Some may consider Durbin, WV to be in the middle of nowhere, but fans of the Green Bank Observatory, old-fashioned railroads, and caving know better. I showed up Friday night after registration closed, during the party where Smiling Bob Gray and his wife were spinning the tunes. It was incredibly cold, and I lost one leg of my convertible pants, the only long pants I had brought along. The folks I knew at VAR were mostly already signed up for trips and weren’t planning pickup trips of their own. I didn’t think my options were looking very good unless I wanted to join Dwight Livingston on a Cassell Cave through trip.

However, I was pleased to find a cancellation on a horizontal trip with Doug Medville with possible surveying or ridgewalking. Score! On top of that, it was only a few minutes drive away. A drive up a forest road until the cars could penetrate no further and then a 1.5-mile hike. Normally that long a hike in caving gear would be unpleasant, but the cold temperatures and heavy clouds made the suit quite comfortable. The hike along the forest road was filled with foot-deep mud puddles that the ten of us avoided whenever possible.

I was hiking at the front with Doug when we neared where he thought the cave might be. His only trip into the cave had been in 1973, and the surface drainage had changed a bit since then. He knew that a pit was nearby but didn’t know if it went anywhere, so Van carried along a cable ladder. We found the pit easily, and I free climbed down without any problems. At the bottom the echoing lead with water beyond it was too small for me to fit into. I spotted a shorter person down the climb, but it was too small for her as well.

Just up the stream from there, Doug remembered the cave we were headed for. Unfortunately it seemed to terminate after about 20 feet. Maybe he was wrong. In any case, the hillside hadn’t been well ridgewalked, so we had lots of opportunities to find the cave. Doug found another entrance just below a pair of springs. I dropped down into it, saw a lot of water dripping from the stream above followed by a 9.5-inch high crawl. We elected to save this lead for the hike out.

We ridgewalked for another hour or two, finding lots of springs but no reasonably sized caves. Five of the party had headed back to the cars, not that Cheryl Suitor had a key to get her clean stuff from my car. Back at the wet tight lead, two folks explored it while I dug at one of the nearby springs. As it turns out, they found the place we were aiming for: Middle of Nowhere Cave. It was fun naming the other FROs we discovered along the way: East Edge of Nowhere, Going Nowhere Fast, etc. We chose not to survey that afternoon since half of the party had already departed. Everyone liked the idea of going back at OTR or Fall VAR when it’s drier. Maybe Lisa should add that cave to her trip list for the Fall VAR.

When we returned to camp early in the afternoon, Ericka Hoffmann and I wandered through Durbin with her camera shooting some interesting black-and-white shots of the railcars and store fronts. I put on one leg of the convertible pants and explained to the Baltimore folks that it seemed that the best way to find the other leg was to advertise the missing one. Fifteen minutes later someone returned my missing leg. I now have my own Cinderella story.

I got even luckier later that evening. Gordon Birkheimer set up a poster showing twenty different cave entrances, and the goal was to name as many as you could. I teamed up with Ericka, and we nailed ten of them. That was enough to tie Craig Hindman and Carol Tiderman, and a coin toss won us a T-shirt, some stickers, and the title.

Howard Holgate presided over the meeting. Attendees included Mike Broome, Lisa Lorenzin, Matt Westlake, Matt Jenkins, Gordon Bolt, Melanie McCullough, Mark Little, Hillary Nickerson, Chris Richter, Dave Duguid, Dawson Duguid, Ken Walsh, John Plyler, and Hayden Holgate. To begin, Howard announced that tonight’s program would be Caves of the World from the Planet Earth series, to be aired in April in the USA. Mark passed around a contact information sheet so that people could update outdated information.

Matt Jenkins described the cave trip that didn’t go. First Douthat Campground was flooded, then the cabins weren’t available, then they found a campground buried in three inches of snow. Linda Waters has threatened to reschedule her trip with the NCSU Outing Club, so everyone should beware of that weekend.

