When the request came from James River Grotto for people who were willing to lead trips in Smyth County, I (eventually) stepped up to lead a trip to Hancock Cave. Why Hancock? First, I know my route through the cave. Second, with the help of some other TriTrogs, I’m leading a group of Girl Scouts there in a couple weeks and didn’t mind an opportunity to check on the condition of the entrance.

Due to a communication breakdown, Hancock wasn’t among the signup sheets that were put out at 10pm Friday night. I was kind of bummed, but I knew there were enough TriTrogs interested to make a full trip happen anyway. The apologetic VAR staff made a signup sheet in case anyone rolled in early Saturday looking for a trip. Saturday morning six of us stopped at registration to discover that a big bunch of people had signed up – wheee! We rearranged ourselves into two groups – a group of six (including and) led by Kim and Lisa and a group of eight (including and) led by me and Diana.

Kim’s group arrived first, and they rigged the entrance with both a handline and a cable ladder. The ladder was useful on the way in and necessary on the way out. Water poured into the entrance room through several cracks in the ceiling and along the left wall. A guy in my group declined to use either the webbing or the ladder and slid about 30 feet coming in. Wheee! He wasn’t hurt but busted his pack open and spilled its contents in the process. We spotted two salamanders, one Eurycea lucifuga, one only an inch and a half long, dark (Green? Black?), with a pale stripe down the back and some number of toes. No bats.

We were still in the Grantham Room when we heard the first group above us at the Overlook. Our group was moving slowly and two of them would likely have trouble navigating the Toilet Bowls. When we got from the Overlook back to the Octopus Room it was clear that those two would be challenged by anything deeper in the cave. Diana agreed to escort them out so that the rest of us could continue.

After the Breakdown Staircase, we caught up with Kim and Lisa et al at the Comic Book Hole. They had all gone through! Wheee! I was the only one in my group who made it through despite others’ efforts; I clearly should work on my cheerleading skills! That said, it was good that we didn’t waste too much energy there since we all wanted to make it out of the cave, and preferably in time for dinner.

Back at the entrance, everyone made use of the cable ladder. There was a little trouble once it got tangled up with the handline, and it kept sliding into a crevice on the right. We remedied that by having one person wedge himself in on the left in order to hold the ladder in place. When we all met back at the cars, I learned that Diana had assisted her cavers with some photography on their way out, which (based on the smiles on their faces) helped make their trip worthwhile.

My thanks to the considerable efforts of Diana, Kim, and Lisa for salvaging this into a fun, successful, safe trip! Thank you so much! And, bonus, we made it back in time for showers before dinner!

(Dues-paying) Grotto members:

On August 25 we will visit a cave in Lee County, VA. We will have an affordable nearby campground reserved for the nights of August 24 and 25. Some brief details about the cave follow. Please complete the signup survey linked below [Removed].

This will be a horizontal trip; no vertical gear needed. I always recommend knee pads. There are some long, low crawls, but they can be bypassed. Much of the cave offers walking passage. How wet you get will depend on recent rainfall and whether you reach the stream passage. Wetsuits aren’t needed, but you will appreciate waterproof boots.

This cave is appropriate for all skill levels. Attractions include waterfalls, gypsum, salamanders, weird formations, mountains of breakdown.

If you want to go on this trip and you haven’t already signed up, please send me an email (chair@tritrogs.org).



Just a few pictures from the May 12 Girl Scout trip. They did an impressive job of removing graffiti and picking up trash and were rewarded with some fun, muddy caving and eye-catching formations. Pictures taken in the “outer” mine area might show people without helmets or gloves.

After the painfully frigid dampness of Dutton’s, Dave Duguid, Ken Walsh, Jason Lachniet, and I strolled along the sunlit field over to Radon Cave. It didn’t take long to find out that Ken wouldn’t fit through the entrance crawl. We traded him a shovel for a cable ladder and left him behind.

When we reached the junction where the old traverse was, we were shortly joined by the grunting and hissing of a groundhog. He retreated down a side passage, but his stench lingered while Dave ascended 25 feet and rigged the cable ladder. After yet more belly crawling, we reached the pinch and the reason we’d brought along the hammer. Without Ken, extra tools were unnecessary, and we slid out into the Big Room effortlessly.

