Zoom participants included Jess Keeley, Taylor T. (Vice Chair), Stephan Francke, Michael Ehmke, Louis Le, April Nieuwkoop, Mark D., Mike B. (Treasurer), Diana G., Alec Payne, Peter H., Zeke vF (Chair), Lisa L., Jack Anderson, Ken Walsh (Secretary), and Susan Hudson.

During the introductions, we spoke about what we did and didn’t know about bats. One person wanted to know how many species had not yet been discovered and another how many cave species we know that are in NC. Diana described her boot-deep experience with the guano in Devils Sinkhole Cave in Texas where the mound is stories high. Bats and humans both use echolocation. In flight (not diving), a bat species (freetail?) is faster than any modern bird. 

When visiting a cave with vampire bats, use lime juice beneath your nose to block out the blood curdling smell. Pete is an ideal person to study bat guano. Oilbirds in Venezuela may be one of the best species for spreading tree seeds in the rainforests.

Discussion turned to replacing some of the grotto’s loaner gear. Three quarters of the lamps work but have small cracks. No one has priced out new gear yet, and we expect that any new LED lamps may be better than the ones in our current collection. A suggestion was made to possibly include small cave packs in the grotto supplies.

The TriTrogs have also donated to charities in the past (Bat Conservational International and Southeastern Cave Conservancy were the last two). Officers are soliciting suggestions from members about which groups deserve our donation this year. We are not restricted from donating to the same sources as in the past.

Discussion turned to the NSS charter of the Vertical Training Commission. The idea wouldn’t be to certify cavers as vertically competent but set up guidelines that would be followed by the trainers. The idea is to avoid vertical training schools like the one in France and would be divided into different skill levels: basic rope techniques, rigging, advanced techniques, expedition-style caving, and self rescue. Inexperienced cavers have recently been having more vertical issues and involved in accidents, and the feedback points to them being undertrained to handle underground situations.

Reams and reams of training materials already exist, and multiple groups are already offering weeklong classes (that amount of information can almost overload some students). The NSS charter is set up to choose the team that will train the trainers, and one TriTrog member advocated that the best place to train is locally. The charter talks about finding people who are adequately qualified to train the trainers in different regions around the country but does not address how they will secure these trainers without compensation. An online town hall for NSS members was set for October 28.

Ken shared the results from the 173-foot survey course from the September meeting; he compared the teams that finished the course. Emily and Stefan were the fastest, Zeke and Taylor came in second for their horizontal closure (2.5 feet), Alec and Mark managed second place for their vertical closure (2.5 feet), and Louis and Carlin were the slowest (but managed a vertical closure of 0.5 feet and a horizontal closure of 1.4 feet).

Mark D., Jessica, Jack, Laurel, and Carlin went to Worley’s Cave in Tennessee for a sport trip, along with two children. The kids had a great time in this easy walking passage. Formation colors weren’t astounding but were massive, covering large walls and mostly free of graffiti. The stream water on the return trip was mostly shallow, and they saw a great horned owl perched inside near the entrance. 

Pete Hertl described a drop down Grapevine Pit into Lost World Caverns and another trip into Buckeye Creek Cave. In an area with significant breakdown, they hope to find a human-sized exit from Buckeye Creek someday directly onto Todd Handley’s land.

Zeke knew nothing about upcoming trips.

Because members had backed out on sharing programs, Taylor shared a portion of a YouTube video entitled Virginia’s Beautiful Bats (https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=eAeLY7TV0TI) by Leslie Sturges. Starting the video around the 12:30 mark, we learned a lot about the bat species in Virginia (of which many are found in NC as well). Sturges’s slides used gummy bears to represent the bat species weights and Twizzlers to represent the wing spans.

Zeke began the meeting with a “Hear ye, hear ye!” For introductions he asked members to share their names (April, Louis, Mark, Mike, Taylor, Emily, Ken, Stephan, Alec, and Carlin) and who they’d like to join them caving. Answers ranged from family to fiction.

Stephan shared a trip report about his travel to the lava tube Ape Cave in Washington. He described that visitors now must reserve a two-hour time slot for the visit and that he didn’t have time to see all of the 1.2 miles of tube.

