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.
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.

Dave, Emily, and I drove up to Smyth County for a fun survey of previously reported caves. Tanya had made a great impression on the new landowner who didn’t even know about the caves located very close to his house. We slept in on Saturday morning, so we weren’t ready to go when Laurel, Karston, and Carlin arrived.

The seven of us parked at the owner’s house on the morning when Hurricane Matthew was making landfall in North Carolina. The rain had already stopped for the day.

We walked directly to Cassell’s Cave, exactly where we expected it to be. Then Emily and I headed downhill and found Stone’s Cave #1 within five minutes, despite the fact that the weeds were over my head. Carlin introduced Karston to his first wild caving, but Karston didn’t seem impressed.

Back at Cassell’s Cave, I was the first to slide down the webbing and was relieved to find a sloping ledge running beside the steep pit inside the entrance. The ledge led me down onto a ridge in a BIG room. The ridge ran the length of the 250-foot-long room, but the ridge dropped off more than twenty feet on the left side. And the cave was well-decorated.

Laurel sent Carlin back for his camera while Dave, Emily, and I began the survey. This little cave had been reported as containing a long well-decorated room, but we were not expecting the cave to be this fascinating and dripping with formations. We surveyed 748 feet of passage that day, helping Dave map out the whole room. Then we noticed several leads on the left, both high and low.

We also noticed some children’s voices coming from the entrance and thought that Karston and Laurel had returned for us; it was around 8 PM. However, it turned out that the landowner’s four- and five-year-olds were at the entrance with him speculating about all the jewels that might be inside.

I exited to show the landowner and six kids where Stone’s Cave #1 was located. We had a talk about safe cave exploration as he drove me around on the family SUV. We drove back to the Cassell’s Cave entrance to find Dave, Emily, and Carlin exiting. The landowner drove us down to my car, and Dave shared the sketches with him to let him know more about the cave beneath his property.

Ask Carlin to share some photos.

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It was great that Carlin signed up last minute for the survey trip. That meant I could send him with Amar and Matthew Lubin to the low, wet part of the cave while Sam Kincade and I sketched profiles and photographed.

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Sam and I traveled down to Sculpin Lake and measured the depth at 8 feet. My photos of the fish did not come out well. Then I completed my profile of the cave as we worked our way on the wet level over toward the Candy Room.

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Sam quickly learned how to pose for cave photographs (I guess this comes from growing up in the social media age). Eventually Carlin’s team of soaked cavers joined us at the entrance.

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It was the best of teams,
it was the worst of tie-ins,
it was the spring of unexplored leads,
it was the cesspool of despair.

On Saturday Carlin Kartchner and I joined Jason Lachniet for my first visit to Perkins Cave in Washington County, Virginia. While we were donning our caving gear, the ACC workday cleanup crew cleared us a path through the weeds and poison ivy. As we entered the cave, Carlin made sure that I avoided a nest of baby birds on a ceiling shelf.

Up and down through the cave we followed Carlin back to a mop up lead he hadn’t quite finished. The up-and-down refers to the changes from standing to lying prone over and over again. We worked our way back to Carlin’s previous survey. He had apparently been surveying through dry walking passages encrusted in gypsum walls.

Our mop-up leads began where the walls got wet and muddy—when we could find walls. We surveyed into breakdown to create a 100-foot loop and sopped up our clothes real well. No time to get cold because we then headed for the opposite side of the cave. Along the walking way, Jason treated us to the Antlers, formations that look like albino lions’ tails.

The next destination was right before the beginning of the 800-Foot Crawl. To get there, we needed to go up the 50-Foot Climb (Jason explained that the original surveyors showed little creativity in naming passages). Carlin found a “simpler” way to navigate the top of the climb by pressing into a fissure and then pushing upward. As I climbed up and looked, I asked, “Will I fit?”

“I don’t see why not,” Carlin replied.

The extra two inches of depth to my chest were the factor that Carlin hadn’t considered. I exhaled and shoved my chest through. Then I spent two minutes sucking in my belly while floundering my arms to move up six more inches. I was comfortably thinking about Pooh Bear and the honey pot when I recognized that I likely wouldn’t go up or down from here. A lack of toe holds meant that I couldn’t push my hips through, and my arm pushing just pushed me sideways into positions that seemed to enlarge my hips. Carlin dropped some webbing from my pack, and the foot loop was exactly what I needed to clamber out of the fissure.

The next survey was just a short distance away, and then we fought over who would do the sketching. Jason lost the draw but found it relatively easy to sketch with the stations we were setting; Carlin and I barely stayed ahead of him. The well-decorated dry passage ended in a formation choke with blowing air coming from a virgin area beneath the hill. Our combined surveys in Perkins that day netted 36 stations and 1046 feet.

For the trip out, Carlin guided us upstream along the Stream Passage, so everything was uphill and wet. Great trip to come out around 11 PM. “It is a far, far longer survey that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

On Sunday I unintentionally drove the cows away from Sheep Cave in Smyth County. After getting past the poison ivy trees, Tanya McLaughlin, Carlin, and I surveyed up into the balcony and through the one side passage we had skipped last winter. We netted about 100 feet in survey, but the best part is that we’ll never have to return to that cave.

