We had a good turnout for our virtual February 2021 meeting led by Zeke Van Fossen. He introduced himself but told everyone else that they’d have to wait to be acknowledged during the program. Everyone else included Joanna Y., Andre C., Emily G., Jessica K., Timothy W., Diana G., Rob H., Lisa L., Mike Broome, Taylor Tibbs, Mark D., Lee O., Dan LaP., Pete H., and Ken Walsh.

Zeke listed the annual dues, the way to pay them, and a reminder that everyone should join the TriTrogs and the NSS.

Hopefully Elise Sanderson will provide a list of web updates to share at the next meeting if she cannot attend.

Zeke mentioned that Cancelled Events seems a strange topic to have on the agenda. The Weed, California NSS Convention planners may not offer a decision until the end of March. The Spring Grand Caverns Restoration Camp has been cancelled, and Zeke shared a few things that were very special to him about this annual event. Ken suggested that we may be able to plan something in the Fall but wouldn’t know anything until this summer.

Taylor Tibbs briefly described the programs for some upcoming meetings:

  • February: show and tell
  • March: Emily will introduce a cave-themed game
  • April: Ken will be sharing cave maps drawn by different artists/cartographers
  • Mike will take us caving into his basement
  • Everyone should pressure Peter into sharing a talk
  • Looking for volunteers to share more

Because Mark had not seen the January meeting minutes, he asked about the identities of the 2021 TriTrog officers. Zeke is Grotto Chair, Taylor continues as Vice Chair, Mike serving as Treasurer, Ken as Secretary, and Elise continuing as Webmaster. Mark was notified that the meeting minutes are posted on the TriTrogs web site. They don’t go out automatically to the list serve.

Rob H. shared a trip report from a day trip in which he had gone to Balcony Sink Cave and Neversink Cave. 2 hour drive. BSC featured a huge waterfall and a tree growing in the middle. he described Neversink Cave as an inverted Aztec pyramid with glowworms. SCCi owns Neversink, an open air pit 200 feet across. Sign up in advance for access. It’s easy to get great photos of this beautiful rappel. Lots of dead turtles were at the base of the pit. Rob described how one of his team dropped his phone down the pit into deep mud, they formed a spiral search, and the phone in a cheap case was still functioning. Lee O. challenged Rob’s pit depth, saying that Neversink Cave is only 168 feet deep.

This month’s program was constructed as a Show-And-Tell for cavers about caves and cave-related paraphernalia:

  • Zeke began by showing off his first cave pack and crediting Diana G. for its vintage look. He has held to the mantra that “It must go underground” where everything gets beaten to hell. Peter showed Zeke how to use the straps to slide it into a football position.
  • Zeke also carries a weather device that measures temperature, wind speed, and barometric pressure.
  • Tim W. belonged to the Clocktower Grotto in Georgia but now lives in Greensboro. He shared a shiny, new version of the Swaygo pack because caves deal out such a beating on packs. He also shared that he sports the NSS bats tattoo on his ankle.
  • Mike shared that he carries the vintage Swaygo pack and loves using Lisa L.’s Disto for surveying because it makes the trips so much faster.
  • In contrast, Lisa L. shared her Suunto compass and clinometer pair as her favorite cave items. She also enjoys a really good vacuum thermos because liquids will still be hot hours later, a necessity after thirteen-hour trips with Carlin. Lisa L. also shared a beautiful candle setting from Glenwood Caverns where they began their wild caving experiences.
  • Andre C. described a Protraction/Grigrier 1 device that he uses for top rope-rigged soloing.
  • Lee Olson shared a titanium scarab that can hold two people, and Lee only uses one horn at his caving weight of 180 pounds. He also shared a French wrap that he uses as a safety when bees sting him. Lisa admired Lee’s titanium micro rack from New Zealand that gives him a really smooth rappel. Rob asked if Lee planned to rappel fast enough to make the titanium change colors, but Lee has more sense than that.
  • Diana shared one of her vintage flash bulbs that are the size of incandescent lamp bulbs. She offered to let Mike put it into one of his home lamp fixtures. Diana also presented a pair of earrings constructed from a halved cave pearl left over from a scientific study. She also taught the grotto members the French word for formations: concrecions.
  • Mark shared his first cave pack that he bought at his first VAR; he likes its versatility and chooses it over his new pack when sharing packs with others. He also likes carrying duct tape wrapped around his water bottle and found that it survived many washes after years of caving.
  • Dan LaP. promoted the warm glow from his dad’s carbide lamp and noted how its lumens wouldn’t blind fellow cavers. Rob recalled that he needed to be able to assemble and light a carbide lamp blindfolded in order to get into VPI Caving Club.
  • Joanna shared that she is looking for gear and would like to learn more from videos.
  • Emily shared her steampunk clay bat that she molded herself. Although she didn’t have any of Speleosoap’s Cave candles (that smell like the humus near a cave entrance), she did share a candle with the scent of Ridgewalking. Emily declared that the Ridgewalking candle smelled like failure. Not sure about the best marketing campaign.
  • Jessica K. joins us by way of Bear Grotto in Texas and now teaches Geology at Wake Tech. She shared a sliced formation from the Yucatan whose dark bands indicated drought periods and have been associated with the soot from rituals to appease the Mayan god Chaac. She also had a cat-of-nine-tails made from caving rope given to her at her wedding reception.
  • Zeke was relieved to discover that Ken’s Canned Bat did not contain formerly living bat. Ken also shared his short rack that could act as a stop for horizontal cavers because it’s so hard to even get a rope onto.

