The Rail Valley Cave survey is finished…

…except for the bowling ball sized hole blowing air into your face like a fan.

Just about anyone who reads this trip report will have seen one of the emails I sent out the day before our planned trip. We needed a third surveyor, or the trip wasn’t going to happen. When we planned this trip, we knew it was going to be a hard sell for the local cavers, but we were determined, and tried to get the word out early. Then we crossed our fingers. I thought we had a third until it was almost time to leave. In a mild panic I re-emailed everyone I could think of. I got a number of responses from friends wishing me luck in my search, but for many, alternative plans were already made. Thankfully we had a taker from the Walker Mountain grotto.

I’d never met Zac Lynn before the trip, but I was glad to have him along. After he emailed me his interest, we chatted on the phone for a while and he seemed up to the task. Hiking, crawling, climbing, rappelling, surveying, bushwhacking, eating spiders, water, mud, risk of the cave flooding, whatever. Yee-Haw!

We stayed at Tanya’s Friday night, and Zac met us there at 9am Saturday. Of course I was still packing when he arrived. Fortunately the drive was short. On the hike to the cave I don’t think anyone actually ate any spiders, but Dave kindly offered to take the lead after I wrapped a few large webs around my head. With vertical to be had, we carried about 150’ of rope knowing it was serious overkill, but we didn’t have any shorter pieces available. At this point of the trip I expressed my concerns about the rain for the day. Although Marion was only forecast to have a small amount of rain, reading the scientific discussion informed me of the possibility of up to 2” with storms potentially parking in front of the mountains. We discussed the risks and decided that we should at minimum rig the drop. Worst case we’d get bored trapped in the liquor cabinet for a few hours.

In the entrance crawls, the the dirt and mud had shifted around notably since our previous trip a couple of months ago. Getting wet was unavoidable and I started my time underground by filling one of my shoes with water. Other than that, having a short trip to the start of our leads was really enjoyable.

Upon arriving at the leads we quickly realized something about that area we weren’t prepared to notice on the previous trip. That room is cursed. Okay, maybe not, but that room felt significantly colder than the rest of the cave. Entering the room felt notably colder, and when we left later in the day, the main passage felt much warmer. To add to the chilly feeling, there was air moving in that room, yet despite some frenetic searching, we couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.

On to the survey. We started by rigging the pit. There is a thin stream at the bottom, but too tight to be entered up or down stream. Across the pit, the passage was well decorated, but not new to humans as there were some old boot prints. It also didn’t extend very far. Bummer. It looked really super exciting. We wrapped up that room, then surveyed a couple other passages from the liquor cabinet before moving on. One notable aspect of the pit stream was that we believe it could be heard upstream in a small room we called scholar’s cove. This means that we could have three independent streams of water in this small cave. The entrance stream, this one, and the one we were about to go survey.

Near the entrance of the cave, we left a side passage with what was advertised to us a great blowing lead that needed only a little hammering to pass through. Knowing this, we skipped it thinking we’d attack the known stuff first to save the exciting things for later. On the previous trip I explored that passage briefly to determine what sort of tools we might need, and concluded the blowing lead was going to be a lot more work than was advertised. With low expectations, we wrapped up our survey for the day in this passage. However since we were being more thorough on this trip, we realized I’d been looking at the wrong hole. My expectations came from an old sketch that placed the blowing lead in a different location from where I would have drawn it. Yes, a hole does blow there, but there is a much better hole a hidden nearby. It’s about 6’ off the floor and will require some creativity to safely expand, but the air and location make it worth a return trip at some point.

So, until we decide to break out the digging tools, the survey is done. That is the only lead left. We’ll stay off the property for hunting season, and until next summer only the bold will be bothered to return crawling through the fresh snow melt of spring. With Rail Valley off the list… for now, It’s time to find another project.