Emily got sick and didn’t find a minute-taker for the June meeting, so Ken scribbled on the agenda and came up with the following:

What outdoor adventure are you looking forward to this summer?
Joanna, martin, rob, zeke, Diana, Hannah, Eugenia, victoria, mike, nikita, ama, and Ken all answered.

–Dues go to Joel; pay after July 1 to save money
–Topic for July meeting–Jennifer Aldred about Sedimentary Rock Identification (Rob)
–Donations to NSS Headquarters building fund are needed, and TriTrogs voted to buy engraved bricks (send your ideas about the bricks to Joel Johnson)

Trip Reports
Butler Cave survey (Mike, Lisa, and Ken)
Perkins and Sheep Cave surveys (Carlin and Ken)
Rob canyoneering in Narrows at Zion National Park

Upcoming Trips and Activities
July 9 – possible cave trip with Dave Duguid and Martin Groenwegen
July 15-24 – Batboy, the Musical at Raleigh Little Theatre (Teens on Stage)
July 14 (Thursday) – Pool party in Durham at Amar and Bithika’s home in Durham
July 16 – possible cave trip (Ken)
July 17-23 – NSS Convention in Ely, NV
AUGUST 20 – Annual TriTrogs Trip (doodle poll address for signups– )
Sept. 1-5 – Old Timers Reunion (Dailey, WV) (great East Coast place to TRY ON gear from vendors)
Oct. 1-2 – Fall VAR
Conservation trip with Walker Mountain Grotto (Emily)


Meeting Program
“Population Dynamics of Large Mammals in Eastern Europe and Russia During Political Upheavals” by Eugenia Bragina

After-the-meeting Meeting at Armadillo Grill

Emily Graham and her niece Ava enjoyed a short tour of Rehoboth Church while I readied my camera gear. No sign of Anuj. Luckily Emily had cell service and was able to confirm that the trip number had dropped to three.

Inside the cave entrance we ran into another group exiting because of a boot epic fail. We plunged deeper to search for the cave-adapted salamander. I photographed some salamanders losing pigment, but there was no sign of the transparent salamander we found last summer.unpigmentedsalamander_lowres

As we neared the sump, we discovered 2-foot seedlings growing down from the ceiling in several locations. The gravel bank was built up enough to allow us to crawl into the sump area. We found a big bullfrog and another small frog living there, and Ava and Emily helped
me take photos.


From there, Ava led us up into the Sand Passage for a snack break. We traveled down the passage until we found the low crawlway that extended out of sight.

After a few more photos in the stream passage, Ava led us through the Long Room and back to the sliding board. Gosh it was slippery. And we got very muddy.

Emily and Ava led us through the Zoo Room with no sightings of clay sculptures. We stopped once more for photos before exiting the cave and captured the magnitude of the mud we had picked up.


Pete Hertl, Emily Graham, and I enjoyed a gloriously warm February Sunday in Marion, Virginia. We parked about 90 feet below the Beaver Creek Cave entrance and quickly became envious of Emily’s clean caving gear. Fortunately the warm temps made our damp coveralls cool us off as we climbed the sheer hillside.

After forcing my body sideways into the entrance slot three inches at a time, I pulled out the survey notes to start sketching the cave profile. I was dismayed to realize that I had removed all of my pencils from that pack for the previous day’s bat count. Pete and Emily must’ve thought that I was a lazy bum for not wanting to descend and then climb right back up the hillside, but the truth is that the entrance squeeze is particularly tight for me.

Fortunately Emily the artist had a fat sharpie in her pack, and I was able to sketch like a six-year-old. We were also lucky that the survey objectives were mainly to search out dead leads, draw a profile, and verify the cartographer’s draft plan map. No detailed sketching needed. The problem was that we had to share the sharpie.

I embarked on my quest to build a profile view of the cave while Pete and Emily verified the map. They found the leads off of the first room very confusing even when they were standing there, so I got a head start towards the Beaver Croak Room. The ledges there were what I found confounding and had to correct on the map.

Pete and Emily surveyed down a terminal lead that was easy for me to sketch, and then we descended to Sculpin Lake. Unlike our previous visit, the lake water was many inches deeper. A sculpin swam right up to Pete before the tight spot, and we knew that room and some others at the bottom of the cave were off limits for the day.

Instead of dropping down the pit at the Circus Bear Passage, we chose to wind our way to the Candy Room through the horizontal paths. We were greeted by many pretty formations and cleared up some of the leads that had appeared on the earlier sketches. Now I think I can improve the draft map.

Pete and Emily led the way out of the cave and then watched me struggle my way out of the entrance. On such a gloriously warm day, we surveyed to the heavy spring in the creek to determine the real cave depth and then drove home.

Even though I couldn’t find all my survey gear, Emily, Mark D., and I headed to Tanya’s home for a survey weekend. I didn’t like driving in pouring rain and then pea soup fog. After Mark amazed everyone with his knowledge of hari paste and the origins of the Amazon River, Tanya read a short description of Sheep Cave that guaranteed walking passage on Saturday. Something to look forward to on a cold January day.