The meeting concluded, but members stayed online to share more about online videos and how to choose caving gear.

In attendance: Zeke Van Fossen (Chair), Mike Broome (Treasurer), Taylor Tibbs (Vice Chair), and recording Ken Walsh (Secretary)

As the meeting began, Ken updated contact information, checked stats with Mike and Zeke, and submitted our annual report to the NSS.

The January bank statement shows an increase of $15.01 but does not include the PayPal account’s increase.

Mike and Zeke confirmed that the web site’s Chair emails are being forwarded to Zeke.

Taylor led a discussion about upcoming meeting presentations:

  1. NO PROMISES BUT Mike will build a cave in his basement, and it may include glow-in-the-dark, objects not to scale, sounds of dripping formations, and even a cave-like smell. The smell will not be similar to Big Sink Cave, and it won’t be too cold for him. There may be choices along the way that the audience will engage in through a Zoom poll for a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure experience.
  2. The February program is Zoom Show-and-Tell, and Taylor will ask folks to quickly share any cave- or cave-related item they may have worth showing.
  3. Taylor will tap Pete Hertl to share a presentation on cave biology. She will offer to be in charge of sharing the images if that makes it easier for Pete.
  4. Regarding cave cartography, Ken was asked to consider Zoom presentations about how to add cave symbols, featuring some cool cave maps done by many different cartographers, and/or a long presentation showing the steps involved in moving from sketch to map. Ken will contact Dwight Livingston about sharing some cool maps with permission in March.
  5. A suggestion arose to ask Jenn Macalady to speak about snottites or another unusual cave formation. Guest speakers should work well in the Zoom format.
  6. Mike Broome will ask Nick or Dave Socky to share photos of the recent exploration in the WVCC’s Great Savannah Cave System (WV). Over forty miles of cave have been surveyed.
  7. Emily could lead a game of Just One-Caver’s Edition. This is tentatively scheduled for April and has worked well in the Zoom format.
  8. Zeke will consider how we might execute a caver’s version of Jeopardy, and the officers already identified one that appears online.
  9. The NSS has a library of slide shows that Taylor can draw upon, but she may save these for dates when the speaker has to cancel.

The officers plan to engage in an online discussion about when public health conditions suggest it’s okay to meet in person again and what precautions we may want to take (e.g., meeting outdoors). They will engage in discussions with the museum when the time is appropriate.

