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.

Dawson Duguid, Dave Duguid, and Carlin Kartchner were willing to help me get back to the Rail Valley Cave survey again in Smyth County, Virginia. It had been three years since Emily and Joel surveyed with me there and left five leads (three promising and two not-so-much). The difficulty had been that I needed a high clearance vehicle and a rain-free, snowmelt-free forecast in order to access the inside of the cave, but the wait was worth it.

Saturday morning we found that the property gate was locked, so we drove to the owner’s home in search of a key. We found no owner. Via GPS Carlin devised an alternate plan that involved crossing the Middle Fork of the Holston River, so we went in search of a good parking spot. Along the way, Carlin began hopping up and down in his seat when he saw resurgences pouring from the downstream side of the river’s oxbow. We had to pull over while he forded the river and checked out seven resurgences and the nearby rocks, but the wait was worth it.

Lacking a good parking area and unsure of how wet we wanted to get in the river before cave entry, we chose to go back to the original gate. It was still locked. So we hiked in. Odds are the trees that had grown up in various places would’ve prevented Dawson’s truck from getting us back there anyway. Long hike in the summer heat but worth the wait.

We found the entrance easily enough and went straight toward the leads in the back of the cave. The upper lead crossed over some small rimstone pools where we observed many segmented grains of rice crawling underwater. We’d appreciate any help with identification. That passage kept going up, eventually into a sideways crawl around formations. Then it ended.

The lower lead took us quickly down to a terminal sump. While I sketched the sump area, I sent the remainder of the team back to Emily’s lead near the Hanging Buddha. Three years earlier Emily had relayed that the passage looked to continue as a belly crawl at the floor level but needed to be dug open; same notation on the original cave sketches from Wil Orndorff.

When I arrived at the lead, my team had disappeared from sight. I could hear whooping and hollering behind the wall. They found an easy bypass to Emily’s lead and had climbed into the Liquor Cabinet, a thirty-foot high room marked by flowstone pagodas climbing to the ceiling. Two horizontal leads lead out of the Liquor Cabinet, and a thirty-foot pit had intrigued Dave and Carlin. We looked across the pit to what might be a significantly larger room in this cave that previously held no rooms at all. We surveyed the Liquor Cabinet and then decided that we were all too wet and cold to continue much further. Dave and Dawson made a voice connection via Emily’s belly crawl to the Liquor Cabinet, but no visual connection. 371 feet of survey.

Sunday morning found Carlin outside again identifying the plants in Tanya’s neighborhood. We opted to take Tanya that day out to Staley’s Cave for a survey trip. We netted 211 survey feet mostly in a straight line, a dead calf, a hornet’s nest, white caterpillars crawling on Carlin, and one angry mother bird.

Dawson took some great photos (see below), but I couldn’t figure out how to get them all turned right side up in WordPress.

Photo by Dawson S. Duguid

Photo by Dawson S. Duguid

Photo by Dawson S. Duguid

Photo by Dawson S. Duguid

Photo by Dawson S. Duguid

Photo by Dawson S. Duguid

Photo by Dawson S. Duguid

Photo by Dawson S. Duguid

Photo by Dawson S. Duguid

Photo by Dawson S. Duguid

Photo by Dawson S. Duguid

Photo by Dawson S. Duguid

Photo by Dawson S. Duguid

Photo by Dawson S. Duguid

 

Emily Graham, Dave Duguid, and Jason Lachniet seemed intent on exploring Radon Cave, but Dutton Cave would waylay them first because I was driving this weekend. I had estimated that fifteen survey shots would be all that were required to fully characterize this Cave Ridge cave, based on a scouting trip once before.

We entered the upper level, easily surveyed that single room with three different pits, and then dropped a cable ladder to the lower level. Jason and Dave took a westward turn and surveyed speedily down a decorated passage that twisted its way back to some small rimstone dams. Then it got tough.

Emily stood in the coldest spot between the three pits above while Dave and Jason surveyed over, under, and around numerous fins and random tubes. The water level in the pool was at least four feet lower than during my previous trip to the cave, so there was even more to explore (where I didn’t quite fit). The Cowl and The Sombrero were the more interesting blackened formations decorating this area. However, the strangest thing we noticed was a stone platform beside the pool. Someone had used flat rocks to build a four-foot high platform long ago at the water’s edge more than forty feet below the entrance.

It was nice to total 434 feet of survey (32 survey stations) by the halfway point in our cave trip that day and finish the survey of another Smyth County, Virginia cave.

The key to a successful Hancock Cave Bat Count trip is that your team has really accomplished something. The number of cavers had a lot of turnovers since the October TriTrog meeting, but we finished with thirteen cavers choosing a caving trip to Hancock instead of a WVCC banquet the same day.