In the business section of the meeting, Ken called for suggestions about a grotto donation this year. Mark D. suggested that the grotto consider replacing some of the aging loaner headlamps.

In terms of upcoming trips, Carlin Kartchner is planning a horizontal sport trip Worley’s Cave in Tennessee (Oct. 16) and a survey trip into a small lead in Cold Sink Cave. Ken mentioned the Grand Caverns Restoration Camp in April. Mike Broome hopes to plan a vertical practice, perhaps at New River Gorge.

Ken then paired up experienced and less experienced cave surveyors (Alec and Mark, Louis and Carlin, Stefan and Emily, Zeke and Taylor, and Mike and April) to learn survey techniques. Four of the five pairs completed a circuit of four survey stations over 173 feet. Their horizontal closures (in ascending order) were 1.4, 2.5, 4.5, and 4.8 feet. Their vertical closures (in ascending order) were 0.5, 2.5, 2.8, and 3.7 feet. We’ll announce the team with the best closure at the October meeting.

In attendance: Arthur, Louis Le, Mike B., Zeke VF, Michael, Ann O’Neil, April N., Lee Olson, Taylor T., Emily G., Pete H., Carlin K., Andrew Kowalenko, Lisa L., AK, Ken W., Stephan, Ava Pope, Ben Burton, Skylar Hopkins, and Elise S. in attendance.

Zeke asked everyone to introduce themselves and then share why people go underground and their favorite fungus. The list below covers only the former:

  • to see the edge of the known
  • to escape being yelled at for getting muddy
  • to have fun
  • to explore
  • to have an adventure
  • to enjoy the fellowship
  • to keep doing what she did growing up
  • to see an upside down world
  • to feel connected to other times
  • to learn and be scared
  • to escape allergens
  • to hear perfect quiet
  • to feel awesome and satisfied
  • to feel the joy of discovery

Taylor discussed the survey responses regarding the grotto member comfort levels about meeting in person. Grotto members are comfortable meeting in person but would rather be outdoors. Some members said that they’d be willing to check vaccination status of members when we get together. A breakout room was set up after the meeting to discuss how hybrid meeting options might work. Ensuring some consistency in online options will be a goal, and hose interested should contact Taylor at vicechair@tritrogs.org.

Mark D. described a beginner’s trip to Hancock Cave with Michaela, Jan, and Tine. He reported that a massive rain storm took out the trail markers outside.

Louis Le described his trip to Crozet Tunnel in Virginia.

Mike and Lisa described a trip to the historic section of Butler Cave. They first enjoyed the Perseid meteor shower and finished the trip by discovering that the gate on the historic entrance cannot be unlocked.

The only upcoming trip listed was the VAR/MAR event in October.

Mark Daughtridge led an online lecture titled “What the Heck’s a Fungus Anyway?” and largely spared the puns.

In attendance: Zeke van Fossen, Taylor Tibbs, Elise Sanderson, Mike Broome, Ken Walsh, and Louis Le

The August 4 officer’s meeting covered a variety of topics, and some notes about each are covered below. The conversation ping-ponged quite a bit.

Renewal of Museum Affiliate Status: The officers completed the online paperwork to renew our commitment as an Organizational Affiliate of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. We cited the NSS Mission Statement in our application as proof that our commitment is similar to that of the Museum. Zeke is completing the signature portion, and we may be trying to figure out how we can help the Museum with remote programming in the future.

Programs for Future Meetings: Our Vice Chair (Taylor) has been challenged this year to consider both in-person and online programs for our upcoming meetings. Some people she’s approached have expressed interest but won’t commit to particular meeting dates before November. We’ve had a lot of programs about cave surveying lately but not much on other subjects. Anyone in the grotto with material to share please contact Taylor. Mark Daughtridge will be describing fungus in August, and an in-person meeting may be looking for someone to teach more about caving knots.

Hybrid Meetings: The June meeting was held in hybrid fashion because Mike and Lisa have the equipment at their home to make it possible. We discussed some ways to improve that with better positioning of screens, microphones, and cameras. Could hybrid meetings turn into a permanent format for the TriTrogs? It may depend on the resources. We’d like to solicit donations of member time or retired resources (e.g., omnidirectional microphones) to establish a plan going forward. Mike detailed how he recently even taught a member how to read compass and clinometer for cave survey remotely.