Matt J. and Gordon then described their trip to Hancock Cave. The group entered the cave, headed to the Octopus Room, and turned left to head to the Funnel Tunnel. There was little to no air space in the Funnel Tunnel, and Bob Alderson began digging out the stream while the teams relaid their plans. Ken had left the survey notes for that side of the cave back at Tanya’s house, so the leads were less obvious.

Fortunately Matt, Gordon, and Bob found that ladder acrobatics weren’t necessary to cross Not-in-the-Face Pit. They covered just sixty feet of survey in seven hours of a passage that Gordon thought they were smart to mark as just a lead eight years ago. The drop was miserable and not quite vertical. It led to a very muddy passage with dripping water.

The topic then turned to crossing You-Don’t-Know-Jack Pit in Hancock Cave, and Matt and Gordon described the need to pound rebar stakes into the mud for the crossing. Matt and Mark reminisced about crossing the pit with an ice axe and a “for-comfort-only” belay.

Dave Duguid and Ken Walsh then described their descent down Hickory Dickory Pit in Hancock Cave as an annoying set of lips, and they descended about ten feet too far. Dave then stated that the Whine Cellar is an aptly named pit. He traveled up and down it until convinced himself that the crack at the bottom was the way to go. He slipped out of his vertical gear and descended the last ten feet in a ten-inch wide hole. He found that it connected to Linda Waters’ fist lead.

Dave Duguid also talked about the survey trip to Rowland’s Spring Cave. He, Tanya McLaughlin, and Ken Walsh surveyed the grand large entrance at the top of the cave. He mentioned that there were still a couple of leads left to survey, and it should take at least one or two more survey trips. When Lisa asked, he mentioned that the tight lead at the back is still there to be surveyed, but the low area at the top is surveyed.

Howard mentioned the article in Sunday’s News and Observer and the Science Night presentation at Wiley Elementary School.

We then moved to introductions. The new folks have caving experience, Chris Richter from his middle school days and Hillary Nickerson recently in a lava tube at Mount Lassen. Dawson Duguid described what he saw in the caves as well.

Next month John Plyler will present slides from Mexico. After the break, we watched a well done film that exposes us to many cave creatures around the world that most of us have never seen.

March 10-11, 2007

The best laid plans are still subject to nature’s whims. Dave Duguid had assembled two teams of experienced surveyors willing to brave the Funnel Tunnel in Hancock Cave for the expected booty on the far side. Our December survey had indicated that we’d have lots of leads to survey through major maziness. Such was not our fate.

Bob Alderson, Gordon Bolt, and Matt Jenkins formed one team while Dave and Joe Fortuna joined me. The six of us arrived at the Funnel Tunnel to find water pouring from it. There was no air space at all in the low part. After some stream clearage there may have been an inch of air at the lowest part. It hadn’t rained or snowed all week, but the Funnel Tunnel flowed full charge. Gordon speculated that some of the Funnel Tunnel’s flooding likely reflects seasonal changes rather than just weather changes. Maybe winter snowmelt had finally thawed and trickled down Walker Mountain from near the top.

This left me with the difficult task of figuring out what else the teams could do. My team had vertical gear in the cars with them, but the others did not. My survey notes for the near side of the Funnel Tunnel had been left at Tanya’s house in Marion. I sat down and concocted a plan that avoided letting Gordon and Matt leave the cave to see the pretty weather outside.

Bob, Gordon, and Matt headed for Not-in-the-Face and You-Don’t-Know-Jack Pits, places where vertical gear can be more of a hindrance than an aid. They had digging tools, a bag of assorted vertical supplies, and two leads to survey. Dave, Joe, and I chose to exit the cave, retrieve vertical gear and a cable ladder for the others, despoil my first rope, and head for Hickory Dickory Pit.

Dave and I descended the pit while Joe listened to our gruntings. The pit drop is more a series of lips than any free pit. At the bottom of the drop, we found a mud wall that I dug my way up to get into the passage. I had never been down there before, and I finally understood why Linda Andrews had sketched the passages down there in such a strange way: they all overlap one another. It was very pretty and remained pristine, so I worked hard to avoid making muddy tracks across the formations. I was able to determine that the area really had no remaining leads, a fact that I was pretty sure about but unable to totally discern from the three-dimensional nature of the sketch. I applaud the survey efforts by that group through twisty, muddy passages with undisturbed formations.

