Stephens Gap Callahan Cave Preserve
Jackson County, Alabama
stephensgap.jpg
Photo by J. Silverman
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Horizontal Caving Vertical Caving Primitive Camping Request a Permit

Stephens Gap is one of the most beloved caves in the Southeast, with a beautiful 143-ft pit that cavers love and a huge walk-in entrance that draws hikers, photographers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. The view of the pit from the walk-in passage is one of the most photographed wild cave scenes in North America. Located in the heart of Jackson County, AL, Stephens Gap, is SCCi’s 30th cave preserve. By acquiring this preserve, SCCi ensures that it’s protected and preserved for future generations of cavers, hikers, and photographers.

The bottom of the entrance pit can only be reached using vertical caving skills, knowledge, and equipment to safely descend by rappelling a rope and ascending that same rope with specialty equipment to exit the cave. The bottom of the entrance pit is 143 feet below the edge. If you do not possess vertical caving skills, ability or experience needed to safely visit the bottom of the pit, Stephens Gap is still an impressive and unique place to visit and the short walk-in passage alone may be worth the hiking effort. Please be careful – the trail is primitive and can be steep and slippery. The walk-in passage intersects the pit about 50 feet above the floor; therefore, extreme caution should be exercised close to the edge as footing can be uncertain.

Please note:

  • Helmets, headlamps and sturdy shoes/boots are strongly recommended, even in the walk-in passage; helmets are required for any climbing or rope-related activities.
  • Cellular telephone coverage is poor to nonexistent in the area; don’t count on being able to call for help from the preserve.
  • Camping is only allowed on the bluff above the pit entrance (no camping in the parking area); there is only room for two small tents; conditions are primitive (no electricity, water or toilets) and all waste must be packed out. Add camping to your permit request’s itinerary if you’ll be staying overnight.
  • Use of drones is prohibited.
  • When you visit the preserve, please place your permit on the dashboard of your parked vehicle while you are visiting the preserve.
One of the most photographed caves in the United States
Yes
Yes
No
No
Yes
¾ mile. Can be very slippery when wet.
Gravel
No
Yes - Surface Only. Please clean up after your pets.
123
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NSS LogoThe following basic safety information is provided with permission from the National Speleological Society. To learn more about caving or find a local grotto (chapter) of the National Speleological Society visit www.caves.org. While you are there, become a member!

Basic Safety Information

There are several versions of cave safety guidelines. Having adequate training and reliable equipment are the main points in each one. Safe use of equipment can be achieved only by sharing information, teaching and demonstrations. Chances of being injured are reduced by awareness of dangers and by knowledge of your equipment and techniques.

Statistically, caving accidents are mostly attributed to poor judgment, little or no caving experience and falls. The most common causes of caving accidents include: falling, being struck by falling objects and hypothermia.

Falling: To reduce the risk of falling, one should avoid jumping and uncontrolled sliding down slopes, wear proper footwear, check and discard any faulty or worn vertical equipment and obtain proper training. When caving, you should always try to have three points of contact when moving over uneven ground. This means having three points on your body supported on immovable objects to stabilize your body while moving through difficult areas.

Falling Objects: Injury caused by falling objects are best avoided by always wearing a helmet. It is best to stay clear of the base of drops and climbs. Secure all items of equipment so that they will not drop on cavers below you. Remember to always yell "ROCK!" for all falling objects, even if it's your water bottle. Saying "WATER!" will take too much time for the person to think when a second of reaction time is all they have.

Hypothermia: If the temperature drops more than a few degrees, the body can no longer function properly. Dress appropriately for the weather and carry extra clothing or something that can protect you from the cold. The first signs of hypothermia are fatigue, drowsiness, exhaustion, unwillingness to go on, feeling cold, poor coordination and stumbling.

Other Hazards: Not all caving problems involve injuries. A few people do get lost in caves, become stuck or are unable to climb up a ledge or rope to get out of the cave. Exhaustion and a lack of light (or light failure) may cause someone to become lost who might otherwise have found their way out of the cave.

A Closer Look Into Safety

As you plan to go on a cave trip, there are several things you should include in your pre-trip planning. Proper preparation will help you have a safe trip and will give some amount of protection against the many dangers of being under ground.

