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.
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