The climb over all of the Hickory Dickory lips with a stiff, muddy rope was a real challenge for me and my ropewalker. When I reached the top, the steam I generated became so thick that Joe and Dave lost visual contact just ten feet apart.

Our next hurdle was the Whine Cellar. Dave yo-yoed it three times until he convinced himself that the right way was definitely that tight hole where the rope naturally dropped. When Dave got to the bottom, Joe was sure that he heard Dave’s voice from the direction of the Toilet Bowls. Joe found Dave below him in that four-inch crack that only Linda Waters will fit through. Not even Joe could climb down that, and so we knocked those off as potential leads. No new survey but useful notes to help complete the map.

The other team managed to survey one of the leads at the base of Not-in-the-Face Pit during that time. Sixty grueling feet down an additional pit. We found them giggling about the connection over to their other lead. Matt and Gordon seemed unwilling/unable to make the connection. Eventually their team joined us outside.

The next day took us to Rowland Springs Cave. Tanya McLaughlin, Dave Duguid, and I surveyed beginning at the upper entrance to the cave while the underground screech owl surveyed us from his perch. He was quite safe halfway up the wall, among the thirty-foot high flowstone formations. I was surprised to see such a well decorated dolomite cave.

The survey began easy, until we discovered passage beneath formations. We surveyed past many rimstone dams and the dolomitic stalactites, marked by their stubbiness. We Sunday-surveyed 336 feet in just over four hours, roughly 80 feet per hour. Meanwhile, Joe had generously watched the stream launder my vertical gear and new rope. Returning to Raleigh with clean gear is always a plus.

(minutes recorded by Mike Broome and transcribed by Ken Walsh)

Sixteen TriTrogs attended the February meeting, welcoming new member Erin Amadon from Hanging Rock. She joins us from NNJG.

Mike Broome mentioned the updated web site. Many are impressed, but others lamented losing the bouncing bats. Mike will look into the possibility of a cookie that will allow users to turn on/off the bats.

In her final act as Treasurer, Lisa Lorenzin shared the Annual Treasurers Report. It took almost four hours to compile, partially spent finding the bank statements. The TriTrogs Treasury holds a balance of $2169.97 currently.

Lisa also shared details about the Fall VAR/MAR that the TriTrogs are co-sponsoring with Philly Grotto. The celebration of Philly Grotto’s 60th anniversary will be held at the TRA site, and the TriTrogs are responsible for finding trip leaders. Philly Grotto requested that the TriTrogs man a security gate, but no one at the meeting felt that the TriTrogs could pull this off (and didn’t know if a security gate was necessary). Lisa still needs to discuss whether the TriTrogs might receive a cut of the proceeds, but we would likely just earmark it for a charity.

Howard discussed the Wiley Elementary School’s Science Night and the fact that he, Diana, and Ken will be manning a cave station there. He discussed the planned demonstration for March 15.

Some survey notes from Worley’s Cave in Rich Valley, Virginia were returned to Ken last month, and this should allow continued exploration and mapping of this cave. Anyone interested in leading the novice cartography effort should contact Ken.

There was a prolonged discussion about the traditional TriTrog format of meetings and the executive board’s role. We discussed the NSS requirements, low meeting turnout, the possibility of alternate social occasions, how to inform people about alternate meeting places, why it’s good to have officers handle business, and our relationship with the museum. The consensus of members present at the meeting was that monthly meetings should be continued with the existing format and officers should start to define the executive committee roles differently in the electronic age. This will be handled by an interested group at a future date.

After a short break to pay dues, we discussed upcoming trips:

  • Aqua Cave with Matt Jenkins on Mar. 17
  • Rowland Springs Cave and Hancock Cave on Mar. 10 with Dave Duguid
  • Spring VAR in Durbin, WV on April 27-29
  • Girl Scout trip on July 15
  • Fall VAR/MAR on Oct. 12-14
  • Grand Caverns survey on Mar. 3
  • Easter Restoration weekend at Grand Caverns April 7-8

Cave trip reports were then shared:

  • Howard Holgate described his trip to Mystic, New Trout and Hamilton Caves with Ken, Hayden, Rick, Ericka, and Steve.
  • Ken put off his discussion of Australian caves to the program.
  • Pete Hertl and Mike Broome discussed trips to Organ and Grapevine Caves with Bob Handley.

