By Scott Thomson
Warren’s is probably one of my favorite places on earth. Just the thought of planning a trip in there gets me excited. I think it’s the fact that it’s big enough that it’s hard to say you’ve “done” Warren’s. There seems to be any number of corners to explore and objectives you can set for yourself. The fact that there’s good people actively still working to make the cave longer, and plenty of expectation that it probably is, makes the cave feel more alive.
This forward looking feeling about Warren’s is even more interesting considering the long history of exploration in the cave and how central it has been to the community of Florida cavers for generations.
From that first grotto trip Phil and I had been wanting to get to some of those storied places on the map. I was very much egged on by my kid, himself steeped in the talk of the further reaches of the cave and very much up for an adventure.
We decided to incrementally work our way back, but the goal was…THE PIT.
With a date set OF January 7, 2024, we were very happy that Payton was free and signed on. He had been back further than us, so we were glad to have someone with a bit more knowledge of the route beyond the Sand Room. That meant we could push the sections where we would need to start route finding as far back as possible
Payton watches as Phil heads down the first drop. I’ve said it before, but on this trip it was once again still absolutely true: there may come a day when I walk up to that first drop, look across and down and not be filled with a sense of excitement, but this day was not that day. Damn that’s a spot. Standing at the top of that drop really feels like the start of a journey, even when we’ve just done casual tourist trips. Add in some good people and what else do you really need?
The kid heads down. He’s really cut his teeth in this cave, and as we’ve gotten further out and about in the caving world the skills he’s learned and improved at Warren’s have served him well.
This was a good group. It was small and pretty nimble, though as the designated team Clydesdale I’m not sure how much you could really apply that adjective to me. We got into a rhythm pretty quick. Payton was out front, route finding and setting the pace, Striker behind constantly asking where we were on the map, then usually Phil (who had the map) keeping us in line, then me making sure no one dropped any snacks.
Humming along we still had time to occasionally take note of some of the sights along the way. In particular some of the fossils as we got into some of the upper level passages at the contact with the Hawthorn. Here Phil is pointing out what appears to be a nearly complete rib of some sort.
Not too far beyond this point I got tired of my phone being one more item to deal with as we crawled along so I stowed it in my pack, which I’m a bit sad about as I wish I’d taken the time to get some shots in Warren’s that aren’t of the Sand Room. I really wish I’d taken the time in particular to get a pic of my new favorite personal bugbear, a feature I have been referring to as “that F$#@! climb down crack”.
After a while we were beginning to get pretty time conscious. We were definitely getting up against our turnaround time, but we also knew we were nearly to the Pit. We were in a spot between numbered markers and trying to figure the way on so we dumped our packs and plowed ahead, finally hitting a marker confirming our location. The last couple waypoints were proper cave, so with the clock ticking we practically jogged the last bit to be rewarded by our goal. I can definitely say if it had been less grand, less “pit” I woulda been grumpy, but I liked the Pit. It’s a cool feature. It wasn’t the summit of Everest, or even the farthest back part of the cave, but it was our goal and it felt great. I think that if we hadn’t made it there the trip back woulda been a slog. I mean, it was a slog, but having attained our meager personal goal was something we got to carry and be carried by on the way back out, and after checking out the register and snapping a couple pics, that’s exactly what we did.
Again Payton led the way, back up through “that F$#@! climb down crack”, back past the fossils and into the Sand Room. There we took a break to feast on a banquet of Sweet Tart rope, Haribo and these yogurt strawberry treats that Payton had which were a reason to be there by themselves. Feeling good we wrapped it up to finish it out and this is just my observation, but the Red Streak certainly seemed a bit longer than when we’d come through it just a couple hours before. Still, as we finally exited into the stand up walking passages headed back to the Cashew Squeeze we were on home turf.
Our goal was a fairly modest one. It didn’t change anything about Warren’s, add anything onto the map, or accomplish anything that others hadn’t done already and won’t do again. But it was our goal. We had a good group made up of people of different sizes, different ages and possibly with different reasons for getting back there, but all sharing a goal and dammit we did get back there and we had a good time doing so.
Not surprisingly, even before the trip was done we were already talking about new goals. There’s more cave back there, and there’s other parts of the cave we’ve never seen. Some that don’t even involve “that F$#@! climb down crack”, but even if whatever our next goal might be means I do have to shove myself back through that thing I can guarantee you this: you can bet your ass I’m gonna have a pound of those yogurt strawberry treats going with me.
Story and Photos by Scott thompson