Monday, March 24, 2008

Cave Rescue in Great Smoky Mountains National Park brings unneeded attention to environmentally sensitive area.

While I personally find the Whiteoak Sinks in the Great Smoky Mountains national park one of the most interesting areas of the park, I am dismayed by how many people now trample through this unique area with its unique geological and biological characteristics.

Not only are some of these unique plants and animals in the Whiteoak Sinks in danger with this unwelcome intrusion, people who explore this area by climbing on the rock faces or even taking the extremely steep and dangerous trail down by rainbow cave to the sinks floor are also putting themselves at great risk.

Last weeks rescue of 4 amateur spelunkers by the national park service in Rainbow Cave in Whiteoak Sinks brought major attention to an area of the park we at Your Smokies really mention in order to keep visitors to a minimum to lower the impact to the area.

One of the most common questions I am asked is: "What cave do the bears hibernate in during the winter in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?"

Beside a small cave in Cades Cove off of the beaten path (Gregory Cave), the only other caves in the national park are located in the Whiteoak Sinks so no - the black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park do not hibernate in caves!

Blowhole cave in Whiteoak Sinks

Blowhole cave located in Whiteoak Sinks plays host to the endangered Indiana Bats and is blocked by iron bars so no one could enter the cave to disturb the hibernating bats.

Rainbow cave is by far the most impressive cave from the outside and is at the far south end of the Sinks where a small waterfall unusually flows year round into the mouth of the cave. The flowing water into the limestone base is part of the geophysical action as to what has formed the cave.

Cave exploration can be dangerous and difficult and to enter rainbow cave you have to enter the main section via small holes at the base of the waterfall which always wet and very cold.

Further into this cave there is plenty of running water which keeps the temperature quite cold year round and spelunkers can easily succumb to exhaustion and hypothermia.

The four individuals who were rescued from the cave were young and fairly inexperienced in cave exploration and were poorly equipped. Wisely they advised someone of where they were going, but foolishly the lacked proper equipment as well the proper clothing for such an environment.

Once these amateurs realized that they were to cold and tired to climb back up the last 50 foot decent, they were smart enough to go deeper into a warmer area of the cave where they huddled together for warmth.

Fortunately the park service was called in time in order to be able to extract them from the cave prior them suffering any serious injury or hypothermia.

The park service does have rangers that have some caving experience and the Knox County Rescue Squads experienced Cave Rescue Team is also able to assist when a cave rescue is required in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Another cave in the Whiteoak Sinks requires a permit form the national park service.

No comments: