This month I thought I would write about the exploration of McIntyre Spring in Georgia. McIntyre Spring is located on the Withlacoochee River in Brooks County, GA. This spring usually has a good strong flow with visibility in the 25-60 foot range. The water temperature is usually 68 degrees Fahrenheit. It is on private land, therefore, currently the only way to access the spring is via boat as land access is no longer permitted.
The cave in McIntyre Spring was first dived in November 1972 by Rawls Godbee, the first Valdosta, GA dive shop owner. He negotiated a tight entrance restriction at a depth of 15 feet to find large bore hole cave beyond. He laid about 300 feet of line terminating at the top of a pit at 110 feet of depth. On the other side of the pit the main tunnel continued onward. The majority of the current was siphoning down into the pit which was 140 feet deep.
Rawls reported his exploration of McIntyre to Court Smith and asked Court if he would dive with him at McIntyre. Despite Rawls’ inexperience, Court decided to dive with him on November 19, 1972. They went back to the end of Rawls’ line at the pit then exited. This dive was just to show Court what he had found. After surfacing they noticed that they still had plenty of gas so decided to make a second dive back to the pit and try adding some line. When they reached the pit, Rawls tied in and laid another 50 feet of line when his reel jammed, so they aborted the dive and exited.
Court quickly informed Paul Deloach and Sheck Exley what Rawls had showed him. Paul and Sheck joined Court a few days later for a dive on November 23, 1972. They added an additional 500 feet of line up-stream past the pit for a penetration of 800 feet at a depth of 110 feet. During decompression Sheck worked on widening the entrance.
The following day Paul and Court returned to check out the pit. Upon reaching the pit they tied in and started dropping down until they hit a depth of 140 feet. The tunnel at the bottom was small, silty and siphoning strongly. After adding 160 feet of line to a depth of 160 feet Court called the dive due to significant silting conditions. Five days later, November 29, 1972 Court returned with Lewis Holtzendorff and Sheck Exley but didn’t add any additional line. Again, Sheck worked on widening the entrance and was confident that they would soon be able to get in with back mounted double steel 104’s.
The following week, December 6, 1972 Court returned with Lewis Holtzendorff, Sheck Exley and Charlie Sturdivant and managed to add an additional 200 feet of line for a total penetration of 1000 feet.
They ended the line at a drop off to 140 feet of depth and noticed the water was warmer and clearer after passing a tunnel to the right just before the drop off. This tunnel was pumping dark cooler water into the main tunnel.
A couple of days later Court returned with Lewis and Sheck to check out the syphon tunnel in the bottom of the pit. As they were adding line Court noticed that they appeared to miss a larger tunnel on their left just before they stopped adding line at a depth of 160 feet. Three days later, December 8, 1972 Court and Sheck returned to continue exploring the syphon only to have to call the dive due to extreme silt blocking their view of where to go.
Due to spring rains and high water levels in the Withlacoochee River, McIntyre was rendered undiveable. It wasn’t until July 15, 1973 that Court was able to return to continue his exploration of McIntyre with Lewis. The flow was extreme and they were only able to penetrate about 200 feet into the cave before terminating the dive. They had been diving McIntyre with double steel 72 cubic foot tanks because of the tight entrance restriction. Since they each had a set of double steel 104’s in Court’s van they decided to see if they could fit through the tight entrance wearing them. Eureka! It was a tight squeeze but passable with the 104’s.
Court returned with Sheck on September 7, 1973 after the current had returned to a more normal flow. Their intent was to add additional line in the syphon tunnel at the bottom of the pit. When they got to the syphon it had no flow which caused them to think there may have been a cave-in somewhere in the tunnel. With that in mind and the extreme silt in that tunnel they decided to abort that idea and dove up-stream past the pit but didn’t add any line.
The following week, September 13, 1973 Court and Sheck returned and added an additional 200 feet of line upstream thus extending the total penetration to 1200 feet with a maximum depth of 140 feet. This area became known as the drop off because it went from 110 down to 140 feet deep. Once again they noticed near the 800 foot penetration that the water became warmer and clearer once they passed the “dark water” tunnel to their right. On the way out Sheck took some map coordinates and produced a basic stick map of the current exploration of the spring in order to get a general direction of where it was heading.
