By Jeremy Patton
Drowned Rat Cave is located in Pulaski County, Kentucky.
I will not reveal cave locations because they are frequent targets of vandalism. Furthermore, heavy human traffic can destroy their fragile ecosystems.
I do not know how Drowned Rat Cave got its name, but I suspect that surveyors took the liberty. They easily could have stumbled upon a drowned rat because the cave floods and its entrance is often submerged. The water level of nearby Lake Cumberland exerts great influence.
We scouted it with our kayaks back in the summer. When we returned on 11/12/16, we covered the same ground on foot, thanks to an on-going drought. It was a beautiful, sunny day. The temperature was in the 60s, but cooler inside the cave.
A corridor led from the river to the first breakdown room. Speleothems were fairly abundant there, mainly straws and draperies. We stepped up a few feet to an upper level where we noticed another breakdown room to our right, just off the main passage.
Thick humidity hampered our vision. The temperature spiked then we unexpectedly began to sweat while exploring the room. When we stepped down to the stream passage, conditions returned to normal.
I had never experienced such drastic climate changes underground. My non-expert hypothesis was that the room, which was located on a platform several feet above the main passage, trapped humidity and heat, creating a micro-climate.
We continued along the stream passage, the first part of which was dry. The ceiling dipped then a trickling stream appeared, soon expanding to the width of the passage. This was our turn-around point.
Continuing through the shallow water was possible, but the low ceiling required us to crawl. Cotton clothing and the cold, wet conditions would have made us susceptible to hypothermia; and honestly, crawling through a watery, tight space was not my idea of a good time. I would have considered it with a wet suit and lower lake level (it was about 695 feet MSL at the time).
The cave formations were intriguing and we spent some time observing albino crayfish swimming in the stream. We did not venture very far overall, perhaps a few hundred feet. Even that short distance would have been impossible without the drought.