Survey total for the day: 333.4′

I had a blast on my first real caving adventure. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was just what I was looking to do. I have been in caves before, but this was the first time I had the freedom to go where I wanted and had the potential to go into uncharted territory. The small cave entrances were a bit of a surprise to me. I didn’t really mind, but I was glad to get past them. Once we got into the cave, I couldn’t wait to continue exploring. Our original goal was to take some climbing gear and a scaling pole somewhat far into the cave to get up onto a ledge. We had no idea what was beyond the ledge, but that is the nature of exploring new territory! It’s possible it would dead end right away, or it could have been a whole new cave to discover. We decided to use the pole at another location near the cave’s entrance to climb up a wall. The pole ended up failing when Mark climbed up it about 15 feet. We had to abandon our original plan so David, Brian, and myself just explored the more accessible parts of the cave. Many of the rock formations were absolutely beautiful. Since this cave has only been explored by only a handful of people, the rock formations were in great shape. We also got some amazing pictures that I did not expect to get due to lighting. I decided not to bring a camera so I could just focus on the experience. Brian luckily had a great low light camera and experience with using head lamps and flashlights to get some great shots. One of my favorite parts was going down into the drain at the bottom of a huge room. It wasn’t an extremely tight fit, but it was nothing like I’ve ever done before. Several vertical climbs surrounded by rock that appeared to dead end just a few feet ahead. This eventually lead to a hallway that brought you to a huge room with a big vertical drop known as the pit. This is where we had to turn back because we didn’t have gear. I would definitely consider returning to this cave to go beyond this point.

On day two we went to Radon cave. I thought Snocone had some tight squeezes, but the entrance to this cave was about as tight as could be. It was about four feet wide, and the height was such that you had to crawl on your belly and couldn’t even take a deep breath at one point. What made this cave fun for me was that none of us had been very far into the cave so we didn’t know what to expect. I also got to learn a little bit about how to survey a cave. This cave clearly had been explored by “many” cavers over the years. I got to explore the cave a little bit by myself while the others were preparing to survey. I climbed down a wall and found a hole that we would eventually explore. The hole was about an eight foot drop so I had to wait for Dave to setup something for us to climb up and down. The anticipation to see where this would lead was very exciting. It didn’t go as far as I had hoped, but it was a good amount of space to survey in one day. I’m really lucky that Dave, Mark, and Carlin were willing to take a chance by bringing me on this trip without knowing my caving ability. Another caving trip is definitely in my future. This trip was just what I was looking for!

-Mike Hammock-

Just got back from Perkins cave today. My elbows and knees are a bit sore but having spent 14 hours underground yesterday I’m feeling pretty good. We got a lot accomplished. The trip consisted of three excellent teams who each surveyed over 1000’. In total we logged over 3200’ for the trip. Official numbers will come later after Jason gets the data in the computer.

Participating in the trip were:
Team #1: Jason Lachniet, Steve Ahn
Team #2: Amy Skowronski, Nick Socky
Team #3: Myself, Elliot Edling, Janet Manning

Rough timeline of my trip:
Friday:
4pm – Sent out a late note to Jason confirming I was joining his trip. Still needed a place to sleep. Also, I had nothing packed and was still at work.
~6pm – Got off the phone with Bill Grose who even though he wasn’t caving, offered me a bed in his house for the night!
10:40pm – After braving the grocery store, and then later I some very heavy rain near Mt. Airy, NC, I landed at Bill’s place.