Officer elections were held with the following slate winning by acclamation: Mark Little (Treasurer), John Plyler, Mike Broome (Editor), Howard Holgate, and Ken Walsh (Secretary).

Ken shared a program called Summer Caving in January, with cave slides from his trip to southeastern Australia and Tasmania.

February 17-18, 2007
Diana was interested in photography, and Hayden and his buddy Rick were more interested in sport caving. To please them both, I took Ericka Hoffmann up on her invitation to join her on a photo trip during the Sligo Grotto trip to Franklin. I figured that Hayden, Rick, and Howard would cave over at the John Guilday Preserve on Saturday where they could stay dry. I got most everything wrong.
Diana backed out, along with the folks that planned to go to the John Guilday Preserve. Instead Howard, Hayden, and Rick joined Meredith and Alan on a trip to Mystic Cave, the same place the photographers planned to go. Pretty brave of them considering that the temperatures the previous night went down to 3 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ericka, Steve Rexrode, and I entered Mystic Cave near Seneca Rocks with Howard’s group. Ericka laid down in the stream to photograph some ice-mites, but I wasn’t ready to get that cold that soon. I waited until we got further inside and pulled out my camera in a room where we heard Hayden and Rick chasing crayfish. Unfortunately the last time I’d done cave photography was Labor Day, so I had a tough time figuring out why I couldn’t get the flash to work in bulb mode. I read the manual for a while and then just used the flashes I was carrying in the Pelican case.
Ericka and I took turns setting up my camera and remote on the tripod for room and passage shots, so I didn’t dare change the settings back to snap closeups. After an exhaustive series to get one good shot (see the TriTrog photo gallery), I needed a break from posing. While Ericka did a lot of closeup photography in that room, I wandered off to scope out my next shot in the trunk passage.
I set the camera up on a tripod and practiced how I’d get the shot when Ericka and Steve joined me later. I think I like these practice shots better than the well-lit one because they just show my shadows and a yellow streak from my carbide lamp moving down the passage. I captioned the photo “Tinkerbell chasing Peter Pan’s shadow.”
After another series in the main passage, Ericka posed for a set of shots for me. I had to explain to her that both Steve and I were too tall for the shot. I managed to backlight a waterfall in a strange way, and the flash decay actually makes the water drops look as though they’re dripping up instead of down. Too bad I can’t remember which electronic flash we were using for that shot.
We then sport-caved for a while, and I got wet up to my waist (Ericka and Hayden up to their chests). However, we found one more shot to set up (notice the dampness of my bottom half) and didn’t leave the cave until 6:30 PM to a chilly 17 degrees.
The next day we wandered into the New Trout maze and were duly impressed by the walls covered by brachiopods and other fossils. I chopped ice in an attempt to get us up to the Trout Cave entrance but determined that we could walk to Hamilton Cave faster than I was making progress. We spent just a few minutes in Hamilton before Hayden and Rick led us back out and down the hill. Then the long drive back home.

In 1952 Gerry Law visited the back of Hancock Cave and left behind his signature and school affiliation (UNC). In 1998 Tanya McLaughlin tracked him down in Texas and interviewed him about the exploration of the cave. He remembered leaving his signature in only two caves but recalled that cable ladders were strung together to enter the cave through dome pits. Tanya dismissed his account as belonging to another cave because Hancock Cave had no known domes.

On December 16, 2006, Matt Westlake, Bob Alderson, and I traveled back through the Funnel Tunnel to this part of the cave. TriTrogs hadn’t been back there since 1999, and we were anxious to figure out what happened in the remaining seventeen potential leads. The weekend was finally dry enough to allow us passage through the Funnel Tunnel, after a relatively short dig through the loose sand at the low point.

We emerged on the other side and headed for the first leads on the right wall. The first two pinched out (easy to sketch in), and the third side passage had already been mapped out as the Ice Box, a mess of loose, wet breakdown.