At first, it just looks like a big room, and I was so grateful to be standing up that I soaked it in. Then Dave told me to climb the small breakdown pile, and from there, it’s clearly a Big Room. Jason set stations, bouncing from one wall to the other until we reached the far end of the room, occasionally noting the faded carbide station markers from a previous survey. We surveyed a total of 300 feet. The ceiling height maxed out at 75 feet. We eyeballed a ledge about 15 feet above the pinch and agreed that someone could free climb most of the way and reach it with a few bolts. The only remaining leads would be high ones that are only visible and accessible from up there.

In the big room, we saw one live bat, one isopod, and the decayed remains of one groundhog-sized critter.

While we were surveying Ken enlarged the entrance crawl, and getting out was a breeze. At least, it was less miserable than it would have been.

[I’m posting Kim’s email here as requested at the last meeting. Also, feel free to bring along friends who might be interested in buying items on the gear list. We’ll save the business and trip reports for after the sale to accommodate noncavers who’d rather not sit through the boring stuff. – Emily]


Remember that headlamp that you used to use before you got your new one? Have you stopped camping but still have a tent taking up space in the back of the closet? Are you looking to acquire something new?

Join us at the April TriTrogs meeting, where our program for the night we be a Gear Swap!

Any items that can be classified as ‘Outdoor Gear’ are welcome. Since it will take place at the museum, please use your best judgment when deciding what to bring in and what to leave in your car. If it’s large, a picture will work.

When you know what you are bringing, add it to the Gear List so that people have an idea of what will be available! Items can be swapped, sold, or given away.

April 24, 2018
NC Museum of Natural Sciences

See you there, with gear in tow.
– Kim


What would you do if you won the lottery? I think we all now agree that we would help Michael realize his lifelong dream of swimming through a silo full of coins.

In attendance: Ken, Zeke, Matthew W., Kim, Martin, Carlin, Ben, Brian, Michael M., Emily, Peter, Jenny, Eric, and Mark D.


  • Happy new year! Pay your membership dues. Yearly individual: $15. Yearly family: $22. Pay one of the officers or via PayPal. If you pay via PayPal, please email the treasurer to let him know that you did.
  • Ken read a postcard from Amar and Bithika and young caver Pahi. Awwww.
  • Spring VAR event. April 27-29. Put it on your calendars and prepare to invent an excuse for why you can’t volunteer to help out!
  • Several members with finite storage space have expressed interest in a grotto auction or gear swap fundraiser. Kim has offered to start an online list of items that people might like to be rid of. Items should be limited to caving or outdoor gear. Date and location are still under consideration.

Trip Reports

  • Rappel in, walk out. Peter and Mark enjoyed rappelling into Lost World Caverns in Greenbrier County through the original, natural entrance drop and following the walking tour path out. The next day they went to the SSS (???) entrance of the Culverson Creek Cave system. It’s a low, stream crawl entrance, but it opens up into some large passage. They found some stuff to photograph and agreed that it would be worth going back there sometime. They did not navigate any passages that were very tight or very wet.
  • Rappel in, woodchuck out. Brian saved an enormous, lethargic woodchuck from the bottom of the entrance to Flower Pot Cave. [I can’t do this justice, so if you’re reading this and you missed the telling, track him down—Brian, not the woodchuck—and get him to repeat it.]
  • Giggle and bear it. Kim, Eric, Mark, and Ken went back to Paxton’s Cave for day one of the New Year’s weekend. The entrance was a cascade of giant icicles, and the air blowing from the cave felt relatively warm. They made it to the Throne Room in record time and spent the rest of the trip looking for the way to the Christmas Room. They didn’t reach that destination, but the rimstone pool filled with crystal candy corns that they found was the neatest thing Kim has seen in a cave. On day two, while looking for the entrance to Low Moor Cave, Eric discovered a black bear. Eric’s high-pitched scream and subsequent giggle unnerved the bear enough to do the trick, and it promptly left. Once inside, they did a lot of walking, saw a lot of graffiti, crossed a sketchy ladder over a pit, and got Eric stuck in an unnecessary, tight climb.
  • Crash course in frog. Dave and Carlin roped virgin surveyors Natalie and Andy into the Radon Cave survey trip. Carlin bolted a traverse and found that he could remove the former (20-year-old) bolts easily by hand. They descended a short drop and surveyed maybe 100 feet. There was a pinch that Andy wouldn’t fit through, but beyond it the others discovered the large room that they had been promised. No obvious leads off the big room, but it still needs to be surveyed.
  • Michael went to a much-visited, graffiti-riddled small cave behind a waterfall in South Carolina. Also, he definitely did not trespass in a [redacted] on [deleted] property in [omitted].
  • Peter startled a sea lion while cave snorkeling in Mexico.
  • Ben and his wife toured some caves in Vietnam. They spent much of one day hiking to and from a cave with an enormous entrance.