The mere fact that you are interested in caving implies that you are probably comfortable with some level of risk and are somewhat comfortable with the unknown. These are good things, but a person preparing for a cave trip considers the risks, tries to anticipate the problems and thinks about the unknowns. No one wants to have a problem while we are under ground, but we should never go into the cave without at least taking a few minutes to think about the things that can go wrong on our trip.

NEVER Cave Alone

This is dangerous, fool hardy and is a sure recipe for a disaster. The smallest size group recommend is four people. With this number, if someone is hurt, one person can stay and comfort the injured and the other two can get help.

First-time Cavers

There are several things that should be discussed with people who have never been underground before. Discussing the following points with them will help them be mentally prepared, safer and have a better experience.

  1. Three points of contact should be exhibited when moving over uneven ground. This means having three points on your body supported on immovable objects. Whether it is your left foot, right shoulder and knee; your left elbow, head and right hip; or your right hand, bottom and back.
  2. The group needs to stay together. The only reasons not to have people stay together will involve either someone with an injury or an emergency.
  3. Do not exert yourself beyond the limits of your endurance and never do anything that your are not comfortable with. Remember, discretion is the better part of valor. If anyone should have any questions or anxieties, he or she should make their concerns known. It is a team effort when underground.
  4. Do not leave trash behind, pick up others' trash, do not vandalize and do not take souvenirs. Everyone should know the importance of cave conservation on the trip. The caver's motto: Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing footprints, kill nothing but time.
  5. Have an emergency plan and discuss what will be done if something goes wrong. Everyone should know to wait for instructions from the trip leader, unless he or she is in a life-threatening situation. They need to understand that the trip leader makes the decisions in case of an emergency.

Getting Equipped

Every caving trip requires the same basic equipment and supplies. These items include light, head protection (helmet), food, water, first aid kit and proper clothing.

Responsibility

Caving responsibly involves planning a trip, moving through the cave safely and returning on time. You and your partners are responsible for protecting yourselves and the caves you visit.

Tell Someone Your Plans

Establish a time to be out of the cave and a contact person who knows this information. Notify a reliable person about your caving plans, including the name, the location of the cave you are visiting and your estimated time of return. Agree on what to do if you do not return on time. He or she should understand that they will be the person to call for help if you have not checked in with them after the trip should have ended. If you exit the cave after your estimated exit time contact this person as soon as possible to prevent an unnecessary rescue.

Group Size

A good group size is four to six people. Groups larger than six tend to be slow and difficult to manage, so divide a larger group of cavers into separate groups. Each group should have at least one, preferably two, people who are familiar with the cave and good caving skills and practices.

Alertness and Challenges

When caving it is important to remain clear headed. Drugs, including alcohol, that affect your alertness, judgment or ability to think clearly make you a threat to your group’s safety.

Everyone going on the trip should be physically and mentally ready for the challenges that will be associated with the trip. He or she will also need to have the skills required for the kind of cave. For example, does someone have a limiting medical condition? Is someone claustrophobic and you are going on a tight trip? Will everyone on a vertical trip understand on-rope techniques like a change over? The bottom line is, if you think that you or someone else on the trip is not up to challenges that you will be encountering, it is far better to bring it up before a serious problem arises inside the cave.

Hazards

A novice’s apprehension before a caving trip is healthy and an awareness of possible hazards helps you avoid them. Here are some of the dangers of caving.

  • Getting lost
  • Running out of light
  • Hypothermia
  • Passages flooding
  • Falling rocks
  • Poor footing, falling
  • Falling down pits

In addition to making caves available for recreational use, SCCi is also committed to protecting caves and fragile cave ecosystems. The following clean caving procedures are required when visiting SCCi caves. If you have any questions, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 423-771-9671 Extension 101.

Introduction of foreign substances into caves can have unintended consequences to cave life. In addition to concerns regarding White-nose Syndrome (WNS), some caves have microscopic life that is unique to that cave, and can be decimated by material introduced from other caves.

