance. He quickly joined up with us and the survey began. We surveyed about 100 feet of passage in this side lead before we headed down to check off the next one. The next lead was just before the drop at Come Hell or High Water and we got about another 50 feet here. It was a slimy, muddy passage so Steve and Kelly waited at the drop while Jim, Nancy, & Jason surveyed it. We then each made our way down the drop into the water passage. We decided that we would go check out a few other side leads further upstream before going downstream. We knew going downstream there was potential for a sump and that we could get completely soaked so decided it would be best to save it for last.
As we approached the first side passage upstream, we realized that the previous station was not in the best spot to shoot off of. We ended up having to set a new station and getting the shortest shot of the entire survey, a whopping 6 inches! After a few laughs, we continued on to discover that this side passage made a loop around to the main passage. Once at the next side lead we felt it was a good time to take a break. As we were getting our snacks out, Jim pointed out a catfish that was swimming in the passage that we were going to survey next. On a previous trip they had also seen a fish in this passage. We all watched it swim around for a few minutes while we enjoyed our snacks and speculated on how the fish made it this far into the cave. After our break, Jim went into the water first. We all carefully watched as we knew this passage could potentially be deep. He was followed by Nancy and then Jason. Steve and Kelly spent a few minutes contemplating if they should go in or not. It looked pretty deep on everyone so being the shortest in the group, Kelly knew it could potentially be chest deep on her. She decided that it was important for her to continue on with the crew since she was there to take photos. Steve decided he would go further upstream to see if the passage was going to do another loop around and come back out. Kelly was really glad she followed the survey crew in as it turned out to be a really neat passage. However, because the water was so deep she was only able to take a few pictures. After surveying the passage, it did in fact loop around and pop back out into the main passage. Since we were there, we decided to go ahead and take Nancy to the big breakdown collapse at the end of the cave that had been discovered on the last trip. We spent some time poking around in it to see if there was any way thru. Unfortunately, there wasn’t so we decided to go check out one more lead. This lead was one that Marty’s crew had surveyed by on their last trip. At that time it was only blowing a small amount of air. However, today it was blasting air. Jason and Jim both tried to push it but were unable to break through. They came out of the passage covered in icky mud and we appropriately named it Satan’s Rectum. Next it was Nancy’s turn. She jumped right in and we could hear her pushing and trying to dig thru the nasty mud. She finally emerged unsuccessful but then decided to try the higher route. After moving a few rocks out of the way she was able to break thru and make it big enough for Jason to come up and take a look as well. A few minutes later they returned to report that it looked like it could have possibly been a collapsed entrance and unfortunately was not significant passage. By this time it was getting late and we were tired but we still had one more lead, the downstream. Because of the difficulty just getting to the cave and getting to this point we decided it was in our best interest to go ahead and push ahead and survey the downstream. Once back at the rope, Steve decided he was going to go ahead and climb up and wait for us. Nancy decided it was time to go ahead and blow up her floatie as well. Kelly also had a floatie but decided not to blow hers up. Kelly followed the survey crew as they went ahead getting chest deep in water at some points. Eventually, the mud below the water started getting really deep and with every step we took we would sink to our knees in the mud and debris and the water would rise higher on our bodies. It was very interesting and it made it a little difficult to walk. We eventually reached a point where the cave sumped completely. All very excited that we had finished the days work, we started to head back out. We de rigged the drop but did leave the 100 foot of rope at the traverse line. Once back up the mountain at Steve’s house, his wife Karen had made us spaghetti for dinner. We ate like there was no tomorrow and after a while headed back home for the night.
We had pushed every lead and surveyed everything we could in the cave, except Satan’s Rectum. The thought of that last blowing lead kept weighing on Jason’s mind and he felt that he needed to push it a bit more before he started on the map. So on October 2, 2012 Jason, Anne Grindle, and Paul Lundberg made another trip to The Hell Sucker, which at the time we were still calling it Project Yeti Hole. They went armed with shovels and trowels to dig thru the lower blowing lead that no one was able to get thru in August. However when they got to the drop at Come Hell or High Water, Jason could hear the raging water below. He rigged the rope and went over the edge. He saw that the water was at least 6 feet deep and knew it would be impossible to make it to the lead that day. Darn it, looks like we’ll have to wait until after hunting season and the water levels to go back down before we can get back in there.
On February 9, 2013, with the water levels still too high to enter the cave, Jason wanted to take the opportunity to ridge walk Newby Gulf during the winter. He, along with Jim Campbell and his son Tao met up with Steve Davis and his son Kyle at Steve’s house. They drove one truck down the 4x4 road into Gilliam Gap and left it on a major bench. They then all drove over to High Falls, which is on top of Sand Mountain, to begin their hike. Once they began their hike, they crossed over tornado damage to get to the falls and then encountered huge boulders the size of vehicles. Their hike was grueling the first mile and half until they eventually reached limestone. Along the way they found at least one known cave and dug open another small one. After spending a lot of time and energy ridge walking it was getting late and they were tired. Their focus then turned towards getting back to the truck and out of the cove. Overall, the kids did great on the hike but it did not yield any potential leads into The Hell Sucker.
Eight long months later, Jason Hardy, Kelly Smallwood and Jim Campbell headed back to The Hell Sucker once more to push the last blowing lead; the one that had been weighing on our minds all winter and spring, Satan’s Rectum. 2013 brought an unusual high amount of rainfall so we were unable to get into the cave again until now. On June 9, 2013 we made our way in the cave and down the drop into the stream with no problems. We quickly made our way to the lead and spent several hours working on it without making much progress. The lead is extremely muddy but blows a lot of air. It is a small opening that leads into a tight area with a lot of breakdown above. After a lot of work, no progress and safety concerns with the lead we decided to call it End of Survey.
The Hell Sucker has been surveyed to a length of 6,239.9 feet with a depth of -62.1 feet and we did it all within 2 months! It is also the largest cave by volume and virgin that we have surveyed. All but the first 1,000 feet of the cave was virgin territory when we began the survey and the average passage was about 30 feet wide by 25 feet high. We surveyed as we went and we also taught 5 cavers how to survey on this project. Alabama now has another mile plus long cave.
Jason and Kelly would like to extend their sincere appreciation to everyone who was involved in the survey and exploration of The Hell Sucker including: Steve T. Davis, Jim & Rachel Campbell, Anne & Blaine Grindle, Marion O. Smith, Shari Lydy, Nancy Aulenbach, Marty Abercrombie, Kim B Smith, Danja Mewes, Scott Ehardt, Keith Sutphin, and Ken Williams. We also extend a big thank to Lin Guy, whom we tried on multiple times to return to the cave, for leaving something for the next generation.