Bob looked down the fourth lead and told us to pull out the survey instruments. Using a right-hand wall rule, we first entered a high area filled with wet rubble that reminded me of the Ice Box, but it eventually pinched down in an old passageway. The left side of this passage was marked by BIG breakdown slabs that mostly held the rubble in place.

We then returned to the level of the main passage and started surveying the lower leads. They were surprisingly different than the upper passage: water had created solutional passage beneath the big breakdown slabs ranging from hands-and-knees crawls up to ten feet high. From the breakdown hung more of Hancock Cave’s characteristic pendants.

We surveyed over and through the breakdown slabs and pendants, encountering wide rooms and tall rooms with many junctions. They eventually led back to the Harvest Domes, a series of dome pits that we estimated rise up to thirty feet high. The most climbable revealed no human-sized passages at the top, but our survey may have revealed a dome that we looked into, thought we had been there, and failed to enter. Maybe Gerry Law was right about entering Hancock Cave through some dome pits.

We continued closing loops for a while to survey 39 shots for a total of just 429 feet, a good number of shots for Matt’s first survey trip. The problem with the short shots occurred because we hit so many real junctions in the passage. The water had carved out a full maze, and then the daddy-longlegs covered entire walls.

The remaining cave survey beyond the Funnel Tunnel is now down to sixteen leads, and several of these leads promise to be as exciting as the Harvest Domes. After surveying until 9 PM, we blew past the leads in a whirlwind tour to help Matt justify dragging a camera through the Funnel Tunnel. Hopefully his digital camera helped photodocument some of the prettiest formations in Hancock Cave.

The cave length is now up to 2.16 miles, the longest in the county and number 37 in Virginia. There are now 49 loops in the cave; it’s easy to get lost.

Howard, Hayden, and I got to see how well organized the scouts were Friday night when they began to set up their canopy, a smaller version than the one the TriTrogs own. Troop 822’s efforts made the TriTrogs look really well organized.

Outside New River Cave a swinging vine and the story about drunken George’s fall caught the scouts’ attention. Inside the cave keeping thirteen people in one group was quite an effort. I chose to do this because Hayden and Howard had spent so much time lost in Hancock last summer with a map and a guide; I still felt guilty about leaving them to fend for themselves in another maze.

Marvelling at the passages along the way, the group descended to the Lunch Room and ate. One of the Scouts brought along a box of powdered doughnuts, or powdered doughnut powder, much to the dismay of the others looking forward to it as Sunday breakfast. Everyone had a good time going down the China Slide (the first time).

I gave a short lesson about the funny word chert, but the scouts were more comfortable asking Hayden questions about caves. Just to be like him, they all fought to keep their feet dry and out of the stream–overkill for Hayden who wore Sealskin socks.

We traveled all the way to the waterfall. The scouts that managed to keep their feet dry didn’t seem to mind standing in the spray of the waterfall and then continuing to stay out of the stream.

On the way out I couldn’t find the China Slide, despite the fact that I knew I was within ten feet of it. When I found the other way out of the stream, we backtracked to the rest of the group who had found the correct way up (and came back down the China Slide to retrieve us).

We also tried to teach the scouts how to push on the ceiling to increase their foot traction. Beginners don’t always comprehend the power of flat friction on rocks, but they’re willing to believe me in theory.

The only woman on the trip chose to change out of her dirty clothes in a more isolated space at night. She turned out to have much less privacy than she thought when the train’s lights caught her on the track with her pants down.

In an effort to avoid Hurricane Ernesto, Matt Jenkins, Anne Kehs, and I left the Triangle Thursday morning. We drove in the rain to OTR but set up camp during a dry spell.

I headed off to Dreen Cave on Friday morning to take my digital SLR camera on its first trip underground. Ericka Hoffmann and I played around with our cameras while the others rigged and dropped the nearby pit. My photos can be seen at They’re not great photos, but I really liked being able to use the remote to take the photo while I posed.