In Person Versus Virtual Meetings: The Museum is once again available for Affiliate groups to in-person indoor meetings, both in the traditional Level A room where we’ve met and usually also available on the third floor in the big room. However, officers were concerned about the recent findings that the Delta variant of the Covid virus is also easily transmissible in vaccinated individuals. Based on the uncertainty of the August spikes in NC cases and hospitalizations, the officers chose to plan for a virtual August meeting, conduct an online survey of members, and assess the survey results to establish a plan going forward, with the acknowledgement that the situation in NC is fluid and risks will be reduced when Covid vaccines are more widely available to the young. Members may be able to look forward to in-person outdoor meetings in the fall with a transition to indoor meetings when a majority of the members are comfortable with the risk.

In virtual attendance: Lee O., Martin G. Robert H., Louis Le, Ken W., Mike B., Stephan Francke, Taylor Tibbs, April Nieuwkoop, Joanna Young, Skylar Hopkins, Dan La Pasha, Emily NoPuns, Mark D., Zeke, Lisa L., Jeramie, Pete H., and Arthur

During introductions, Zeke asked everyone to share what they do to clean (not decon) their cave gear. Several cited drying the clothes and then beating off the dirt first, but a more common technique seemed to be forgetting about the gear for a week and hoping it cleans itself. Front loaders at laundromats were popular. Outdoors with a hose (sometimes at car washes) seemed more effective than in bathtubs.  Several mentioned hanging the gear outside over fences and drying racks until a rain storm magically cleaned the gear or washed it away. Five-gallon buckets with soapy water are good for gloves and kneepads. The most effective technique with the least effort seemed to be lying in a surface stream immediately after exiting the cave. It avoids Rob’s mother yelling at you for muddying up the kitchen sink.

Zeke announced that grotto dues had dropped to $7 for the remainder of 2021 and that NSS dues are $40 for a year.

Ken announced that the NC Museum of Natural Sciences is reopening its doors in August to its affiliate groups. Taylor conducted a popup survey of the meeting attendees to poll their interest levels in outdoor, indoor, and hybrid meetings. Questions were asked about the TriTrogs possibly moving to the larger meeting room upstairs (and later sent to the Museum) and the associated wifi capability. The officers will hold a virtual meeting to make choices about the remainder of this year and notify the Museum.

Louis shared a trip report about his first wild caving trip with Mark, Susan, and Andy. They visited Hancock Cave after their stay at an air B&B and a few days after substantial rain. They visited the Grantham Room, Octopus Room, Breakdown Staircase, and Comic Book Hole. They discovered a stream, and Louis was thankful that he had practiced caving in the squeezebox at the June meeting. The newly improved trail to the cave made it possible to avoid hungry chihuahuas.

Zeke discovered that returning to cave surveying was more awkward than he thought near the Pole Room in Perkins Cave. Jason, Mark D., and Carlin surveyed at very steep angles without aid from the laser Disto Emily had borrowed from them. Seven hours underground.

Zeke spent Sunday with Carlin harassing Rich Valley cavers and in search of a way into Cold Sink Cave. Because rain was threatening and because they were all caught up on their podcasts about Ancient Rome, they spent little time clearing debris from the Cold Sink entrance and instead headed over for a very short sport trip into Hancock Cave.

Meanwhile Ken and Mark were slipping past an electric fence and entering Big Sink Cave. The bull did not follow them inside. After seeing a salamander, Ken thought that the survey would be finishing. However, Mark found an easier route around the boneyard squeeze; it climbed over a breakdown pile and into a walking passage. Mark found it to be a fun cave with nice features.

Emily described her survey with Elise, Andrew, and Ken in the Second Discovery section of Perkins Cave. She is always amazed by new finds on each trip back to the cave. This time she described a wall full of enormous popcorn that looked like toasted marshmallows. Emily described her travel down a virgin crawlway and the removable handholds she found.

Zeke chimed in that he found the Humming Room one of the most amazing places he’s ever been.