We worked out a schedule for the General Meeting announcements. Taylor will send Zeke a blurb about the meeting program a week in advance, and Zeke will send out the meeting notice on Thursday before the meeting. He will also send out a reminder on Monday evening before the meetings. The Zoom link will not be featured on the Facebook page because the page is open.

As the summer approaches, the officers may discuss a socially distanced picnic and a possible grotto trip.

Happy Pączki Day!

Seven members of the Triangle Troglodytes Grotto (Michelle Cavalieri, Michael McBride, Elena Morgan, Elise Sanderson, Emily Graham, Tanya McLaughlin, and Ken Walsh) visited West Virginia Cave Conservancy’s Hancock Cave Preserve on October 3, 2020. They performed several surface tasks to establish a relatively safe trail from the road to the cave entrance up along the steep mountainside. The TriTrogs cleared bottles and cans dropped near the roadside, labeled a walking path with flagging tape to the stream, removed an unsightly manmade object from the property (a mailbox), and used found rocks to construct dozens of steps that now form a safer pathway to and from the cave entrance. The natural look to the pathway camouflages it from the road, but future improvements may be necessary as the elements erode the trail where it crosses some water courses.

Photos by Emily Graham

11/16/19 | Trip Report | Marion, VA | Big Sink Cave

Party Members: Ken Walsh, Michael McBride, Carlin Kartchner, Taylor Tibbs, & Rodney Uriarte

The survey group prepared to enter Big Sink Cave on a pleasantly dry and not-too-cold Saturday morning. They entered the gates of the cow pasture and descended down the side of a hill to the small tunneled entrance. Once everyone had slipped inside, they were greeted with the iconic scene that gives Big Sink its delightful moniker – Big Stink. The local residents had generously left more odorous presents than they had in the previous surveys. Fortunately, the group’s nostrils weren’t offended for too long as they quickly split into two teams. Carlin and Rodney set out to profile the previous D and E surveys. Meanwhile, Ken, Michael, and Taylor began down the short semi-dry crawl to the stream passage to answer the always puzzling question: where does water end? A small cave salamander gave salutations as they passed. As they began the F survey, Ken sketched while Michael and Taylor shouted mostly agreeable numbers. While on their journey, the group met some surprisingly large and friendly crawfish. Good eatin’ Michael claimed. One even so trusting crustacean curled up under Taylor’s shoe while she was reading a station. The stream passage narrowed to a tight 2 feet and the sociable crawfish made the roughly 40 feet of splashing and floundering through the narrow space more enjoyable. The stream continued on, opening up briefly to wrap around a mostly dry room approximately 10×10 foot wide with an overhead message of “1997 S.” Beyond this room, Michael dug out some mud so that Taylor could crawl through a short, but tight squeeze that revealed that the stream made a roughly 25 foot bend before dissipating into a murky, bubbling sump, – much to Ken’s dismay, as the water did not travel back Northwards. The two groups reunited and finished a few more survey stations upstream. On the outward ascent Rodney diligently recovered most of a long line of string that had trailed through the cave. The group’s final trek towards the entrance was temporarily impeded by a rather large and confused raccoon wondering why the sun was rising inside of the cave rather than out.

[Ed: more than 1500 feet of cave to visit, most of which is now string-free]

The TriTrogs Thirtieth Anniversary will be celebrated on Sunday, December 8.

We had introductions as Michael McB. led the meeting. Against his better judgment, he asked everyone to share their names and favorite rides at the State Fair. We didn’t realize how skittish TriTrogs could be about “danger”: Michael McB. (big swing), Mark D. (Howling Cow Ice Cream ride), Elise S. (Gravitron), Hunter W. (Amtrak train), Brendan (anything accident-free), Carlin (afraid of rides so he picked the tractors), Zeke (well-attached rides), Mike B. (Tunnel of Love or the most tightly bolted ride), Diana (Ferris wheel), Ken (pirate ship), and Pete (anything that drunken carnies may have assembled).

Mike B. reminded everyone at the meeting that they could pay their dues to him directly or through PayPal.

A few upcoming trips and events were listed for people to add to their calendars:

10/26: possible survey trip to Big Sink Cave (trip cancelled later)

11/2-3: Butler Cave Conservation Society project weekend (Mike B.)