Upcoming Trips and Events

  • Feb. 24 – Low Moor Cave survey trip (contact Ken)
  • Mar. 16-18 – Florida Cave Cavort
  • Mar. 16-18 – Chattanooga area survey trip (contact Brian, vertical required)
  • Apr. 21 – Grand Caverns spring cleaning (VA)
  • Apr. 27-29 – Spring VAR at Hungry Mother State Park (VA)
  • May 3-6 – SERA Cave Carnival (AL)
  • May 12-19 – NCRC cave rescue training seminar (AL)
  • May 25-28 – Speleofest (KY)
  • July 28-Aug. 4 – NSS Convention (MT)
  • Matthew W. wants to lead a photo trip in Tennessee on some 3-day weekend.
  • Ken will lead a photo trip closer to home if there’s interest.


Officer elections took the place of a meeting program. The 2018 officers are:

  • Chair: Emily Graham
  • Vice-chair: Eric Williams
  • Webmaster: Carlin Kartchner
  • Secretary: Kim Parks
  • Treasurer: Martin Groenewegen



In attendance: Pete, Mark “The Chalk”, Ken, Michael, Carlin, Emily, Natalie, Mike, Dave, Zeke, and Mark “The Talk”


  • Peter’s trip report from the annual grotto trip was submitted to RASS; some day the rest of us might get to read it.
  • We received a certificate for buying an engraved brick as a donation to the NSS headquarters.
  • We’re throwing a grotto holiday party. There might be a slack line and an accordion, but people should come anyway. Someone will resend the signup email.
  • Zeke is now NSS member #68716! Congratulations, Zeke!

Trip Reports

  • Almost caving: Michael’s girlfriend recommended Bowden Cave, having been there many years ago. They got there to discover it’s been closed.
  • Almost connecting: Mike participated in a dig in the Complaint section in Butler Cave, hauling rock out of a narrow canyon passage. They were puzzled when Mike found a survey station marked F5 in a pit beyond the squeeze; it failed to match the location of the F5 in the old records. As it turns out, a few years’ worth of metric surveying needs to be converted. On the bright side, correcting the old numbers will lengthen the cave.
  • Almost fitting: Michael’s first visit to Hancock Cave exceeded his expectations. He got to see a lot of the cave but was forced to surrender to the Funnel Tunnel. He settled for photographing fossils and a long-dead bat while listening to the gleeful cries that emerged from the other side of the belly crawl. After watching others tackle the awkwardness of the Comic Book Hole, Michael chose to forego that experience in favor of his role as videographer. He’d like to go back and bounce around in the Breakdown Staircase area.
  • Almost memorable: Natalie couldn’t recall as many details about her group’s visit to Hancock Cave, but she does remember spotting two live bats, which is great since we call it the Hancock Cave bat count and graffiti cleanup. Speaking of graffiti, she discovered that boot soles excel at carrying extra mud that can be used to mask etched signatures. So does Ken’s face. Although she found the Funnel Tunnel exciting, the Breakdown Staircase was Natalie’s favorite part of the trip. Read Ken’s trip report here.
  • Almost comfortable: Mark’s group also approached the Funnel Tunnel in Hancock Cave. After some cajoling, even the most nervous new caver made it through and they were all rewarded by the pretty decorations beyond.
  • Almost surveying: A group returned to SnoCone Cave with five 4-foot segments of scaling pole and good intentions of surveying beyond a long wet crawl. A hundred feet from the entrance they took the opportunity to check out a high lead above some flowstone. After assembling three of the sections, Mark climbed to the top but still couldn’t reach his target. The scaling pole then bent and quickly deposited Mark on top of Carlin who, having drawn the short straw, was minding the bottom of the pole. No one was injured, but the survey couldn’t go on. At that point they left the cave and did some ridge walking which, even in hunting season, seemed safer than scaling poles.
  • The day after the SnoCone adventure, the group surveyed about 300 feet in Radon Cave. The entrance feature is a blowing, very tight crawl. There’s another 100 feet or so to survey before a traverse and then the back section of the cave reportedly opens up. Some existing rigging, likely from 1990, clearly needs to be replaced. Carlin retrieved the cave registry which was last used in 1995.