Pete had the opportunity to return to Buckeye Creek Cave in West Virginia. The group entered through the insurgence and eventually discovered that the resurgence was fully pumped. They worked their way up high exposure climbs looking for the third level. Exiting, Pete found that his cave suit was nearly fully washed.

Mike and Lisa explored some shelter caves on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Iceland but then signed up for the commercial lava tube tour into Vatnshellir Cave. The spiral staircase between lava tubes was impressive, but the temperature was much chillier than the lava tubes they explored in Hawaii.

Closer to home, Dan described a photo trip he took to Tawney’s Cave near Blacksburg. They helped repair the gate and enjoyed the chance to take photos in the back where the dead cow no longer lies (lays?). Dan found that the radio remotes he had worked very well.

Upcoming trips:

—Mark D. will be leading a beginners trip to Hancock Cave on July 29

—Ken announced that a gravel haul conservation project will be held on October 16 at Grand Caverns (amidst the MAR/VAR event)

Taylor convinced Mark to describe fungus at our August meeting as a program.

Taylor ran part of Mariann McConnell’s/Dave Socky’s video about Catawba Murder Hole.

After the meeting adjourned, we enjoyed some discussion with Arthur about possible ways to capture video footage within a Panama cave using a borescope.

Zeke began the meeting by thanking Mike and Lisa for hosting the meeting. Mike and Lisa thanked the grotto for a reason to clean their garage. Instead of quick introductions, Lisa invited everyone to share their names and the last cave they visited: Carlin (Island Ford), Andrew (Xanadu), Ken (Island Ford), April (new to caving), Elise (Hancock), Jeremy (NRC), Mike B. (Butler), Lisa (Butler), Zeke (Crossroads), Mark (a cave in Missouri), Pete (Island Ford), Emily (Island Ford), Lara (cave in Aruba), Andre & Kelly (Alabama caves), Louis Le (new caver), and Diana (Cave Ridge).

Zeke reminded everyone to pay membership dues at full rate either online or directly to Mike. Ken was silenced when he suggested that waiting nine days until July 1 would cut the rate in half. There was some question about whether cash dues would be going directly to the Durham Farmers Market, but apparently we just misinterpreted where Mike B. was depositing our funds. TRA grants cannot be spent at the Durham Farmers Market.

Elise didn’t have many web updates to share but invited members to go to the site and offer suggested improvements.

Emily reported on the trip to Crossroads Cave that she led, with faithful, vaccinated followers Pete, Carlin, and Ken. The trip was her first in a year, lasted over seven hours, and left her feeling sore that night. She noted that we spent most of the time single file, it was much easier with just four people, and that the group found really thick roots that were clean and looked like cables running through the cave. On Sunday she led the group to Island Ford Cave and found the bubbling silt pool.

Andre and Kelly traveled to three Alabama caves but could not recall their names. They did give us the following clues:

  • The first cave had them cross a cow field and then spiral into a forest until they found the entrance. The cave had cool shell fossils and 5-7 drops down waterfalls. Andre found a broken STEN light there that he got fixed up.
  • The second cave had fewer drops but they were longer. Andre wore a necktie there.
  • They didn’t explore the third cave much beyond the entrance because they were hungry.

Upcoming trips include the following:

  • Butler Cave—Mike and Lisa (BCCS) need help planning a future trip for a 73-year-old mom (early August with Lisa)
  • Perkins Cave Survey (7/10 & 6/27)— Ken
  • Perkins Cave camp trip —contact Carlin
  • Hancock Cave trip—6/29—Mark D.

The July meeting will be held at Mark and Rhonda Little’s house in Cary (the museum has not yet notified us about affiliate groups meeting there in person again yet). Taylor wasn’t there to discuss the program further, but it may involve Pete and knots.

Carlin K.Aragonite
Diana G.Basalt
Elise S.Bismuth
Emily G.Calcium
Hayden H.Calcium carbonate
Howard H.Carbon
Joanna Y.Feldspar
Ken W.Gneiss
Lisa L.Gold
Mark D.Iron pyrite
Mary W.Marble
Mike B.Obsidian
Nick S.Opal
Rob H.Quartz
Shannon Z.Sandstone
Steve T.Sandstone
Taylor T.Shale
Zeke V. F.Sodium chloride
Guessing game

Let’s see how well the grotto members paid attention on Tuesday night when Chair Zeke Van Fossen began the meeting asking the attendees to name their favorite rock, mineral, or element. How many matches can you get right?