Later, on October 8, 1973 Court, Lewis and Sheck returned and added another 400 feet of line up-stream McIntyre in lower current than previous dives along with poor visibility at a maximum depth of 145 feet. This put the total penetration in the main tunnel at 1600 feet. The following week, October 17, 1973 Court and Sheck decided to check out the colder “dark water” tunnel about 800 feet in on the right. They laid 200 feet of line into this tunnel when they came to a large room. This room became known as the First Room. They stopped here for a total penetration of 1000 feet from the entrance. The next day Court returned and did a solo dive to reroute the line through the restriction entrance so that they would be able to follow it out in total darkness. About a week later, on October 23, 1973 they returned again to the “dark water” tunnel and added an additional 150 feet of line through a low restriction in the large room that lead to a very interestingly shaped hemispherical room with a diameter of about 50 feet. The ceiling was as about 90 feet of depth while the floor was at 150 feet. They didn’t see any obvious leads from this terminal room. Aptly enough, it became known as the Terminal Room.
McIntyre got put on the sidelines for a couple of years while Court, Paul, Lewis and Sheck worked on other diving projects. Finally, on September 20, 1975 Court returned with Lewis and managed to add an additional 135 feet of line up-stream in the main tunnel with a strong current and low visibility of around 25 feet. This gave a total penetration on the main line of 1735 feet.
Court didn’t return until 2 years later on August 20, 1978 with David Nolan, Hal Davis and Paul Deloach. They all dove back to the “dark water” tunnel which wasn’t always dark, but was cooler than the main tunnel, which prompted a name change to “the cold tunnel”. They wanted to see if they could find a continuing tunnel off of the terminal room. After searching from top to bottom they managed to find that the current was coming from a small hole in the floor at a depth of 160 feet.
It was at this point that Court abandoned McIntyre for cave diving pursuits elsewhere. It wasn’t until September 5, 1981 that exploration continued with Paul Deloach and Clark Pitcairin. They managed to extend the main line to 1950 feet at a depth of 140 feet. Coincidentally, unknown to us, as Paul and Clark were stowing their gear after diving, Court Smith and I came canoeing by them as we were searching the river for other possible springs. We stopped and talked to them to find out what they were doing. They informed us that they were working on extending the main line. The following day, September 6, 1981 Paul and Clark returned with John Zumrick and one stage bottle each. They were able to add another 800 feet of line to extend the total penetration to 2750 feet at a depth of 160 feet. The further back the cave went the deeper it got.
The following week, September 12, 1981 Paul returned with Sheck and two stage bottles each. Sheck was able to add an additional 500 feet of line for a total of 3250 feet of penetration into a “terminal” room with a crevice in the bottom. The crevice started at a depth of 180 feet and one could see an additional 10-20 feet down it where it appeared to continue onward. They tied off here and exited, not having to use the second stage bottles.
Having reached the “end” of the main cave passage Paul decided to see what sort of passage lay at the bottom of the siphon pit. On September 26, 1981 Paul, Clark and John returned to check out the siphon. They added an additional 225 feet at 140 feet of depth before turning due to excessive silt rushing ahead of them and obstructing the visibility. This gave a total penetration into the siphon tunnel of 385 feet. The next day Paul and John returned to try and add more line in the siphon pit tunnel. This time they used double stage bottles and scooters with hopes of adding lots of line. Once they were at the bottom of the pit and into the siphon they eventually dropped the scooters about 100 feet from the end of their line. This was due to the heavy silt from the ceiling and floor of the passage. Upon reaching the end of their line, they proceeded to add more line in the deteriorating visibility. After adding 375 feet of line they tied off the line for a total of 760 feet in the siphon tunnel.