Saturday:
7am – Woke up for the day. Before I could leave, Bill spoiled me by making sausage and eggs. Much better than the food I had planned. Yum!
8:30am+ – Met up with the team in Meadowview, VA before caravanning to the cave property.
10:40am – I was the last to enter the cave. I think the longer I’ve been doing this, the longer it takes me to get ready.
10:45am – Met everyone else who was already in the register room checking instruments on a survey course Jason had setup to make sure there were no issues with anyone’s equipment.
1:??pm – We arrived on the other side of the 800’ crawl. From here we Jason and Steve went their own way while I led the others to leads Steve and I generated earlier this year. My team started by resurveying a shot I took issue with at the end of our last trip while Amy and Nick went off into passage where the flagging hanging in the walking passage was moving in the breeze.
Our passage was not quite as expected.
Although it began looking great, we quickly seemed to reach the end of our lead. This didn’t make a lot of sense considering the old map seemed to show a very long passage in the direction we were headed. Around this time Elliot dropped his glove down a small hole and couldn’t get it back. This motivated him to downclimb a hole originally perceived as something we’d rather try to bypass. Turns out the drop was not only the way to the glove, but also the best way forward. The bottom of the drop immediately produced three leads. Since we had a DistoX with us I was motivated to do the awkward shots first. After four shots, we decided we didn’t want to push that lead further as we found ourselves chimneying in less than stellar passage. Back to our other leads. Having poked my head in both directions I suggested we take the worse looking lead, saving the nice lead for something we could look forward to later. We never got back to that lead.
Survey where went started off crawly, but eventually opened into nice straight canyon passage. Just before reaching the steam we encountered an area we’ve come to call the “Juice Bar”. At the time Elliot was on point and he started giggling to himself after discovering it. Janet thought he was being weird until she met up with him and discovered what the fun was all about. There is a layer of “rock” in this area that we saturated such that it would ooze out water when pressed. We all agreed it was pretty neat.
We left one lead near the Juice Bar going downstream then continued upstream for some distance. We reached a point where two streams converge and we continued the tradition of starting into the less appealing passage. We stopped where it looked like we would get wet. Elliot checked the lead and reported it opens back into walking passage after 15’. He got his hands and lower legs wet going in, and not wanting to get wet myself I opted for the other stream lead. It started great with a lot of water and a pretty 4’ waterfall below us, but eventually we ended up in passage frequently narrower than my shoulders, but it was at least tall enough to stand. As a sketcher, it was especially annoying because the floor the stream meandered along was typically about 10’ wide but only 1-2’ high.
Finally, things in front of me started sounding better when Elliot reported pretties, but unstable looking breakdown. I ran ahead to join him to see if things were as fragile as he claimed. I climbed though with no issue and suddenly realized I was in known passage. Jason, Amy, and Janet had surveyed down to this level on the last trip. I started yelling with excitement about the loop closure we just managed. To add to it, I knew Jason and Steve were expected to return right over our heads before leaving, and before I could catch up with the sketching, they had descended to our level to fill bottles before leaving.
11pm – Everyone meet at the planned location and time just before the 800’ crawl. We snacked and chatted a bit before heading for the exit.
11:11pm – Entered Crawl.
12:40am – Arrived back at the cars. Made pretty good time on the way out having exited through the stream passage
After everyone was situated, we totaled our numbers and excitedly reflected on how productive we all had managed to be. It’s quite rare for every team on a cave survey trip to be so productive.

Steve and Jason left for home that night while the rest of us camped on the property. We exited for home the next day before the morning haze had fully cleared off the mountain.

Perkins cave makes me happy.

 

 

 

The 2016 officers have been elected. The Contact Us page on the website has been updated accordingly if you need to reach out to the officers this year.

Chair: Ken Walsh
Vice Chair: Robert Harris
Webmaster: Carlin Kartchner
Secretary: Emily Graham
Treasurer: Joel Johnson

 

2016Officers

Here’s my $0.02 addition to Ken’s trip report.


Rail Valley continues, but the real exciting potential comes after we complete the resurvey of the front of the cave. That hill has rather nice looking potential. I can promise some nice survey next trip, but the first two shots will be wet. Wet suits may be warranted. It’s going to be a fun cave and has potential to be a rather long cave! It was fair of Ken to call the trip, but I was still pretty bummed about the early exit.


Rail Valley Survey Stats:
Length: 74′
Depth: 6′
Rail Valley Entrance with Joel Johnson.
Photo by Dave Dugid


Saturday I was in the same cave as Ken, but party of a totally different group. I was privileged to survey with Brian and Stephanie who are always hilarious and fun to cave with. They continue to be a great help in surveying the occasionally awful but frequently rewarding Smyth county cave passage.


Our trip involved 3 different rope drops in different parts of the cave. The first was a nuisance drop of about 15’. After our survey of this area we left one lead with the sound of flowing water, but a rock hammer will be required to continue.
Me at the lip of the nuisance drop of Olympus Pit.
Photo by Brian Williams 


The remains of a former cave explorer; encountered in Olympus pit.
Photo by Brian Williams
The second survey area already had three unsurveyed stations set from the last trip which really helped get things started. We started down this passage then eventually handed the horizontal leads to the other team so we could drop the pit. It measured ~40’ deep. There is large passage on one side of the drop which will require a bolt climb to access. Brian tried to free climb into it without success. He was on belay, but at one point fell about 5′ directly onto Stephanie. Not one to give up, he kept trying until a large formation he’d slung easily broke off when he tried to weight it. Not good.
There is also a second stream that flows into this pit that also needs to be connected to surveyed cave.