Zeke encouraged everyone to join the grotto and the NSS. Taylor shared the survey results to determine how comfortable grotto members are about meeting in person again, citing an overwhelming number looking forward to outdoor meetings and a majority to indoor meetings. The Museum has not yet determined when groups will meet there again yet.

The June meeting will be held at Mike and Lisa’s house north of Durham, and members are encouraged to carpool and bring their own chairs. There will be physical challenges as a program and possibly Zoom access.

Elise walked the members through her changes to the grotto web site that are designed for improving navigation and increasing content.

Skylar mentioned her brief trip to Links Cave while her dog waited impatiently in the car.

Emily blamed the gas shortage for the delay in her trip to Crossroads Cave.

Wake County Parks and Rec sponsored an introduction to local bats on May 27.

Ken asked those interested in surveying Perkins Cave to sign the Doodle Poll.

Nick Socky hit the ball out of the park with his slide show entitled “Discoveries and Progress of the Great Savannah Cave System, 2020-2021.” Fantastic slides to accompany the extraordinary exploration they’ve been doing in West Virginia.

Zoom Breakout rooms didn’t work so well this time (with Emily in one room and everyone else in the other). That doesn’t mean we won’t try it again in the future.

Officers in attendance: Mike Broome, Zeke Van Fossen, Taylor Tibbs, Ken Walsh, and Elise Sanderson

Other members in attendance: Tine Rassalle

We firmly established that Nick Socky would be the speaker at the May TriTrogs meeting, and Mike was collecting a blurb about the subject.

We then spent a lot of time figuring out how to transport large objects to Cary for a June meeting, but then later we abandoned those discussions.

Eno River Park is open until 10 PM during summer months, and we talked extensively about a hands-on program for an in-person outdoor meeting in June. People should bring their own camp chairs and masks just in case rain demands that the meeting be moved indoors. The June meeting will be held at Mike and Lisa’s house; they will supply rakes and shovels for people to lean on, if desired. (Doing yard work is strictly optional.) The tomato plants are coming up great this year.

We discussed the May 25 agenda briefly and will try to offer breakout rooms at the end of the meeting so that attendees can plan caving trips. Zeke will send the link out on the day of the meeting. Taylor will discuss the survey results and other Covid-related plans.

In attendance: Ken W., Zeke V.F., Martin G., Joanna Y., Emily G., Tine R., Howard H., Mike B., Monica S., April N., Jessica K., Kelly W., Skylar H., Steve T., Taylor T., Zane S., Pete H., Carlin K., Axel R., Diana G., Andre C., Lisa L., Lee O., and Elise S.

Zeke asked everyone to introduce themselves and mention a book, movie, etc. that first piqued an interest in caving or some totally outrageous source that you knew broke the Laws of Caving. Several mentioned Journey to the Center of the Earth (book and movie), but Emily recounted an auditorium of cavers laughing at the whole film. The 2021 movie Finding ‘Ohana features bats flying from a Hawaiian cave, and The Descent features monsters (maybe related to those in Ted the Caver). The nonfiction book The Life of the Cave by Mohr and Poulson was inspirational, and Pete was pulled in by a book about Schoolhouse Cave. Star Trek caves looked fake to several members until they recognized that some caves actually do have those flat floors. Carlin mentioned a PBS special that featured a cave connection trip as inspirational. Skylar shared a link to Jim Eyre’s book It’s Only a Game, and Zane mentioned Luminous Dead. Others took the opportunity to talk about other events that got them into cave exploration.

The introductions revealed several career-oriented cave explorers (archaeology, paleontology, and cave biology). We hope that we get to share time soon with y’all underground, and don’t be surprised if Taylor T. contacts you about sharing some of your work as a future meeting program.

Dues are $15 for one person or $22 for a family unit.