CLEAN CAVING PROCEDURES

  • When caving  in WNS positive counties, clean your gear (Steps 1-2 below).
  • When caving between WNS negative counties, clean your gear (Steps 1-2 below).
  • When caving from a county that is WNS positive to a county that has no identified cases, disinfect your gear (Steps 1-3 below).
  • When caving in likely WNS positive counties disinfect your gear (Steps 1-3) going in and, going out, disinfect your gear (Steps 1-3) if visiting WNS negative counties or clean your gear (Steps 1-2 below) if visiting WNS positive counties.

Refer to the following table for the list of counties and SCCi caves that have been identified White-nose Syndrome positive. Any cave located in a county where White-nose Syndrome has been identified should be treated as positive.

State County Preserve WNS Positive
Alabama DeKalb Steward Springs YES
  Jackson Fern YES
  Jackson Horse Skull YES
  Jackson Kennamer YES
  Jackson Limrock Blowing YES
  Jackson Neversink YES
  Jackson Stephens Gap YES
  Jackson Tumbling Rock YES
  Jackson Valhalla YES
  Madison Glove Pit YES
  Madison Varnedoe YES
  Shelby Anderson NO
Florida Jackson Hollow Ridge NO
  Marion Jennings NO
Georgia Dade Howards Waterfall YES
  Dade Fox Mountain YES
  Dade Johnsons Crook YES
  Walker Fricks YES
Kentucky Hart Frenchman Knob YES
  Hart Logsdon YES
Tennessee Cocke Rattling LIKELY
  Cumberland Run to the Mill YES
  Fentress Wolf River YES
  Franklin Sinking Cove YES
  Marion Gourdneck YES
  Marion South Pittsburgh YES
  Rutherford Snail Shell LIKELY
  Wayne Holly Creek YES
West Virginia Pocahontas Lobelia YES

For a map of all US counties and their White-nose Syndrome status visit https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/resources/map.

Step 1: Get the Dirt Off Remove as much mud as possible while still at the cave entrance. Place gear in a garbage bag and seal shut. Take home for cleaning.

Step 2: Clean your Gear Pre-clean submersible gear by hosing it down well. Use a scrub brush and mild soap if necessary to remove all sediment. When water runs clear, machine- or hand-wash with a mild cleanser.  For non-submersible gear (such as cameras and other electronic gear), remove all visible mud by wiping with a damp cloth or scrubbing.

Step 3: Disinfect your Gear Use one of the following methods to disinfect your gear:

Hot Water Bath Soak gear in hot water that is at least 122°F (50°C) for at least 15 minutes. Top-loading washing machines may be used if the hot water heater temperature is set high enough. Tubs or baths also work, using either hot tap water, or hot tap water supplemented by heated water.

Chemical Solution Bath Soak your gear for at least 10 minutes in a bath or tub one of the following solutions:

  • Lysol I.C. Quaternary Disinfectant Cleaner – use 1 oz. per gallon of water;
  • Professional Lysol® Antibacterial All-purpose Cleaner - use 1 oz. per gallon of water;
  • Household bleach (6% hypochlorite, or HOCl)- use 1-part bleach per 9 parts water.

Rinse your gear thoroughly after removing it from the bath, being careful not to let it touch any potentially contaminated surfaces.  Soft gear and clothing may be run through a washing machine. The recommended Lysol products are available from janitorial supply stores and online sources; household bleach is widely available at grocery and other retail stores.  If you don’t get a lot of silt and clay in your tub, Lysol baths have been demonstrated to be effective for at least a month, even with repeated use (Barton, personal communication, 2011). Bleach solutions can weaken nylon and other materials, and must be discarded within 24 hours, because the diluted bleach breaks down quickly.

Non-Submersion Methods For gear that cannot be submersed in water, use one of the following methods:

  • Lysol Disinfectant Wipes: Wipe all surfaces. After 10 minutes, wipe dry with a clean cloth or towel.
  • Formula 409® Antibacterial All-Purpose Cleaner: Spray at full strength on all surfaces. After 10 minutes, wipe dry with a clean cloth or towel.

Safety Disclaimer: You’re responsible for using any of these methods safely. Be sure to follow manufacturer’s recommendations, label instructions, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), and common sense.