Historically Speaking: Howard’s Waterfall Cave: 1960 News Item Foreshadows Future Events

April 22, 2018

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, there are 514 caves in Georgia. Of these, 164 are in Dade County. There are 149 in Walker County. Cave exploration has been a subculture in Dade County for . . . I don’t know . . . as long as there have been people in this area. Over the next several weeks I plan to write about the most famous caving event in Dade history.


Honestly, I have been planning to write about the cave explosion in April 1966 since 2013, when my interest in the Howard’s Waterfall Cave explosion was rekindled by an email which I received. The email and its story will be the last part of this series. 

For now, reprinting this article which appeared in The Dade County Times on April 28, 1960, will give great background for the next few weeks. This article by an unknown writer--there was no byline--is somewhat stiff and could be boring to a reader, but it serves as a foreshadowing of events to come. It also informs why so many beginning spelunkers come to Dade County to begin their cave experiences.


The photograph of Howard's Waterfall Cave, which is located off Back Valley Road, is from the website of the Southeastern Cave Conservancy Inc. (SCCI). 

Large Cave Near Trenton Attracting Spelunkers, is One of State’s Best Known


Howards Waterfall Cave, located about a mile west of Trenton, Georgia, on State Route No. 143, has long been one of the state’s best known. Because of its accessibility and since its interior presents no special difficulties it is frequently visited by novice cavers of all types. 


Visits by the N.S.S. members are comparatively rare, since the cave has long been known in its entirety by most old cavers in the area. However no map of the cave is known to exist, and this has been inspired the Atlanta Grotto’s most ambitious mapping projects to date.


During January, February and March of this year, the Grotto made six trips to Howard’s. The resulting map revealed the cave to be larger than anyone participating had remembered.Over 7000 ft. of passage was measured. In addition to mapping the cave itself, a topographic survey of the outstanding surface features was made and tied in to the cave survey.


The cave lies in a NE-SW line on the east side of the ridge which parallels the famous Lookout Mountain, which dominates the valley in the east. The cave is roughly 3,500 ft. long and is quite straight when viewed as a whole. Through much of its length, however, dual parallel passages exist which run up the total length considerably. 


Travel through most of Howard’s is quite easy.  From a point 300 ft. inside the Second Entrance to a point about 1,000 ft. from opposite end, nothing worse than stooping is required. At the latter point a short but tight crawl leads to more walking cave which continues until the very end. An alternate route leads through a roomier but much longer crawl to a “pop-up” in the main passage.


Stooping Walkway

At the opposite end of the cave, those who enter by either the Second or Third entrances will encounter some minor difficulty. A few inside the Second Entrance, a cliff about twenty feet high is encountered. This can be descended on the left side without climbing gear provided caution is used.


Almost 200 ft. further another cliff, or rather an extremely steep bank is reached. The slick nature of the rocks and crumbly soil at the top make this the most difficult obstacle in the cave. It is recommended that those approaching from the opposite direction carry about thirty feet of safety rope for this one. Two streams fall over the end and run into the cave. A stooping walk for a short distance leads into a small room from which passages go down to a lower level and also to the SW and NW. The SW passages close out after 250 feet; the NW passage continues to a junction with the Second Entrance Passage in another fifty feet. 


Souvenir Hunters

The cave does not appear ever to have been profusely decorated. To a great extent, what did exist has been destroyed by vandals and souvenir hunters. A few of the most massive formations survive and are worth seeing. In the second entrance are some very large rim stone pools. They have been dry for some time, but their size and depth makes them impressive. In some of the remoter portions some nice soda-straws and other speleothems are found but none are outstanding.


The cave is not promising biologically, either. At least to the “untrained” eyes of Atlanta mappers nothing unusual appeared, in the lower levels inside the Main Entrance about 25 bats were seen. A few salamanders and crickets were also found here and there.


In summary, Howard’s Waterfall Cave has little to offer the sophisticated spelunker. Its outstanding feature is its size, as its mile and a half of passage ranks high among Georgia caves. It is also a very fine place for novices to be given the feel of a cave without thrusting too great an ordeal upon them. As for most of those who participated in the mapping, it will be some time before they can be prodded into returning.


(Editor’s Note: A map of this cave and surrounding landmarks may be seen in the office of the Dade County Times.)

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