Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

It’s Fat Man’s Misery and Mammoth Dome

Saturday Afternoon September 21, 2014
Mammoth Cave National Park Campground
Mammoth Cave, Kentucky




We hadn’t booked the Historic Tour initially but we took it anyway because we had the afternoon available and it was too.  Boy what a great decision.  We just love this cave.

Hope you aren’t getting tired of cave blogs just yet.  There is really a lot to see and do here and it’s all wonderful.

You’ve seen the great Historic Entrance, the perfect entrance to a cave both looking in and looking out.




And you’ve heard about how Mammoth Cave helped win the War of 1812.



But that’s where the similarities end on this tour.   Today we actually walk easily over the bottomless pit while we are told of the early 1840’s amazing heroics of the slave Guide Stephen Bishop in first finding a way over this impossibility and continuing on in his cave explorations. Prior to that, the cave tours ended right here. 

If you haven’t heard of Stephen Bishop, he deserves your attention as the first cave explorer discovering the miles of passages, to pave the way for those explorers to follow and the first cartographer of Mammoth Cave. I talked about him near the end in yesterday’s post.  See it here.


Just imagine this big hole in the dark with only lantern light to guide you.   I lightened this photo considerably for you to be able to see that you can’t see down there.



Thanks to Mr. Bishop this  is now a 2 mile, 2 hour tour with 440 steps the information says. It’s marked as strenuous.

I think that’s because it goes through “Fat Man’s Misery” which is VERY narrow.  Many times I had to turn sideways to get through.   Also along the way inside and outside of “Fat Man’s” are several very low ceilinged areas where even I had to duck my head.

Most people had to bend over at the middle or even squat and try to follow the feet or the rear in front of them since they couldn’t see straight ahead. It was pretty impossible to take pictures in these narrow and low places as the light is nearly non existent and you really do have to watch where you are going. Very uncomfortable for people with small space issues. Luckily that’s not either of us.  I thought it was all great fun!





















We finally reach a big room with numerous benches where we sit and the guide talks about the monitoring devices here and in other spots in the cave used to make sure that the cave isn’t suffering from all the visitors.  If so, they cut that area of the tour back.  Or reschedule that tour for alternating seasons.





He also prepares us for the 440 steps up and through the Mammoth Dome whose sink I saw just this morning.   Seeing it from the outside and then from the inside was really VERY cool.  Lucky coincidence for me.

It is pretty easy to get a picture of the bottom of the dome at the first level of steps.



But we have to climb up and up and up before I can even zoom up to try to get the top which I guess is somewhere under or near the sink and covered by caprock.   This place is so interesting and every tour has something new to see.

Look carefully in the picture below, those are folks on the metal stairs climbing up through the dome.


This is a zoom to the top.  Is that it?  Not sure.    The stairs are 65’ tall and 440 steps. 



This picture is one from the Mammoth Cave Website so you can see the bottom sections of the stairs in a picture used for publicity in what almost looks like total daylight. I would assume it is the design of the stairs that make it safe enough to turn out the lights and protect the cave.





And speaking of light, we walk back though the entrance halls and as usual it’s pretty darn bright when you come out of the dark cave.  I would most definitely take this tour again, perhaps several times but we only have time for one more tour.  That will be the Violet Lantern Tour tomorrow on our last day here before starting the final push to Virginia. 



  1. Neat tour! I remember bending over and sliding through in 1991. Fun...and definitely helpful to be thin :) Lots of steps to the dome. Very impressive cave. It must have been amazing to be the first to see it way back in the day!

  2. Hmmm, not sure how I would do well on this tour. I don't mind tight spots, but the darkness added to that might make it more confining than I would like. So glad you took me along with you on this one :o))

  3. Wow, if even YOU had to turn sideways and duck your head to get through that narrow passageway, there must be a lot of people who can't go on that tour! I wonder if they ever turn people away because they're too rotund? They had better have some warning signs with measurements (if your girth exceeds xx inches, we advise against this tour….) ;-)

  4. I would absolutely love it in there. Beautiful shots!

    There's an area of scenic caves in our province which features, among other things, a Fat Man's Misery spot.

  5. Great tour.....I wonder how my back would handle all the bending and since I am a tall one it might be a strain. I would probably try it anyway but take meds first! :)

  6. That's a lot of steps, makes you wonder how they did the tours in days before the stairs were installed. And by lantern light, too. Brave folks back in those days! :c)

  7. ooooooo spookay … not my thang … but soooo happy you’re enjoying such … beautiful pictures! as always

  8. What a fabulous tour! Not sure I could do this one. Sure sounds like you had an amazing time. So glad Stephen Bishop was brave enough to explore into this area:) Thanks for taking us along:)

  9. I've always liked the intimacy with the Earth when caving. Awesome dome and great tour.

  10. Well, I probably qualify for height at 4'11.5", but my width would never make it. I've just got to walk more now that my Dr. ordered down time is finished.

  11. In some ways your description of navigating this tour is reminiscent of what we had to do in the cave cities we toured in Cappadocia ... lots of tight spaces that made it difficult for the enemy to reach the open spaces where people actually lived.

  12. I have to do more research now and see how Stephen managed to get across that bottomless pit! Just your picture freaks me out :-) But he had to know there was so much more to explore just on the other side. For all the reasons you mentioned, we couldn't make the tour, but seeing it here is pretty awesome (still held my breath). I love that they monitor the health of the cave and exclude humans when the impact would be damaging. I'm sure Stephen could not have imagined such a fancy staircase - and most surely would have never dreamed his name would be remembered all these years later. Makes me smile :-)

  13. My claustrophobia issues stem from a crowd escalation situation about 25 years ago so thankfully, I had done Mammoth Cave and a few others before then. Sure couldn't do that now. You are lucky neither of you have issues with enclosed spaces. You sure took advantage of your time at Mammoth. Sending you a separate email later today.

  14. Ah, Fat Man's Misery! I remember my husband trying to get through that one - I always had to carry the baby through some of those passages. The steps were not in the dome when we were there (in the 1970's, and I'm sure a lot of things have been changed. But that tour was always my favorite.

  15. I was wondering the same thing, if there is a "thinness" requirement. I think I would opt out of this cave, pretty confining!

  16. That is waaaaayyyyy down and waaayyyy up!

  17. I have no desire to go in a cave. Gives me the willies! I'm fine just reading it right here. :)

  18. I could not resist commenting. Well written!


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