Me at the top of the 40′ pit at the bottom of the cave.
Photo by Brian Williams
Finally, the third area was a ~25’ rope drop. It took us a long time to figure out how we were going to rig. The top of the drop is narrow which initially made us nervous about getting suck on the climb, we exited without much effort. We surveyed a few stations to the bottom of the drop but will need to survey the room. There are a couple of bolt climbing leads here, and a going downstream lead. It was here that we found the best part of my weekend. A bunch of small clean rimstone pools filled with salamander larvae. There must have been at least 30 salamanders. So beautiful!
SALAMANDERS!!!
Photo by Brian Williams


None of the remaining leads in this cave appear easy, but there is still a bunch of cave left to explore.
Rough current survey totals for SnoCone Cave:
Lenth: 3300’
Depth: 250’

Neither team got a ton of footage this weekend but we did add some good depth.

Than Sunday rolled around.
Dave and I wanted to continue caving. Everyone else either had to leave, or was still tired after what we’d done the last couple of days. We opted to start a new cave survey. With our main projects of the last year running out of easy work, we need to keep the survey queue filled. I’d prefer to avoid the shock we had after the Cold Sink survey finished at the same time as our other projects.


So, off to Beaver Creek Cave.
Not a lot to say yet. The survey Sunday was just Dave and myself, and we only had a few hours so it was a brief trip. Of everything we have going on, it’s probably the easiest to access, and the easiest to survey. The entrance is small, but I expect Ken will fit, and I also imagine Tanya will enjoy working this cave.
Beaver Creek survey totals:
Length: 156.7′

Depth: 26′
Entrance to Beaver Creek
Photo by Dave Dugid

Last Sunday Dave Duguid and I headed out to Horseshoe pit. We were there to finish the last good lead in that cave. It was exactly one year from the last time we visited this cave. Part of the reason it took so long to get back inside was due to all the other good caves we started surveying last summer. The other major reason was a lack of gear. Bolting gear to be more specific.

On our first trip there Brian Williams set a bolt by hand to get things started up to a nice looking high walking passage, but bolting this whole traverse by hand drill would have taken forever. One year later, having acquired all the hardware and electrons necessary to get this traverse done right we headed in just the two of us. We’d had a much larger group for the survey the day before, but most were not vertical and those who were left early to get back to NC. This left just two of us hauling in 300′ of rope along with everything else needed to make a bolting+survey trip happen. 100′ static for the traverse, 100′ dynamic for the belay, and 150 (way to much) for the Heinous Complainus Pit. This isn’t counting the rope needed for the 50′ entrance drop. In summary, a lot of heavy stuff.

Working the traverse was a challenge. It was my first time bolting a traverse and it was exciting. I set 5 bolts to get safely to the other side and another two at the end for a final solid anchor. Not a ton of bolts, but I was fighting mud much of the time. Once across, I got off belay and checked to see if we would have the great going lead we hoped for. Alas, as expected, shortly around a bend the passage abruptly ended. although it was open walking passage the floor was ankle deep wet mud and the passage only went for ~70′. We surveyed three shots for a grand total of 886′ in the included survey length. Derigging the dynamic line and retrieving all he quickdraws also required a fair amount of ingenuity and speleoacrobatics.

So why would I never send my friends to this passage? Well it’s not just because it went no where. Everything starting at the Heinous Complainus pit is not much fun. Lot’s of loose falling rock at the Complainus pit, gross nasty mud everywhere in that passage. On the traverse much of the material that looks like rock is just mud in disguise. Coming out we were exhausted.

This exhaustion was probably due to a multitude of factors including the fact that we’d had a full day of non-trivial survey the day before. Both Dave and I could have eaten and drunk more that day as well. I guess we were both trying to conserve a little weight. I wasn’t hungry at all, but when we stopped at subway afterward I devoured a footlong sub even though I’d intended to save half when I ordered it. I’ve decided my body was probably sending mixed signals due to the “fun” I’d just had. Still want to see the new passage I bolted into? We left a static line for the traverse, but if you ask me, don’t bother.

(Sorry for no pics this time. It was a beautiful day on the surface, but I didn’t want to haul any extra photo gear for this one. Matthew may have a good story about photo gear to share on this blog soon though.)