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Raccoon Mountain Cave Trip

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While I have never been to Raccoon Mountain, I used to work at the Lost Sea which is about 60 miles up the interstate.


If the dirt is anything like it is at the Lost Sea, wear cloths that never want to wear again, even the undies and socks will be ruined. The dirt was red keel clay, the is the stuff they used to mix with milk to make red barn paint. From their website, the cave appears to be pretty wet. The Lost Sea, well the cave is Craighead Caverns the lake is the Lost Sea, was pretty cool, about 58 degrees. Moving around I would stay comfortable in a tee shirt and jeans, because the humidity was 80-90 percent. I did tie a flannel shirt around my waist, but is was for when I would have to stay in one place, pressed up against a wall, or for when it was a really dirty section of the cave.


Wear good shoes, but again nothing that you don't mind getting dirty. I found that work style boots worked better for me than hiking boots.


It appears that they provide helmets with lights, if they do not, the cheap plastics flashlight did not hold up at all. I usually carried four lights, my main on my helmet and a helmet mounted backup, a mini mag, and a 3 cell mag light, the mag light was used for pointing out interesting stuff to my group. So for your trip if they provide the helmets and lights, I think couple extra mini mags, or similar, would come in handy in case a light or two goes out.


One thing that I would always tell my groups was that I did not care if they did not pay attention to me when I was giving the history and such of the cave, but when I was giving instruction on how to do something I needed them to pay attention. We had a part of the cave called the eye of the needle. I would lead the group right to the end through a tight vertical section. There was a a vertical shaft that I had wedge myself in to and sit on a ledge to help the group though a tight low section and to make sure that they did fall down the shaft. On most groups we only had one guide so I told them after they passed me and went up the ledge that was right pass me they needed to slide to the rock in front of them on their rear. The reason was that the rock was always wet, and smoothed from so many people crossing it. That is where I had the only injury of any of my groups, he decided to walk down it, he fell and broke his leg. Luckily we were back to the main room and getting him out involved driving a golf cart to him and loading him and the backboard on the cart and driving him out. When we brought him out, we had two rural fire departments, the counties rescue squad, two ambulance, and three deputies in our driveway.


Sorry for the ramblings, but what I was getting at, is when the guide tells you how to do something, listen, they are trying to keep you from getting hurt. Luckily the Chattanooga/Hamilton County Rescue Squad cave and cliff team is one of the best in the nation.


I hope you guys have fun, and tip your guide, doesn't have to be much, a buck or two per person in your group would mean a lot to them. If you want some more ideas of things to do around Chattanooga, let me know.

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This is side commentary, but...


One of the highlights of my troop when I was a scout was our annual caving trip. We lived in southern OH, and would leave one Friday afternoon in March, after school, to drive 4+ hours south to a state park in KY. Carter Caves, S.P. We'd arrive and setup camp, and then go on a night hike (once we even had a campfire in a cave).


The next morning, we'd be up early and go out to explore one or more of the many caves in the park, and occasionally a cave on private property (one took ropes and harnesses to get down into). Some "commerical" caves (with a marked path and lighting), some guided trips, to full wild caves on our own (with carbide lamps and hard hats).


One year, our SM offered us incentive for a fundraiser...the four top-sellers were allowed to choose a trip that the troop would pay for. We chose to go caving (I was one of the four). Same trip, different time of year, so the flora and fauna (bats!) were completely different.


Of all the peak experiences I had in that troop, the annual caving trip was one of the peakiest :).


Have fun...


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I've been there many times with different groups, three times with scouts. It is a real blast. You can do the wild cave tour with or without the overnight and it is great either way. The first time we did it, the sleeping room had a mud floor and they supplied sheets of mud-coated plastic to protect our sleeping bags. They supplied duffle bags to carry everything in. And they do provide really nice helmets with lights.

If you have anyone who is not sure about their ability to remain composed in tight places, there is a small test 'cave' at the main entrance.


We enter the 'wild' part near the end of the paved, lighted tour. The first squeeze is called the 'birth canal'. It's a horizontal slot that tapers on both sides. Only the center is passable and even that is kind of a squeeze. You have to turn your head sideways to get the helmet through and you can't look forward or back very easily. If you get off one side or the other too far, you get jammed. That has panic potential so anyone who has a tough time in that first crawl is going to be challenged on ahead.

If you do get jammed (and I have) you won't be able to look to figure out which way to go, you just have to wiggle your head to free the helmet and work to the right or left to find the widest path again.

This is just the beginning. Although there are more crawls, most are not as bad but there are climbs, squeezes that will greatly challenge anyone who is overweight, and a couple of places that some will just want to walk around.

One of those is called the 49cent squeeze (I think) and in order to get through that one, you have to stick one arm out ahead to angle your shoulders to get through the hole. It isn't long but it goes down at an angle and then doubles back up. This means you have to enter one arm out ahead, on your back looking up in order to make the turn. Then, right in the middle, you have to do a 180 degree twist to get your knees past the bend. Very challenging....some people come out in tears.

And at the end you've had a really great workout. Wear clothes that can get covered in mud and dirt. Plan to change as soon as you get out, they have showers waiting. There is also a large field to camp in and a regular campground.

The guide is always good and I encourage you to give them a nice tip at the end. Also, make sure you get a before/after group photo.

Also, make sure the boys bring souvenir money, the gift shop is unavoidable.


The end of the trip is ideal when you exit from the wild part through one last slot called the 'mail slot'. It is really short but if you're lucky there will be a regular tour coming through when you and the boys squirt out of this narrow slot covered in mud. The gaping, surprised looks in the tourists are just wonderful.