Upcoming Trips and Activities

  • Dec. 5 – NSS CaveNet webinar about ropes
  • Dec. 9 – grotto holiday party
  • Dec. 30-31 – Old Year’s caving trip (Ken)
  • Jan. 20 – Smyth County survey (Dave)
  • Apr. 21 – Grand Caverns restoration
  • Apr. 27-29 – Spring VAR at Hungry Mother State Park


Peter gave a fascinating presentation about cave biology!


Mark led us off with a discussion about the benefits of being an NSS member. In attendance were: Mark (61461), Martin (63470), Zeke (n/a), Kim (new!), Diana (29990), Mike B. (54738), Natalie (n/a), Lisa (54739), Russell (n/a), Mike M. (65541), Ken (27597), Emily (26175), Eric (68186), and Carlin (60593).


  • Dues. Pay them if you haven’t.
  • Holiday party. Dec. 9 at 6:30 pm at Mark’s house. Kim has emailed out a link for food/beverage sign-up. If you have an aversion to sign-up sheets, just bring a dessert! There will be awards and (family-friendly) entertainment of some sort.
  • Ken brought along a sign that can be re-purposed by the grotto for placement outside the museum on meeting nights. It’s not blinking neon or anything, but it is big and collapsible. Natalie volunteered to try to paint something appropriate on it.

Trip Reports

  • Carlin and Diana went to Watoga State Park and met up with some Quebeckers who were well-equipped with food. On Saturday they went to Friar’s Hole via the FH entrance. A camera was lost and, after some extra crawling, found again. On Sunday they went to Norman Cave. The area was extremely dry.
  • Mike and Lisa went to the BCCS annual meeting. While there they delved into the historic section of Butler Cave, did the sketchy God Is My Copilot climb, and made it to the foot of the old historic entrance. That area of the cave is not accessible from mid-October to April because of bats.
  • Michael M. went to TAG Fall Cave In. He took some younger cavers to a few suitable caves (Bible Springs, Mountain Cove Farm #1) on Thursday, thought twice about Neversink and chose a different pit. Friday he visited War Eagle Cave with a different group. Saturday he got past the Sometime Sump in Ulla Cave despite some light rain. Ulla has a lot going for it, including some of the most decorated passage he’s ever seen and rooms big enough for a helicopter to fly through them. He left TAG before the bonfire and, more importantly, the incoming tropical storm.
  • Ken wanted to try out his new camera equipment, so he and Diana, Emily, Ava M., and Pete went to Smokehole Cave. It was a fun trip with a lot of photography, and his new lens did really well. Read his trip report and see photos here.

Upcoming Trips and Activities

  • Nov. 4 – Perkins Cave survey
  • Nov. 11 – Hancock Cave bat count
  • Nov. 18 – SnoCone survey trip
  • Dec. 9 – Holiday party
  • Feb ? – Frick’s Cave in TAG region
  • Apr. 21 – Grand Caverns restoration
  • Apr. 27-29 – Spring VAR at Hungry Mother State Park


Ken talked about several caves in the Virginias that are owned and managed by groups of cavers.


Who are we (and what do we like about the holiday season)?

