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.

Destination: Hancock Cave Trip Date: July 1, 2006 Participants: Matt Jenkins, Tanya McLaughlin, Ken Walsh, and Aaron Gladder I felt a pang of nervousness when we arrived at the parking area for Hancock Cave. A tractor was clearing part of the field, and I was afraid that we might not get a chance to go underground that day. It turns out that the tractor driver was the new owner of the cave. We introduced ourselves in person to him and his wife, great folks building a retirement home on the property. That was enough to make the trip worthwhile. Good thing. Despite the five leads that we knocked off on the June 10 trip, the cave still has many unexplored leads on this side of the Funnel Tunnel. The problem is that some leads are tricky to get to and others require certain skills (e.g., anorexia). Tanya, Matt, and I had explored much of the cave in the 1990’s so we thought we knew what laid ahead. The funny thing was that drafting the map had skewed my memory a bit, and our long absence had made me forget the depth of the pits. We made the two leads beyond You-Don’t-Know-Jack and Not-in-the-Face Pits our first goal. Because the pits are near the entrance with no good riggable walls and one lead was a pit and the other a climb, we elected to try a novel climbing technique, Tanya’s aluminum ladder. The 13-foot extension ladder was lightweight and made the pathway into the Grantham Room trivial to travel. After that, I let Matt drag the ladder along the crawlway back toward Not-in-the-Face Pit. On my draft map I had drawn a ledge beside an unnamed pit along the way. I looked at the ledge and realized that there was no way to get Tanya to walk along the sloped ledge, pushing her hands against the opposite wall without staring down twenty feet, and climb up the other side. We solved this conundrum by extending the ladder across the pit (with 1.5 feet to spare). On belay I started across the ledge using the ladder for handholds. The tough part was that now I had to crook my neck and move across the ledge on my left knee with my right leg extended across the pit. On the other side, I rigged an etrier to the ladder rung and easily climbed out. Before bringing Matt and Tanya across, I crawled over to Not-in-the-Face Pit to scout it out. The ladder wasn’t going to be long enough to get us to the bottom of the 18-foot-deep pit. Matt came up with the unique idea of tying the cable ladder to the aluminum ladder, dropping the extended aluminum ladder into the unnamed pit, and climbing down the cable ladder. The flaw in the logic was that as soon as we released the cable ladder, both ladders would’ve disappeared from our reach. Other variations involved people simultaneously jumping into pits while attached to one another, but Tanya and I couldn’t be convinced. The aluminum ladder was no use at all in attempts to cross YDKJ Pit, so we returned it to the Grantham Room. We took a side trip to scout out the drop into the Whine Cellar, and my confidence in the ability to get the aluminum ladder to the lead down there waned. Matt then led us almost directly back to TJ’s Trap. It’s good to see that his navigational skills have improved since his dowel days. He asked me if he could descend first with the handline, and I pointed out that that meant he’d have to catch me at the bottom. He reconsidered and let me go down first. We went to the lead where Gordon hung in mid-air in much the same way that bricks don’t (we watched H2G2 the night before that trip). Matt refused to rig the webbing to the rock pendant I suggested (quite wisely) and instead tied Tanya’s webbing into a major loop around the rock holding Mike Davidson’s mud sculptures. The only downside to this rigging was that if you grabbed one side of the webbing, someone else had to pull the other way (another one of Matt’s ways to have one person descend while raising another). I clipped an etrier to the bottom, and we descended into the passage below. Dave Duguid had been into this passage through the tight crawlway a few weeks earlier, and he told us that the passage looked as though it definitely continued. I checked out the passage, and instead it ended abruptly at the base of Which Glob Pit. Matt, Tanya, and I all remembered our survey of Which Glob Pit from December 1997. Back then Matt and I were both hanging from the same cable ladder while reading instruments; Tanya was freezing at the top writing down all the notes and I sketched it in afterwards. As a payment for this shoddy survey, the three of us found ourselves at the bottom of Which Glob Pit again last weekend shortly after the area had received seven inches of rain in one day. The dampness is significant because Matt and I were forced to figure out which protrusion he had used as a station nine years earlier. We surveyed from Like Bricks Don’t to the base of Which Glob in order to map this area and netted just 49 feet of survey. However, it knocks off two more leads in Hancock Cave. When it’s drier, it might be worth digging at the base of Which Glob Pit because this is the furthest point downstream in that part of the cave and blows air. To get back up, we knew that Tanya didn’t want to climb up the loopy webbing, so we sent her out along the crawlway where Dave and Gordon both said I’d never fit. She eventually found the tight spot but insisted she couldn’t fit through. When she told us that we were responsible for getting her out in one piece, Matt and I began entertaining thoughts of a Frankens-Tanya who could be reassembled after passing the pieces out of the cave. We did manage to squeeze her pelvis through the tight spot, get ourselves out of the cave with nothing more than a webbing line, and arrive at the Tuscan Italian Grill at 10 PM. It’s great that they’re open until 11 PM on Saturdays. The included survey length of the cave is now up to 2.08 miles.