We began the day with Mike Broome preparing a delicious cocoa quinoa porridge to accompany sausage, eggs, peppers, and mushrooms at Tanya’s home. The sticky dark brown porridge warmed us all up before Pete noticed the frozen birdbath outside. We felt sorry for the people who chose to camp instead of getting started with us.

I was assigned to Emily Graham’s underground team, along with Natalie Wickencamp and Molly Schlichenmayer. I was told that my job was to be the ladder. When we split away from the other teams, Emily navigated effortlessly through the passages to get us out to the Grantham Room Overlook. I realized that we had a very competent team (sans me).

We pulled out the wire brushes to remove graffiti at the south end of the Anastamoses Maze, but we found that creating mud puddles and smearing the mud over the scratched-in names was far more effective. After clearing most of the walls in one junction, we took a break to see the nearby historic 1896 signatures. Then we rubbed more mud on the walls to hide more recent names and arrows that pointed deeper into the cave.

Emily revved up the group as she adeptly led us around the MC Escher Loop, and Natalie led me into the tightest crawl off of Harrington Hall. We found a live bat while heading to the Over-Under and then began more graffiti removal from the Over-Under all the way back to the Long Room. However, we left the 1896 signatures from HB Buchanan. I think that the Spring VAR 2018 visitors will really appreciate the graffiti-free look of the cave.

After sighting another bat, our group headed for the Funnel Tunnel. It wasn’t flooded but was damper than any time I had seen people pass through before (but there was no rain in the forecast that day). As I lay stuck in the Funnel Tunnel’s tight spot, I noticed that the sticky dark brown mud surrounding my lips reminded me of the morning’s porridge. Drowning in porridge would indeed be a slow death, so I exerted enough energy to free myself and join my companions.

We visited Earthworm Gym and Noogah Way in the spare time we had left to explore and then beat a hasty retreat toward the exit. Hasty except for the part where I again crammed my body through the viscous porridge.

When we stopped my vehicle at the North Carolina Welcome Center on the way home, Emily went to the back to look for something. We were excited to find that the rear hatch had managed to catch a corner of a Ziploc bag bouncing along the bumper. That Ziploc bag held my spare ignition key.

Emily and I weren’t sure that we’d have enough people to have a real cave photography trip; we needed models, people to hold flashes, and sherpas. However, we got lucky when Ava, Diana, and Pete agreed to join us for a Sunday caving trip. We drove up to the Bat Ranch Saturday evening so Ava could spend some quality time with a boa constrictor around her neck.

I pointed at the trail to the Hillside Entrance to Smokehole Cave, and Pete said “That’s not a trail.” We took a more circuitous route to the cave. Click on the photos below to see the full images.

Easy travel corkscrewing down to the stream passage, and then I started looking for places to take photographs. Emily was a good sport as she held the ceiling up while looking down at the stream below her. She seemed okay with her niece being the subject of the photos.

When we climbed up the breakdown pile, Emily scouted around while I set up a second photo. Diana couldn’t quite hide from the flash.

Pete agreed to pose near a rock whose bottom had eroded away, and then I flipped direction to try a backlit shot of Emily posing on a rock in the stream.

Diana’s lighting skills helped us backlight more stream shots, but the main stream split three ways not too much further in. I tried to photograph Diana and Pete walking down a mud passage that led to the Big Room.

The Big Room was really big. And muddy. And a good place for a lunch break.

Emily looked to be nine feet tall standing over a rimstone pool, while Ava skulked in the shadows. We then exited the cave uneventfully and drove home late Sunday evening.


[photo staged by Emily Graham]

Carlin and Dave cancelled a planned cave trip with an aim to drag heavy scaling poles through a water-filled belly crawl. Phew. Eric Williams, Emily Graham, Tanya McLaughlin, and I opted for an easier trip on a sunny June Saturday. Eric prepared a great breakfast for us, yet we still feasted on the cherries in Tanya’s front yard. So sweet and delicious. Eric’s five-year-old daughter couldn’t get enough of them.

We started with a short trip to Stone’s Cave No. 1, at my request. The guys mowing the field thought us a bit strangely dressed until we told them about the cave in the woods. I had to collect a profile sketch and check some leads before I could draw the map. I got very focused on completing my mission and determined that the leads were definitely dead ends/too tight for me.

When I muddily returned returned from the upstream dead end to the group, I found Eric’s daughter crawling on a high ledge to avoid a deep pool (that had been empty on previous trips to the cave). This seemed unnecessary because she was already soaked from a previous pool. However, the surprising part was that a dog had followed the group into the cave. The untagged dog (later dubbed Happy Happy by the five-year-old) found travel through the cave particularly easy, but Tanya and Emily didn’t like getting soaked when Happy shook the cave water from his coat.

