Our group of TriTrogs (Ken, Diana, Emily, and Rob) rolled into Natural Bridge, VA, on Friday night to find a cold, busy campground brimming with cavers. There were well over 300 registered for Spring VAR, hosted this year by the BATS. After verifying that Saturday’s guided trips were full, we found Tanya and, eventually, our campsite. Many thanks to Lee for his intrepid campsite wrangling.

Ken got the dirt on a pair of nearby caves, namely Brady’s and Brady’s Hidden. The proximity allowed us the luxury of sleeping in on Saturday while those bound for farther reaches geared up in the cold early morning rain. After breakfast and canopy assembly the four of us were joined by cabin-dwellers Wendell and Joel.

What we saw of Brady’s can be summed up as about two hundred feet of stagnant, foul-smelling cave that showed heavy signs of raccoon use. Two tri-colored bats were spotted. One obliged Rob by submitting to numerous tests of his various macro camera settings. We exited to a light, brief rain and sought out Brady’s Hidden Cave. Rob found it a couple of sinkholes away, below a large triangle of exposed limestone that may as well have been a blinking neon sign. We navigated about a quarter mile of cave, which included a tiny spring, a small, pretty room filled with active formations, short, interesting climbs through large breakdown, and the welcome discovery of an alternative route that prevented my rib cage from suffering the same indignity twice.

That evening we gathered at the Natural Bridge Hotel for dinner, followed by Ernst Kastning’s presentation on the history of Natural Bridge, followed by door prizes. A local band entertained the campground until 11pm. Sunday morning Front Royal Grotto offered an affordable pancake breakfast.

Ken attended the VAR business meeting. The new VAR website (var.caves.org) has a closed cave list that they are trying to keep current. Archived issues of the Region Record are also online, and hopes remain for an index to same. Various conservation projects were mentioned. Fundraising continues for New River Cave. And Walker Mountain Grotto became an official member of VAR and agreed to host Fall VAR this year! At least that’s what we all heard.

Before leaving town we visited Foamhenge, a life-size Styrofoam model of Stonehenge. Only better, because it has most of a life-size model of Merlin the wizard presiding over it. It was totally worth the price of admission.

There were no newcomers at this meeting, so we skipped introductions. In attendance were Ken, Martin, Emily, Carlin, Mike, Lisa, Matthew, Sarah, and Mark D.

There was an impromptu sale of the one remaining 25th anniversary t-shirt. Some dues were collected.

There was some discussion about making donations to support New River Cave. The officers will make an announcement about the best way to do that. UPDATE: You can donate using the online NSS donation form. Select “Cave Acquisition Fund” from the fund drop-down list and then be sure to type “New River Cave” in the comments section.

Trip reports ensued.

Dig: Lisa and Mike went to Butler Cave for Pancake Weekend. They were put to work on the Back Door digging project which involved eight or nine people hoisting many, many 5-gallon bucket loads through some less than hospitable passages. Lisa had the most miserable four hours underground of her entire life. Mike wore a wetsuit and was happy. They recommend going up for a project trip to admire the engineering in use (something about a Mars Rover).

Survey and sport: Ken has posted a trip report on surveying in Beaver Creek Cave with Dave and Dawson. Carlin, Matthew, and Rob made up the other survey team on that trip. The steep approach to the cave was actually less nasty with the foot of snow on the hillside. They spent eight or nine hours surveying. While Carlin sketched Matthew followed the sound of running water through a small triangular opening to find a nice deep-looking pool about 15 feet below. Tanya joined them the next day at Boxwork Crystal Cave and Dead Air Cave. The entrance of Dead Air was draped in pretty ice formations. Matthew’s camera batteries died before he got to the really big room, but it was really fun anyway. [Carlin has posted some pictures on the Trip Reports Blog.]

Bat count: Ken and Emily joined four cavers from Walker Mountain Grotto for the Hancock Cave bat count. They counted six live bats and found the remains of one dead bat. They saw no obvious signs of White Nose Syndrome. [Here’s the posted trip report.]

Sport: Carlin, who has recently been certified as a Wilderness First Responder, Laurel, and a few other people met up with Ava at the Bat Ranch for a trip through Tawney’s Cave. Because Ava was with them they “geeked out over every living thing they could find” including some mysterious red, spotted salamander. Carlin ran through Lynx, too. He saw a few bats, including one with visible signs of WNS.

Off-topic awesome: Recently back from Tanzania, Sarah regaled us with a trip report that made up for its lack of caves with a description of her breath-taking ascent to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. While hiking elsewhere in Tanzania, she did see “some sign for some cave at some point” but elected not to investigate due to a lack of appropriate footwear. Sarah promises to bring pictures next time, and she’ll weed out the selfies taken during the badass surgeries she performed while working at a Tanzanian hospital.

Upcoming trips
April 4 – Grand Caverns Restoration (Ken. Maybe Matthew.)
April 24-26 – Spring VAR at Natural Bridge (Emily. Maybe Ken.)
May 1-3 – Perkins Cave Survey (Carlin.)
May 7-10 – SERA Cave Carnival
July 13-17 – NSS Convention

The scheduled program, a video about sinkholes (available online), was scrapped in favor of food, beer, and conversation.

On March 8, Ken Walsh led a group through Hancock Cave. Four members of Walker Mountain Grotto were introduced to the cave during a thorough bat count. We tallied six bats on this trip. That’s three fewer than were recorded last March, but five more than we spotted there in the fall. Bill Grose has posted a trip report with photos on Walker Mountain Grotto’s website:
[link to Walker Mountain Grotto trip report]

Aoogah! Zachary Taylor navigates the Comic Book Hole.
Photo by Emily

I tagged along and got the opportunity to revisit the graffiti cleanup sites that we worked on in November. Our efforts weren’t wasted. The Grantham Room looks remarkably better. Our man-made mud still masks the writing on the sloping walls there. The more vertical areas that we had abraded with wire brushes look a little raw by comparison, but the overall result is gratifying. I didn’t see any signs of new vandalism, unless you count the pack rat rubbish. A lot remains to be done. If you took part in the bat count last fall and you have any interest in a future cleanup trip, you’ll be delighted to know that hauling giant buckets of water into the cave is entirely unnecessary; that was just for fun.

Grantham Room cleanup in November, 2014
Photo by Peter Hertl