By Jeremy Patton
Sloans Valley 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 ruin their fragile ecosystems.
Delania and I entered Sloans Valley Cave for the first time via the Garbage Pit Entrance on 10/29/16. We searched for it for more than a year. Delania, a native of Somerset, had been fascinated with Sloans Valley for most of her life, so she could hardly contain her excitement.
The Garbage Pit Entrance sounds unappealing, but the name mainly hints at its sordid past. According to the landowners (who shall remain anonymous), locals used the cave as a dump during the 20th Century. The family acquired the property in the 1970s then led an effort to clean it up and protect it from further abuse.
The cave once could only be accessed by crawling through the frame of an old refrigerator. Every imaginable kind of refuse was found inside, including a dead cow.
I often get angry when landowners do not understand or care about caves and the importance of preserving them. The owners of the Garbage Pit Entrance, however, are very educated and will continue their legacy of conservation.
We descended a 15-foot pit to access the cavern, a warm-up for the challenges to come. A rope was tied to a nearby tree, but I checked its integrity before using it to climb down.
Do not attempt vertical climbing unless you are in shape and experienced. There are plenty of caves in Kentucky where climbing is not necessary.
To be honest, I was concerned about Delania’s climbing ability. She scaled the pit like a monkey, however. She can do just about anything when sufficiently motivated.
I descended, scouted the entrance then helped Delania down; I gave her first honors. She quivered with anticipation as the door creaked open.
Once inside, she began cursing; I soon joined her, forming a profane chorus. The cursing was an indicator that we were seeing some awesome shit.
Nearly every type of speleothem resided inside the entrance, such as soda straws, draperies, stalagmites, stalactites, columns and flowstone. We spent much time snapping photographs and taking it all in.
We soon discovered a huge pit rimmed by flowstone that I dubbed the Death Pit. I approached its slick perimeter by crawling on my stomach. It was perhaps 40-60 feet high, although it was hard to tell because the expanse swallowed our attempts to illuminate it. I suspect that a passage somewhere leads to the bottom.
We returned to the formation room then found what appeared to be another pit. After some investigation, we determined that a path could be blazed down the steep hill of rubble that sloped hundreds of feet into a massive cavern, possibly the largest that we had ever found.
I later learned that the slope was known as Garbage Pit Hill. We descended halfway down, which took a long time. Even during a severe drought, the rocks were coated with slick mud that made a precarious situation much worse.
From our vantage point, we saw that several tunnels branched off from the junction below, while the main passage ascended another hill to an upper level. There was so much to explore, but we turned back due to time constraints.
We fortunately entered Sloans Valley during a drought. To my understanding, Lake Cumberland can inundate sections of the cave, including the valley below Garbage Pit Hill. When we visited, the lake level was approximately 695 feet MSL. Delania and I have already discussed our options for exploring during wet weather, including the use of a raft.
Sloans Valley has earned a grim reputation. Numerous cavers have been trapped, injured or killed within its approximately 27 miles of passages. Due to slick conditions, drop-offs and the potential for drowning, it is a treacherous cave.
It beckons Delania and I to return, like an alluring Siren, but we will not do so while complacent. We will plan our trips carefully and prepare for every conceivable emergency. Most people do not understand why we venture underground to a world about as foreign as the moon, but for whatever reason, Delania and I deem the risk worth the reward.