Martin (getting time off work), Zeke (leaving town), Diana (eating crazy food), Emily (wearing costumes), Carlin (making piñatas), Kim (matching socks), Michael (costuming the cats), Eric (making food green), Natalie (having dinner with friends), Ken (hibernating), Mark (taking a week off), and Peter (single-ply)


  • The museum has moved next year’s Darwin Day event from February to November, 2018.
  • Please email Martin if you pay your dues via PayPal so that he can add you to the list of members.
  • If you have feedback on this year’s annual grotto trip, send it to a grotto officer.
  • Officers had another meeting immediately before the September monthly meeting. See website or check your email for those meeting minutes.

Trip Reports

  • Grotto trip: Ken, Mark, Peter, Kim, and about 15 other people went to Porter’s Cave. They spent a good bit of time trying to find the cave entrance despite having both accurate directions and GPS coordinates. Ken was glad that he had spent so much time studying the convoluted cave map in the fieldhouse, because it helped him determine that they wanted to get down to the lower level early on. There were lots of pretty formations, even some hanging from the pendants. They also encountered low crawls, chimney climbs, keyhole passage, and some mazey areas.
  • Grotto trip: Meanwhile, Zeke, Diana, Emily, Eric, Lilea, and the Clawson family went to Blowing Cave. Due to the pinchiness of the pinch, three of the Clawsons backed out early in the trip. As Zeke put it, the map was from 1939 and didn’t show anything that we saw. Mud was the most noteworthy thing about this cave. We almost lost the remaining Clawson when he stepped and sank into a puddle of muck and it took three of us to free him. There was no decoration and no cave life.
  • Grotto trip: Kim, Matthew, and others went to Island Ford Cave. Kim reported that this short cave was not just easy to find, it was impossible to miss due to the large entrance. They took the dry passage on the way in, stopped when they got to the wet crawls, and took the stream passage on the way out. They saw a few salamanders and surprisingly little graffiti for such an accessible cave, and there were some formations in the smaller side passages.
  • On his trip through South Dakota, Mark saw a Townsend’s big-eared bat in Jewel Cave, lots of boxwork in Wind Cave, and lots of algae in the commercial Black Hills Caverns.
  • Mark and Rob attended CaveFest in Tennessee. Mark’s first trip was to Cedar Ridge Crystal Cave. With no natural entrance, it’s very well decorated and hot. His second trip was to bounce a 180-foot pit at Cagle Chasm. His third trip was to Gourdneck Cave which had a pretty waterfall and some nice formations. It also had a large PVC pipe running through it that carries water to animals but gets in the way of cavers.

Upcoming Cave Trips and Activities

  • Nov. 11 – WVCC annual banquet
  • Nov. 18 – cave survey trip to maybe Perkins or SnoCone (Carlin)
  • Nov. ? – Hancock Cave bat count (Ken)
  • Dec. 9 – Holiday party at 6:30pm at Mark’s (Dancing bears?)
  • Feb. – Frick’s Cave (TAG)
  • Apr. 27-29 – Spring VAR at Hungry Mother State Park


Martin presented a program about headlamp batteries.

In attendance: Mark, Ken, Carlin, Martin, Emily

  • We agreed unanimously to make a $100 donation to RASS.
  • RASS requested a trip report that could help them promote use of their property. Ken suggested that Peter might be willing to share one, and Mark agreed to ask him.
  • Officer feedback on the annual grotto trip:
    • Someone on the trip should be prepared to collect and keep track of money from attendees.
    • The campground and facilities were great and were close to the caves.
    • According to Ken and Mark, Porters Cave was worth going back to at some time.
    • The organizers should choose caves that someone there has been to before.
  • Martin has a list of the grotto members who have paid dues this year. He’ll send it out to the other officers.
  • Grotto gear:
    • Martin has reimbursed Mark $40 for the four headlamp cases purchased for the loaner headlamps.
    • We decided that Mark should purchase two 4-packs of the Petzl headlamp clips for helmet-mounting at $5 a pack, for use on the grotto loaner helmets that don’t have built-in clips.
    • Mark suggested and we agreed that the grotto should buy a new Princeton Tec Vizz from him for $36 to replace the broken loaner headlamp.
  • Officers finally chose the wording for the engraving on the NSS headquarters brick that the grotto agreed to buy for $100 last year. Mark will submit the form and payment.
  • The grotto holiday party will be held December 9 starting at 6:30 pm at Mark’s house in Durham. Potluck. Send party theme or award ideas to Mark.