11/9: Darwin Day (Emily G. is the contact for the TriTrogs display about bats as pollinators)

11/16: Survey trip to Big Sink Cave (Ken W.)

12/8 (5 PM): 30th Anniversary celebration for the TriTrogs

Feb.: Fricks Cave visit with the Southeastern Cave Conservancy

Michael McB. described the progress on the trail plans for Hancock Cave. He mapped the hillside and has a tentative promise of assistance from his corporate team. He’ll prepare plans that the WVCC will be able to review.

He encouraged TriTrogs to let officers know about other possible conservation projects. Michael McB. has not yet checked into the possibility of a carpet donation.

Michael asked if Mark D. had contacted the scout group that wanted to have a speaker before their cave trip.

Diana G. plans to host the TriTrogs’ Thirtieth Anniversary celebration at her home in North Durham on Sunday, December 8 at 5 PM. Everyone mark you’re calendars NOW. Hopefully Michael McB. will be able tofu his travel plans and make it to the party.

Carlin introduced discussion about the status of the Facebook page. The group agreed that it should be open and that the approved members are the only people who may post. We should strive to “paint the right picture” of cavers on open social media and not support negative images of cavers.

The NSS is asking individual members to sponsor artwork in the NSS building. The NSS has been averaging sixty new members a month, definitely an uptick in membership.

Then members shared their trip reports. Hunter W. led off by discussing his through trip in Bone Norman Cave. The trip report was unusual because Hunter was peppered with questions from all directions about the trip. He definitely plans to go back to try some cave photography in Normans. 

After the trip Hunter W. returned to the Fall VAR for dinner in the field and then a presentation and party inside the Snedegars Saltpeter Entrance of Friars Hole Cave

Emily and Michael McB. wanted to use a puppet show that would have highlighted their adventure with a local spelunker named Dave. Dave led them 5.1 miles from Hancock Cave, down a steep hillside, through brambles and past a safe. Eventually they ended up at Atwells Tunnel Cave, where they observed salamanders, frogs, crayfish, and a Dave too scared to enter the enormous cave mouth.

Michael McB., Mark L., and Ken W. had limited success surveying Big Sink Cave. After a morning of trail design, Ken took them driving unnecessarily along many miles of gravel road. Even though it hadn’t rained in a week, they surveyed down the cascading stream passage but got cold in relatively short time from some splashing. They left the lead with going passage because they were getting cold. Kite string still littered the passage they explored, and Ken would appreciate the return of the glove that the stream carried off.

Elise S. described the trip Emily G., Kim P., Peter H., Rodney T., and she took beyond the Funnel Tunnel in Hancock Cave. She had fun with the river rock against her rib cage as Emily dug out the back side of the Funnel Tunnel to let the five escape. The back side introduced them to a whole new cave where animals had scurried up into the inaccessible points. She described seeing tons of fossils on both sides of the Funnel Tunnel. Emily added that she had never traversed the Breakdown Staircase so many times in one weekend, and Michael McB. had never climbed in and out of the entrance so many times in one day (the following day when TriTrogs led field trips for the National Cave and Karst Management Symposium).

Peter H. and Mike B. described a cold morning at Bridge Day 2019, a bridge assembled by the finest carnies.

Michael McB. described his cave adventures at the TAG Fall Cave In, a campout with 1126 of his friends. His group moved rapidly through Hurricane Cave, spending just three hours traveling between the entrances. It was mostly walking passage and quite photogenic. Charity and he also spent a day exploring Ellison’s Cave from the warmup area back to the historic entrance, a trip that few people make in modern times. It was 1.8 miles of walking passage with 28 bats, lots of fossils, a view o petrified wood, and several side passages that eventually pinch out. He also discovered that his squeezebox limit is ten-and-a-half inches when he’s wearing a llama costume.

After a break, Mike B. shared a fascinating presentation and discussion about how cavers have used induced air flow to detect connections between cave entrances (with slides shared by Phil Lucas).