In the Business section of the meeting, Zeke highlighted two items from the April Officers Meeting:

  1. Members should look for a survey with questions about how we might start meeting in person again soon (no word yet from the Museum on their policies)
  2. Officers are considering again the anti-harassment policy that the NSS has in place and whether we should be making any modifications. The officers are also considering how to make it abundantly clear to all members.

No one shared any recent trip reports.

In terms of upcoming trips, Emily described her planned trip to Crossroads Cave while Pete Zeke highlighted the smells and temperatures from their February 2020 trip.

Kelly and Andre are planning a trip to the TAG caving area this coming weekend.

Skylar is planning to head to the Bat Ranch this weekend and offered up Links Cave as a possible trip.

The officers are not planning a big Annual Grotto Trip this summer. Look for a possible announcement about it being held in the Fall. A suggestion was presented that it might be joined with the Fall VAR event if that happens.

Mike Broome will be planning the next month’s program from his basement, perhaps with matching Sockys.

As the April program, Ken Walsh shared zoomed-in views of five world class cave maps (of course not by him) and mentioned some of the cartographic features that he was really impressed by.

Elise mentioned some of the web site management that she is doing right now and her desire to get more people involved in developing content and helping to make navigation easier.

Zeke concluded the meeting by thanking all the new people who had joined us this month and to those who are re-discovering caving after some time in the sunlight.

Officers present: Zeke Van Fossen (Chair), Taylor Tibbs (Vice Chair), Mike Broome (Treasurer), and Ken Walsh (Secretary)

On the morning after the March meeting, the Museum communicated that they had not yet established a pandemic-related policy for in-person meetings for its affiliate groups (e.g., TriTrogs). The officers had no new information about the Museum policy before the Officers Meeting. The officers did not feel that we should be shopping for a new permanent in-person meeting location before we hear anything about the Museum policy, but they did hold a conversation about temporary outdoor locations.

Even if meeting outside, the officers plan to continue meetings for the fourth Tuesday each month. However, locations near the Museum should not be viewed as a Mecca. A more important characteristic would be nearby toilets. Discussion proceeded into some possibilities of backyards and local parks during the summer months.

The officers chose to develop a short survey that will help solicit member suggestions about how to conduct future in-person meetings while the CDC and NC Department of Health continue recommending social distancing practices. It will also allow members to express a desire for a hybrid approach (in person with a limited online component). Mike, Ken, and Zeke agreed to investigate some members’ homes in Raleigh, Cary, and Durham, and Taylor began a survey questionnaire. Ken will also check with the Museum again about policy before the April general meeting.

Because the planning for the Annual Grotto Trip typically falls mostly to the officers, we discussed Covid-related requirements that the individual officers would expect before they would plan on joining the trip. Concerns about vaccine availability for children and concerns about limiting the trip to paid members (without allowing for inclusion of family and friends) led the officers into the recognition that the officers felt that current pandemic protocols would not allow for the type of trip this year that we have been accustomed to enjoying. The officers cautiously look forward to a possible autumn trip but will not engage in any planning until Covid spread rates (positivity rates) decrease substantially.

The TriTrog officers do want to emphasize that CDC guidelines do allow for small group gatherings, of the sizes that most caving trips (four to six people) would see. The officers note that grotto members may plan caving trips but should consider pandemic protocols the same way that they consider other safety protocols for a caving trip. The officers encourage all participants to be open and honest about their expectations/concerns for health protocols on the trip, the same way that we encourage all participants to be honest about their safety expectations/concerns for any horizontal or vertical caving trip.

The grotto officers felt that it was also time to revisit the Anti-Harrassment Policy development that the NSS initiated a few years ago. A policy was not drafted for the TriTrogs, and Mike agreed to follow up to find out what information that group did gather. Ken agreed to contact some other grottoes to try to find out if they have written policies that we could adopt. The officers then had some discussion about possible effective ways to disseminate the information and what would be required to place such policy within the grotto Bylaws and into our web content.

At the April grotto meeting, Ken will be sharing a presentation featuring some award-winning cave maps. A discussion of Mike’s online basement caving adventure suggested that Mike be light-hearted in the presentation and attendees be watching with a beer in their hands.

Zeke will check in with Elise about announcements about the web site content. Mike paid the annual bill for the grotto web site.