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Aid climbing INSIDE a muddy cave - Exploring Topless Dome 1 of 3

Tumbling Rock Cave in Alabama, protected by the SCCI (permit required to enter the cave) has a 396 foot dome with a waterfall coming down the center of it. Topless Dome was first climbed in 1978 by Don Davison and Cheryl Jones where they climbed straight up the dome and then rappelled down two side pits named Mushroom Forest and Horse Tooth Pit. Allegedly, someone tried to climb back to the top in 1996 without a permit and got arrested right before they could top out and you can still see their rope up there (2nd episode). No one has officially been to the top since 1978.

Rachel Saker loves vertical cave exploration and was exploring ceiling channels in the Hall of Great Mysteries until one of her discoveries, Disillusion Window, tied back into Topless. She installed a via ferrata to go to the other side where the map said the Mushroom Forest and Horse Tooth Pit existed only to find out they were behind her. I joined Rachel in EPISODE 1 and lead aid climbed from her Disillusion Window up to Horse Tooth Pit. In EPISODE 2, Rachel leads from Horsetooth pit up through Mushroom Forest and gets us to the top where we found the original anchor from 44 years ago including the original note in a cricket chewed zip lock bag. We then rappelled the entire dome making it the longest continuous rappel I have ever done. EPISODE 3 is break testing the gear we pulled out of the project and a few other old cave treasures.

Tumbling Rock Cave is SCCI protected and permits are required to enter the cave

Project leader: Rachel Saker

Video Credit: Derek Bristol

Behind the Scenes

This was my 3rd time entering a cave and i got to lead climb a portion of this dome that has never been climbed before to enter a space only 2 people have ever been before, and they only spent 15 minutes in it. It was amazing to have this opportunity to use my big wall skills under ground as most caves, once climbed, are just fixed ropes and no one lead climbs them again. I had to figure out what was solid limestone and what was just brittle flow stone to build an anchor for Rachel to follow. The trick was everything was under an inch of mud!

The climax and crux of this was filming while moving from aid to free climbing in boots on mud while gripping a mud lip and pulling my glove off while hanging on still so I could pull out my cell phone and film. Overall, this was a very unique experience to me at the time. Be sure to check out the other two videos of the trilogy as it shows the entire project.

After Posting Thoughts

1st and the 3rd video got 30k views after 3 months and the 2nd video got over 250k views so I do wish I made them into one full documentary instead of breaking them up but who knows, maybe it would have just got 30k views as a 40 minute film. It's really awesome to see that people really liked it in the comments, as I put in about 20-30 hours of editing into the 3 video series. It makes me want to put a lot of effort into more full length documentaries.

Topless Project Photos

Head over to our 2nd video in this trilogy


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