Saturday I spent cheering on TriTrogs and friends at the Speleolympic Events (

Sunday found me back at Cassell Cave. I went with Bob Hoke and Katherine Bertaut down to the Mud Maze. We all got thoroughly slimed surveying in the sticky mud, but our boots were cleaned again in the stream. We got out of the cave around 9:30 PM and went back to OTR for a fast food dinner and campfire singing with Baltimore Grotto.

Destination: Hancock Cave

Date: August 12, 2006

Participants: Anne Kehs, Mark Little, Ken Walsh, and our hosts and friends (Dave, Drew, John, and Craig)

Have you ever visited a cave so many times that you know the moves like the back of your hand? And then you drag others through it at a comfortable pace until you bring tears to their eyes? Neither do I. At least not quite.

The new landowner at Hancock Cave, Dave, had asked that the TriTrogs give his grandson and him a short tour of the cave. We planned it for the weekend when Dave’s thirteen-year-old grandson was in from California, and I warned him that Hancock is truly a caver’s cave, not for sissies in shiny clean Spandex.

To accommodate a Kenny Chesney concert ticketholder, Anne, Mark, and I drove through a rainstorm to the cave Saturday morning, and everyone met up at the appointed time. At the cave entrance, I gave a short lecture about caving safety and conservation. Everyone listened attentively while I spoke and then taught them how to climb a cable ladder.

No problems descending into the cave, and I (in front) heard no problems as they ascended the first 10-foot climb. I spotted folks as they came down the etrier drop, and no one seemed out of sorts yet.

We sped along to the Octopus Room as everyone enjoyed the shape of the trunk passage (until it became a crawlway). Dave pulled out his copy of the draft map and oriented everyone to the map. We took a short detour over to the Whine Cellar and the first of the dry Toilet Bowls. This was a good warmup for everyone to get their caving legs. As we moved down the passage, I kept getting asked what the name of each object in the cave was. When they found out that a lot of the cave is unnamed, they took it upon themselves to name formations and passages. GREAT!

From the Octopus Room, I started a tour of the pendants and led them toward the back entrance. They asked about the passage name where we walk among the pendants, and I just responded “In the Pendants Hall.” That really got them going. The high window above the stream is now called Rapunzel’s Tower, and the flaked flowstone mound just beyond is now known as The Spinnaker. We played around in the crawlways that lead toward the Long Room, we taught a little bit about chimneying and a lot about butt friction, and everyone still had some energy.

I picked a bad place for seven people to sit for lunch, a room that Dave noted has a breakdown piece shaped like Iceland. Therefore, I led them straight up a climb into the Anastamoses Maze.I probably should’ve picked an easier route, especially as I watched Anne’s kneepads slide down to her ankles. Lunch was what everyone needed to be refreshed after the climb.

After that I dragged the beginners down the Corn Cob Crawl, and Craig felt the joy of wearing his skivvies as a thong. Over toward Hickory Dickory Pit the men worked on lowering their voices to echo “Doom” while Anne and Drew tossed mud patties from Anne’s boots into the pit.

Drew is a great natural caver (better than Hayden when he began), but I denied him a trip up to retrieve Dave Duguid’s webbing from our June trip. I trust Melanie’s balance and timing a little bit more than someone I just met that day for a novice trip. It was probably time to start heading out anyway.

I saved the descent down the Breakdown Staircase for last, and I was very impressed by how well they had learned that day. John had been the person who kept saying that he felt lost in every room, but he did a great job coaching Anne down the steps in the Breakdown Staircase. Anne coached the rest, and they trusted her implicitly.

We followed the canyon straight back into Harrington Hall. I told everyone that they had been there a few times already that day, and Drew immediately knew the way back to the Octopus Room. After I slowed people up to photograph the etrier climb, a salamander slowed up the photographers near the entrance. We made a fun five-hour trip out of the adventure and managed to return everyone to the surface.

We’ll spend a little bit of time getting this ironed out, but I wanted to thank Matt Jenkins for setting us up with a new way to publish and review trip reports. Check it out, and contact us if you need an invitation to post to the site.

Guidelines for trip reports:
1) Remember that for now visitors can be reading this site.
2) Do NOT report cave locations.