Our best trip happened to coincide with a movie crew filming some kind of grade B horror flick. There were really hokie monsters and gorgeous women. The boys stared like they were dumbstruck. They were. I lingered and found out that it was really a cheap skinflick. Heh, heh, they even offered to 'hire' some of the boys to hold the lights. I declined (G2SS, you know) but I did tell the boys about the offer. I suspect they had sugarplums dancing in their dreams that night. ;)


Anyway, if you get the idea that I enjoy the place, you're correct. They're friendly, accommodating, and the tour is a lot of fun. They boys will talk about it for a very long time.

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Thanks folks. We did Lost Sea last year as our first ever cave trip and the guys loved it but thought it was too short. So this year they decided on Raccoon Mountain which looks like a bit more adventure. Guys also saw that Raccoon Mountain offers a handful of merit badges and I think they are leaning towards geology. Website states they have an on-site geologist to teach it.


Packsaddle, since you are in my neck of the woods, can you give me any advice on rest stops or picnic areas along the way while we're driving. Trying to keep costs down and rather than eat in a restaurant during the trip up and back we're going to bring food and stop at a rest stop for a picnic lunch.

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I assume you are talking about Raccoon Mountain Caverns in Chattanooga, TN.


We have it in a three cave trip rotation with Lost Sea and Cumberland Caverns, also in Tennessee.


I rate Raccoon Mountain as my favorite. Although it is the smallest of three (very small commercial area in terms of formations, etc), it seems to offer the best "wild cave" experience. They also offer the best gear in terms of padding, helmets, etc. The small size also means the total number of folks in the cave is smaller (often several hundred folks at the bigger caves ... yuck). They also lack huge sleeping areas, meaning they usually divide you up in to smaller sleeping groups. We went in January a couple of years back and were the only troop in the cave. That had never happened before. Staff was great.


Not sure where you are travelling from. If you let me know, I might have some ideas for activities, etc. Also let me know when you are going.



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Sorry, I just saw you are from South Carolina.


A few activities in the Chattanooga area that you might want to consider would be stuff in the downtown area like the TN Aquarium. There is also an IMAX theatre down there and several nice restaurants (bbq, pizza, etc). The Incline Railway up Lookout Mountain also does not take long but is a memorable experience. Finally, Chickamauga battlefield in just south of there in Georgia and has a nice visitors center and several scout hiking trails (patched offered) that start out as short as 5-6 miles and can be knocked out quickly.


Have fun on your trip.


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I don't think you will be coming in this way, but the rest area north of Chattanooga on I75 at about the 40 mile marker, south of Athens, is closed on both sides of the interstate.



Chickamauga battlefield is part of the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park ran by the national park service. This park is unique, in terms of parks that I have been to, because it is split into two main sections, Chickamauga battlefield and the Lookout Mountain battlefield in Chattanooga. Lookout Mountain battlefield is more the size of a city park, but it has a wonderful view of Chattanooga and has several trails.


We also have the Ocoee whitewater center, it is where the whitewater sections of the 96 Olympics were held. It is a bit out of the way, but it is very pretty up there.


Athens is home to Mayfeilds Dairy, they offer tours at the plant of the milk and ice cream production area, but I am not sure if they run ice cream on the weekends.

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We've visited Raccoon Mountain several times. It is a lot of fun! It is also fairly wet, with a stream running through one section of it. They provide helmets, lights, gloves and knee pads. They don't provide elbow pads, which some people like to use. I don't think most people miss them.


I would caution against trying to take a camera on the wild tour. I had a small waist pack to carry a very small camera, and I wasn't sure if the camera would make it back out in one piece! I had to take the waist pack off and push is ahead of me several times - it is that tight.


The cave feels cool at first, but once you get moving on the tour, you heat up pretty quickly (lots of humidity, lots of sweating). Some people wear a long sleeve t-shirt, others a long sleeve sweat shirt - either will work, just make sure everyone wears long sleeves. Take large plastic bags to carry all muddy clothing in. Leave clean shoes in the vehicles, and have everyone change back to the clean shoes just before getting in the vehicles to head home. You may need another plastic bag for the muddy shoes/boots.


Don't let the boys go caving in worn out tennis shoes. Slick bottom shoes can be dangerous in a muddy cave.

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Gwd, there are two ways to get there and we find the quickest is the Atlanta route. The other way is through the hills and it is very scenic, and very slow.

The rest area at exit 115 in GA is a good place to unload before you risk getting caught in Atlanta traffic. Then take 285 around the north and up I75 to Chattanooga. There is a good place to stop at the TN welcome center. Take a cooler with sandwich stuff and have a picnic.

On some trips, we camp overnight at Red Top Mountain State Park on Lake Allatoona. Or you can picnic there as well.


If you sleep in the cave you won't need tents but you can't take food or drinks other than water in with you. I'd advise taking a campsite just to use for cooking...the guys are really going to be hungry.

If you have time and want to take a nice swim, there is a nice park farther west at Nickajack Dam. It is a TVA park and has a nice roped off swimming area. Warning: our guys learned all about leeches there, but we had a great time anyway. (make sure they check EVERYWHERE! ;) )

And as noted, there is also all the stuff in Chattanooga. I add that the International Tow Truck Museum is also worth considering.


If you ever want to do some truly wild caves, I have a lot of info on the area just a bit farther west near Monteagle. Lots of caves, the real deal.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Thanks for the info everyone. We are leaving early this Saturday for our trip. Guys decided to do the 6 hour cave crawl along with the overnight. Because of the success of our recent yard sale, we are going to the aquarium and the IMAX theater, too.


We are such a small troop and take a big hit during the summer, usually having meetings with only three or four Scouts. It was great this past Monday to have all our Scouts back and that all but one are going on the trip. Fun times ahead!

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