I’m thankful that Smyth County had little rain in September and early October.

I’m thankful I had an umbrella on Sunday morning,

Thankful that Mark Little and Michael McBride agreed to help me survey Big Sink Cave on Saturday,

Thankful that I still had one clean (but wet) glove when exiting Big Sink Cave,

Thankful that Michael prepared a full breakfast buffet for the TriTrogs,

Thankful that Mark and Michael snipped up the old barbed wire fence that has always been a tripping hazard,

Thankful that Michael has experience building trails and was willing to start drawing up plans for a new approach trail to Hancock Cave’s entrance,

Thankful that Tanya McLaughlin let us stay at her house and shared so many naturalist suggestions for the trail,

Thankful that the snoring from downstairs only mildly penetrated the upstairs floor I was sleeping on,

Thankful that Tanya came out to Hancock Cave on Sunday to share stories about Hancock Cave with the van drivers for the National Cave and Karst Management Symposium,

Thankful that Mr. Harrington allowed us to visit the back entrances to the cave,

Thankful that Drunk Dave led Michael and Emily Graham off so that more Sunday lunch food was available for me,

Thankful that Kim Parks prepared an incredible lunch for us on Sunday,

And incredibly indebted to Kim, Emily, Michael, Pete Hertl, Rodney Uriarte, and Elise Sanderson helped lead four good Hancock Cave trips for the Symposium field trip participants.

Thanks to all the people who made this weekend’s trips such a success.

The Annual Grotto Trip began with twelve of us headed from a wonderful campground over to Cave Ridge. I grabbed some flagging tape to mark the cave entrances for the different groups and headed across the field. I hadn’t counted on the hillside being covered in quite so much plant growth and ran out of flagging tape before I found the last entrance. Path finding got more interesting after that.

I returned to the cars to suit up and join my group. I was the tallest and oldest, and Carlin’s second son was the shortest and youngest at eighteen months. We climbed the hill to Boxwork Crystal Cave, and Carlin entered the slot first and invited Son #2 to slide in. He wanted nothing to do with going into that crack, even with the encouragement of his older brother and Carlin. I think he knew that Carlin was planning to put him onto his back again and that he wouldn’t have free movement.

The four of us managed to cross all three pits, and the the four-year-old did a masterful job of negotiating the significant breakdown piles (significant to someone of his stature). When the passage got low, Son #1 directed us to turn back for the entrance. He was anxious to see another cave.

We took a very short walk to the horizontal entrance to Dead Air Cave. Cold air conditioning welcomed us all, but neither of Carlin’s children wanted to go inside until Mike Broome showed up with extra layers of clothes for Son #1. Mike and I led Son #1 into the cave, passed the pools and white formations in the big room, descended the slope, and stopped for shadow puppetry. We “figured out” how to climb the hill and exited the cave for an exciting trip.

Next day Emily Graham, Mike Broome, Lisa Lorenzin, Diana Gietl, and I headed to survey Big Sink Cave. Mike, Lisa, and Diana surveyed down the stream passage, and we could hear them calling to one another far better than they could hear one another. We should’ve been writing down their numbers for them.

Emily and I tied the stream passage entrance to the previous survey in two places and then headed over to a stream lead Emily found. After crawling around or the first ten survey shots, it was a delight to stand up and clock a shot at 48.6 feet with a wonderfully flat floor. The lead continued around a corner and across a low cobble crawl back into walking passage again. That’s a great lead to pursue on the next trip. More than four hundred feet of Sunday survey and still good leads to survey.

Once again the TriTrogs represented at Grand Caverns Annual Spring Restoration Camp, with participation from Emily, Elise, Kim, Rachel, Tanya, Zeke, and me. The trip started with an unexpected detour toward Lexington to pick up Tanya after her car broke down.

On Saturday morning I led a small group with buckets of gravel back to the Oyster Shells at the back of the tourist trail. Puddles had been forming on the tourist trail, and the commercial trail was getting slippery. We immediately discovered that instead of gravel, we really needed muscle and tools instead. A thin veneer of flowstone was forming atop last year’s gravel. Using a weird assortment of tools, we sledged, picked, and pulled our way back to the gravel floor. We gradually assembled more tools and workers to create very walkable trails.

