Caving in Stephen's Gap
Get your Indiana Jones on....
Stephen's Gap is a sinkhole cavern located just east of Huntsville, AL and by all means it's an absolute southern belle. Less than a mile hike with some short up-hill bursts is all it takes to get to the cave. What you'll notice first is a small waterfall, and as you approach it, you find it plunges deep through a 20 foot wide hole about 140ft down into the earth. This is where my good friend, Henry Thompson of Holdfast Adventures set up shop. He's a master ropes guy, and he was the ticket to making this trip something beyond epic.
About 30-40ft to the left of the sinkhole is a large entrance to the cavern, and with some careful boulder hopping you should make it down into the cave with no problem. As you make your way to the bottom of the cavern, you'll find you really won't need a headlamp as you have a massive skylight from the sinkhole above to your right - that's when the real awe sets in. On a sunny day, the light shown through the sinkhole casts these incredible light rays through the moisture in the air of the cavern. On a cloudy day, you'll get an incredible soft light that makes for a nice cavey gloom. Another aspect that really contributes to the photogenic awe of Stephen's Gap is the rock "pedestal" which is back dropped by the sinkhole's waterfall. On a sunny day and at around high noon, the light rays will shine directly down on the pedestal giving a real Indiana Jones or "Beam me up, Scottie" effect.
With Henry all set up top side, the rappelling began and it's what we filled our next five hours with. With some help from road flares, we came out with some real special shots and it is definitely on our books to be back soon! One area of the cave we've yet to explore is the sinkhole floor where we've heard the cave continues another 250 feet into tunnels.
Before heading off to Stephen's Gap, make sure you register a permit with the Southeastern Cave Conservancy. It's free and is a super easy process. All in all it helps protect that cave which truly is a gem of the south. Here's the link! permits.scci.org. (Oh, and use Google Maps to navigate to the cave.)
-- Sean Fisher
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