As I walked toward the entrance, I noticed that I was following a small stream and wondered if a water-filled entrance would greet me. Strangely enough, it was actually an old metal appliance-filled entrance with the stream dropping below that. Tanya refused to enter the cave via that entrance and walked Mark over the cave to the southern entrance. Emily managed to pitch the tape measure to Mark and find a survey spot roughly four feet from the nearest appliance. We still found the compass swinging by ten degrees for the high-angle shot at the top, and Mark discovered that his magnetic station may have also affected the compass. It was getting windy, but we eventually dropped a tape and negotiated a valid pair of measurements.

Emily and I then surveyed into Tanya’s entrance, after determining that Emily could not be forced into a rabbit hole that would lead to a balcony in the cave. I was bothered by the fact that I didn’t have a pair of reading glasses, but my strong light produced just enough light to work with my long arms. We surveyed underground to connect the entrances and then started downstream. It was a very strange game of leapfrog surveying that Tanya, Emily, and Mark played as they kept trading survey positions.

We were definitely in walking passage, reaching over 25 feet high. Unfortunately the twisting passageways took us to a terminus where the water at best sumped. It was an unnecessarily large room with a muddy floor and an escape route on a high ledge. I looked into the escape route and could make out daylight filtering in on the other side.

While Mark and Emily surveyed the escape route, Tanya asked if we could finally go deeper into the cave using the passage lead she had seen from the entrance. I had to tell her that her that the escape route turned out to be her promising lead. I think we found a great cave entrance area minus the cave; that’s where the water eventually drains. Maybe we could see more in a drought.

Overall we surveyed 306 feet of cave passage that day, setting 20 survey stations and closing two loops (with closure rated as Good). However, we were never more than fifty horizontal feet from an entrance (although the sinuous passage made me spiral down to reach the lowest point in the cave). The deepest point is forty feet below the upper entrance. There’s some Sunday mop-up survey to be done, but maybe that can wait for a drier time with the hope that the cave will drain and reveal a new passage. We exited and got into dry clothes just before the snow began.

At the last grotto meeting, I shared photos from my trip to Lava Beds National Monumentand tried to discuss some of the geology. Needless to say, that doesn’t translate out as a trip report. Therefore, I thought I’d add a trip log here. I won’t bother with the names of the California caves because I don’t need Buford Pruitt summarizing this trip report in the NSS News. Interested parties should refer to the Cave Research Foundation (CRF) pages for official trip reports (, but I don’t think you can do that online.

September 21 – Due to a prior commitment, I arrived at the fieldhouse three days after everyone else. Because they sent ME on a wild goose chase looking for cheese sticks in the wrong grocery, I arrived after dark but still found dinner waiting.  They liked my DSLR camera when I pulled it out to take a scorpion photo.

September 22 – My pretty camera got me nominated to join the team exploring a lava tube cave in Modoc National Forest that passed back under Lava Beds NM. In addition to the camera gear, I had to take along vertical gear for a 25-foot entrance drop. The rope landed atop a 150-foot high breakdown mountain with a 40-foot wide passage. While two party members explored down a narrow vertical lead, I traveled with Paul McMullen and Mark Jones along the main passage and collected some photo documentation of the cave. Pretty cool to be the first person to photograph this enormous lava tube and only be the eighth person to ever see it.

September 23 – A geology field trip taught me a lot about basalt, obsidian, pumice, andesite, a’a, and pahoehoe across the Medicine Lake shield-like caldera.

September 24 – One of the longest caves in the national monument still required a bit of mop up work to complete the map. At the first spot, Ed Klausner completed a complicated vertical sketch, and then we descended. I didn’t see any of the ice I heard about on the lower levels. I then supported the four pieces of a hunting stand while Ed climbed a lava fall only to find a dead end. The smaller folks then squirmed into a tight lead at the bottom of the cave while Paul and I looked for other leads and removed old survey marks. Dave Riggs, the park technician along with us that day, told us that the white crust on the walls in this windy cave was actually calcite.

September 25 – Mark Jones and I conducted some mop up survey in the Balcony flow. We were much too big for this passage, especially with me on lead tape. We were able to make visual connections to the surface and even see Paradise, but we were much too large to get to Paradise from our purgatory. We ended up abandoning one survey station near a cave entrance because the iron in the rocks was consistently throwing the compass off by FIFTY degrees.

September 26 – Back to a different cave in the same flow with Dave West and Karen Willmes. While surveying, I dragged my body over the loose volcanic cobble until the room where we looked up to a skylight twelve feet above my head. I prayed for a miraculous rope to drop from the hole, but ultimately we had to return through the cobbly area “where angels fear to tread.” When we put the surveys together, it was easy to locate the nondescript skylight (I’m not sure I’d fit wearing vertical gear) from the surface with compass and tape.

September 27 – As we began our journey back to Reno for the flight home, we took the scenic route through Lassen Volcanic National Park to check out the geothermal features (steam geysers and mud pots).


Originally on by Ken at Wednesday, November 11, 2015