Kim and Emily hauled lumber up to Fountain Cave, Rachel and Elise scrubbed algae before joining the floor crew, Tanya worked with the flowers, Emily climbed on the roof, and Zeke spent the day installing the first phone lines ever within the cave.

Good dinner and then a trip to Madison Saltpeter Cave (named for the President’s uncle). Thick calcite rafts floated in one of the pools, and Rachel found a deep hole behind one of the formations. Except for Tanya, the TriTrogs all headed home Saturday evening.

Taylor Tibbs, Emily Graham, Pete Hertl and I squeezed into wet suit pieces to prepare for a winter trip into Big Sink Cave in Smyth County, Virginia. I had viewed the 1965 compass-and-pace map that indicated we’d be climbing down through some stream cascades as the survey progressed toward the back of the cave. Therefore, the wet suits seemed to be a good precaution.

Inside the Entrance Room we found that a pack rat or some other creature had likely visited the cave and walked off with our tie-in point at the back of the room. We shot the survey again and then headed for a short easy climb. Atop the climb Emily discovered an alcove with a hole in the ceiling. Emily pushed up a dirty slope but couldn’t quite find enough footing to ascend. Taylor poked her way up into the virgin Kidney Bean Room, but they told me I’d never be able to fit through the entrance hole.

We returned to the more spacious passage where Pete had started mapping out survey points. We found ourselves in Swiss cheese-style cave with interconnecting holes of different sizes over and under mock breakdown. We discovered that one crawlway had multiple holes leading back down into a larger room, and one led right back into the Entrance Room.

We descended into a big open room with a flowstone octopus up near the ceiling, a massive block shooting up like an orca, and a slab that resembled an alligator from one particular angle (according to Pete). Needless to say, we unofficially dubbed the room Sea World even before we noticed the windows into the stream flowing beneath the room.

Sketching this room turned out to be particularly difficult for me. Because it was so hard to figure out if there were any real walls. Behind every rock there seemed to be more empty space, and maybe a lead or two. We spent the next few hours surveying around this room, in and out some of the seven leads that we identified. Along the way we found pretty rooms that weren’t on the 1965 map at all, but those folks never necessarily crawled either.

I thought that the team was about to quit when I realized that we only needed 16 more feet to accumulate 500 feet of survey that day. Emily found a 31-foot shot but then pulled back to stop it at 16.45 feet, declaring an end to the survey that day.

Taylor kindly washed the survey tape in the flowing stream while I finished the sketch. I never stepped in the stream all day, but I think the crew was thankful for the wet suits in the long run. We all stayed warm despite the chilly February temps outside.

Emily Graham took me along on a graffiti cleanup trip to the gated Gilley Cave on July 7; I’ve wanted to visit this ACC cave for many years. The Flittermouse Grotto had organized this effort because the spray paint had been so prolific near the entrance. The ten of us managed to extract a significant amount of graffiti in the entrance passage, but more remains. Two photos show how we managed to clean a large stalagmite in the entrance area.

Photos by Steve Bailey

 

Then we turned it from graffiti cleaning to a sport trip. I was amazed at the gypsum needles and flowers covering the walls of the passage, the numerous dome pits, the interwoven parallel passages, and the way that Dan Henry and Emily understood the ways through the breakdown piles. They led us down to the passage upstream of Echo Lake. While the women explored the crawlway to the lake, I focused on learning the way back toward the entrance.

We followed Dan past the waterfall up to a large collection of Gilley Cave hoops, a cave formation I’ve never seen before. The hoops were in random spots on the floor and walls, extending up to four feet in diameter and six inches thick. I’m not sure why Emily had carried a tape measure into the cave, but it did come in handy when she wanted to check the sizes. Another remarkable sight was the fairy graveyard; the grave stones looked like ice formations and not limestone at all. Definitely a cave with some unique sights.