A couple of weeks later, October 10, 1981 Paul and Clark returned to see if they could add line into the right fork of the Pit Siphon tunnel which starts about 150 feet into the siphon. They both used a stage bottle which they dropped at the top of the siphon pit. They proceeded down the pit and on into the siphon. At the junction they tied in to the line and began to add as they drifted down the right fork which was a smaller tunnel than the left fork of the siphon. 250 feet later at a depth of 160 feet they tied off the line and called the dive. This put the total amount of line in the siphon tunnel to 1010 feet. This gave a total of 4610 feet of explored passage in McIntyre with the main line at 3250 feet, Cold Tunnel “AKA Dark Tunnel” at 350 feet, and the siphon tunnel at 1010 feet.
Paul Deloach and Lamar English getting ready for a dive at McIntyre, Oct 2006.
This was all the exploration that took place in McIntyre to date. I would dive it from time to time in the 70’s and 80’s as well, but I never did contribute to the exploration due to poor visibility or making the wrong choice of what to try and explore. For example on one dive I decided to check out the Terminal Room in the Cold Tunnel to see if I could possibly find a lead that may have been missed. I tied in my reel and circumnavigated the room from top to bottom ( 90 ft deep to 160 ft) in 10 foot increments. I never did find a lead. At the bottom there were a few duck-unders but the current was coming from a small sand choked vent in the bottom.
An old photo of me taken by Gene Powel at the jump to the Cold Tunnel about 800 feet back in the cave, Aug 2007.
Ten years after the last exploration dive was made in McIntire by Paul Deloach and Clark Pitcairin, I decided to go to the end of the main line and see if I could extend it down into the crevice that Sheck had told me about. So, on November 29, 1991 Larry Royal, Rick Green and myself attempted to make an assault on the end of the line. The plan was to scooter back to the crevice (3250 ft penetration) with one stage bottle each. The stage bottle was to be a safety and if not used once we reached the crevice, I would remove my back mounted 104’s and push my stage bottle (single steel 72) in front of me into the narrow crevice. The crevice started at 180 feet deep, so I planed to go down to at most 200 feet deep to see if it was worth returning for continued exploration.
We carefully pushed our scooters through the entrance restriction and once we were all inside we started off with me leading the way. About 2900 feet in the line was broke so I dropped my scooter and tied in with my reel to bridge the 30 foot gap in the line. Once the gap was repaired we picked up our scooters and headed toward the end of the line. A little over 3000 feet in Rick motioned that he had hit turn-a-round. Larry and I still had sufficient air to continue on, so Rick indicated he would solo on out and we should continue onward.
A few minutes later Larry and I reached the Terminal Room with the narrow crevice in the floor. Our visibility was at best 15 feet which slowed us down on the way to the end of the line. We quickly looked around the room to see if there might be more tunnel other than the crevice. We could not tell for sure due to a lack of visibility, but there appeared to be an upward sloping tunnel without current on the opposite side of the room. I looked down into the crevice and could definitely see that it went straight down to 190 feet then appeared to change angle as it went on deeper. As I started to undo my back mounted tanks Larry signaled that he was just past turn-a-round. I looked at my air and saw that I was about 300 psi from turn. But, since I needed Larry as a safety diver I abandoned my plan and we promptly exited. Four hours and 23 minutes after the start of our dive we emerged from the water. I told Larry and Rick next time we would take two stage bottles each so that we would have plenty of air upon reaching the crevice. But, I never did get back to the crevice.
Also during the 90’s I made a couple of assaults on the Pit Siphon tunnels only to be thwarted by low visibility as well as the horrendous current and silting conditions of these tunnels. Every time I reached the end of the two current lines in the siphons the silt was so bad as it flowed in front of me that I couldn’t tell where to go with new line. So, I had to abort the dives. The walls, ceiling and floor are heavily laden with silt in these two tunnels.
To make this map I used what little actual mapping data that was collected by Sheck Exley as well as drawing upon my memory of each area of the cave, since I have dived in all the explored passage in the past. It is sketched to “scale” as best as I could do based on Sheck’s actual survey data of the first 1000 feet of passage.