Far from the light of day, cavers illuminate the four-acre, 350-foot-high Rumble Room. Reaching the limestone cavern entails dropping down a 68-foot shaft, climbing up two 14-foot waterfalls, and stooping or crawling along 2,000 feet of passageways, some barely a foot wide. (This is a panoramic composite of four images.)
The Goat is squeezıng through the Sphincter.
Groaning and clawing, neck twisted, white head scraping against the rock. To cram his body through this basketball-size hole requires yoga-like contortions—arms overhead as if diving, hips uncomfortably twisted the opposite of chest, legs cramped underneath. The Sphincter lies at the end of a kinked, intestinal tunnel, and Marion "the Goat" Smith is the last of our six-person exploratory team to wriggle through, a task he accomplishes with veteran agility and ceaseless cursing.
"Just so you know," Kristen Bobo turns to me, careful not to blind me with her headlamp, "the more Marion enjoys a cave, the more he cusses." Bobo, 38, is a master caver herself. Small as a child but strong as a miner, with big doe eyes that belie a will as unbendable as angle iron, she slithers through the Sphincter easy as a snake.