Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Valhalla, Alabama

Perhaps the largest open air free drop in TAG, Valhalla stands out as the favorite of many.

Emily Dillon in the large entrance drop, March 2017.
           Valhalla lies relatively isolated way up in Goshen Hollow, on the same mountain as Neversink.  Like Neversink, Valhalla is also owned by the SCCi; but it requires a permit to visit.  Access is via a 2.5mi dirt road that has varying degrees of condition.  In August 2016 it was not passable by almost anything expect a Jeep or similar vehicle with very high clearance.  The Birmingham Grotto recently graded the road and in March 2017 the road was in conditions well enough for most SUVs to easily pass through, watching for the occasional large rock.

Valhalla from the top as seen from just below the lip.
Photo Credit: Eric Lee Hahn, March 2017
On rope: (top) Deirdre Conroy and  (bottom) myself

           Like most pits in the area, Valhalla drops through almost all of the Bangor Limestone.  Chert nodules near the top and shale layers by the lip indicate the top of the pit is probably in the Pennington Limestone.  The top of the pit is deceptive, about 40ft long and 20ft across.  It isn't until one backs over the lip that one can truly appreciate the size of the pit.  Valhalla feels less like a shaft, and more like a big canyon passage whose ceiling fell in.  While the two main rig points stay near the wall, the pit bells impressively in several directions and is well over 100ft wide and 300ft long at the bottom of the pit.  Large buttresses and pinnacles disappear into the blackness of the chasm.  Much of the time there is a distinct layer of fog in the pit, and in the summer sunbeams can streak to the floor.

Emily Dillon in the main entrance shaft, March 2017

           Both rig points use the same tree and then split around another large tree right at the lip.  The two rig points, one to the east and one to the west, both are at the end of a long dirt slope and open to a free drop of 227ft to a large talus pile.  On this pile is a noticeably large rock split down the middle.  In June 1984 this rock peeled from the wall near it and crushed two cavers.  The accident was exactly that, an accident.  Caving is never totally safe.  For most, the accident doesn't do much to the appeal of the pit.

Deirdre Conroy ascending Valhalla, March 2017

          Beyond the pit lies about a mile of mostly small passages.  Lots of crawing, with some walking involved.  The cave in general is mazey and muddy.  Immediately off the main entrance pit however are three smaller but still impressive domes.  The Waterfall Dome is accessed by either a small hole in the breakdown of the main pit or by climbing to a ledge about 80ft off the floor.  In the main pit, off where the cave trends to the west, there is a flowstone formation.  Beyond this is the hole to the bottom of the Waterfall Dome and above it is the ledge.  The Waterfall Dome is over 160ft tall and in the spring has an impressive waterfall rolling down it.
           Discovered recently via a climb from another dome and connecting to the Waterfall Dome is a dome well over 150ft tall with rimstone formations at its base.
          Finally, known for some time, is Mega Dome.  Mega Dome is 200ft tall and is am impressively symmetric shaft.

March 2014 - with Gabe Britcher and David Crawford, just did the entrance pit
March 2016 - with Emily Dillon, Cassandra Mosley, Elliot Guerra-Blackmer, Emily Deaver, Jessi Lowman, Shawn Hogbin, Wayne Perkins, Mark Jonard, Mark Hare, David Crawford, Jon Henrich - did the long horizontal route to Mega Dome.
August 2016 - with Amy Skowronski, Deirdre Conroy, Shawn Hogbin, and Ed Villareal.  Did the vertical route to Mega Dome
March 2017 - camped and spent two nights with Deirdre Conroy, Emily Dillon, and Eric Lee Hahn. 

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