We then travelled to Speedwell Cave because none of us had ever been inside. We explored a few different levels, and I discovered that the five-year-old had a considerable advantage in the two-foot-high passageways. Some pretty formations but some graffiti. We were delighted to find little to no garbage dropped inside this oft-visited cave.

You’ve probably gotten the April issue of the NSS News by now. I’m pleased to say that Dave, Carlin, Mark, Brian Williams, and I had the opportunity to cave with the cover girl, Steph Petri, last Saturday. Dave and Carlin led us back to the VERY wet part of SnoCone Cave to continue the survey. Steph, Brian, and Carlin were assigned to the stream belly crawl while Mark, Dave, and I sloshed on through.

We began surveying into a small but well decorated room that poured white formations from forty feet above. Mark and Dave surveyed down a crack where I couldn’t fit then returned to help survey through. Although things got complicated when Carlin’s group caught up with us, we continued surveying along the stream level while the other group headed up to survey a well-decorated room above.

Mark and I plugged along across rimstone pools and into another high echoing dome. Fortunately the stream led us out of the narrow crawlways and into a massive foggy chamber. The fog was generated from a fifteen-foot high waterfall that cascaded down into our room within a tomb. Ancient faces peered from one wall, and a massive stalagmite pyramid spilled twenty feet across the room. My favorite decorations appeared as a series of rose buds perched on a flowstone slope.

Without scaling poles we couldn’t proceed further with the survey that day. Mark, Dave, and I took a short trip up to the well-decorated room discovered by Steph and Carlin.

On Sunday we headed to Dutton’s Cave on the other side of the county. I crossed the field, easily found the entrance, then returned for the others and a cable ladder. The sport trip had me leading Mark and Carlin down one of the three pits just inside the entrance while Dave and Tanya waited at the entrance. We found an interconnected maze that drained down to a single pool thirty-seven feet below the upper entrance.

Before leaving, Carlin and Mark ducked into Radon Cave to understand that the entrance fill is very easy to clear.

Nick, Eric, and Bill from Walker Mountain Grotto joined Eric, Emily, Pete, and me for a bat count/graffiti cleanup trip in Hancock Cave on February 19. The cave is owned by the West Virginia Cave Conservancy and a sporting cave for cavers. Emily led us through much of the cave, Bill discovered a tusk/rib bone in the mud, Pete led Eric and Nick up the steep climb to the High Route, the Erics, Emily, and Nick wiggled into the Comic Book Hole, we counted a limited number of bats and found the Funnel Tunnel full of water, and I rubbed out directional arrows from spray paint and other anthropogenic origins.

[All photos below from Peter T. Hertl]
Winter forecasts for the mountains are traditionally subject to change each hour. Therefore, I tried to plan a trip with multiple possible objectives, ready for the weather to keep us guessing. Bring along the cable ladder, multiple sets of survey gear, lots of webbing, extra books, but leave the raft at home.
Pete Hertl, Emily Graham, Mark Daughtridge, and I started the day in the drier cave at the top of the Smyth County hill, Cassell’s Cave. We began surveying up a muddy climb into the Truffle Passage, where Mark sniffed out the places to set survey stations. We quickly rose to a peak and then descended into the passage beyond. Down a long slope to the edge of a pit. Mark descended the 24-foot deep pit, and then Pete set off to retrieve the cable ladder.15591084_10154296135486173_4385020069733452215_o
I had left the cable ladder just 100 feet back, but Pete’s voice disappeared. I sent Emily to the top of the slope to contact him. I heard her calling several times. Pete had retraced his steps all the way back to the entrance; they eventually retrieved the cable ladder while I kept Mark company while he sat at the bottom of the pit. Mark announced that the cave seemed to continue in two directions at the bottom of the pit, but both directions looked tight.

After Pete, Emily, and I descended the cable ladder set in a dripping waterfall, we were less impressed by the leads. Mark pushed his body into one lead and kept snorting and shoving, but I don’t think his feet ever left the room where we stood. Emily chose to survey the opposite lead and gleefully wallowed beneath an archway. Pete and I surveyed toward her, and then we sent Mark wallowing after her. The tiny archways (one foot high by one foot wide) petered out, and I could barely peer through the mousehole where Emily had crawled.

After that adventure Emily just slipped right into the lead that had befuddled Mark. That side deadended quickly too, so the Cassell’s Cave survey is complete after we added 190 more feet. We were all muddy messes when we exited the cave.
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Pete was feeling lucky with his camera, so we headed down the hill to Stone’s #1 Cave. I was amazed that the insurgence was almost completely dry. Pete photographed the golden Aztec writings and the orange Hot Air Balloon formation, and we headed home that evening after a dinner with Tanya McLaughlin, our gracious host who found these caves for us.
hotairballoonwithemily