Mike Broome’s GPS found a neighborhood shortcut as we left the Convention campsite, so we missed one of the landmarks (a low water crossing) as we drove to Tolly’s Cave in the Elk River Valley. However, it was just a quick turnaround, good parking, and (to me) a short walk up the hillside. Mike Broome, Lisa Lorenzin, Emily Graham, and I explored Tolly’s after a short climb past a salamander and spiders. We had a map along, and a great blow-by-blow description of the cave’s character.

We climbed and wriggled from room to room past some nice formations. Because many different geologic layers are sandwiched in and above this cave, we saw some cool blending of color, such as black dendrites decorating the walls. Nice rooms and good to cave with Mike and Lisa again. And it broke up the drive home from the NSS Convention. Thanks to Emily for picking this trip and gathering all the information.

On Wednesday at the NSS Convention, I took a morning class in speleothem repair practices. It followed all the steps from inventorying, matching puzzle pieces, drilling holes for support pins, building supports and splints from PVC pipes, and then mixing and applying epoxy. The class was led by Mike Mansur and Kirsten Bahr, and he brought along a full set of wooden blocks and cement pieces that we had to repair to create speleothems in a vertical box. Emily thinks that the instruction manual is well produced and certainly inspiring.

In the afternoon we took off for the entrance area inside Hamilton Cave on the NSS John Guilday Cave Preserve to try our hands at our recently learned skills. Although my big role was discovering stalactite pieces that had no matching pieces on the ceiling, the group did manage to repair four formations that afternoon. It was definitely a class that I learned a lot in and was excited by the prospect that other people might repair broken speleothems. It is exacting, patient work, and I hope to be able to support such repairs in the future.

Back in the 1960s, Perkins Cave was surveyed using carbide lamps to mark stations and trying to extend the cave in many directions at once. The 1972 map shows blobby walls and no passage detail over in the U Survey section. Naturally there must be some leads going north that they missed. 

The blobby northern section is mostly a massive wall of breakdown. Our March trip tried to survey a way over or to the right of the massive breakdown pile. We met only dead ends too small for humans. On April 8, Emily Graham, Piotr Suder, and I headed to the lower section and to the left of the breakdown pile. We still hoped that the breakdown pile could be surveyed over/under/around/through.

The previous day’s deluge left the breakdown drain area wet and slippery. Piotr and Emily pursued the slippery lead into a hole that quickly became too tight for humans. Off to the left we scaled and surveyed our way up into a room of pickup truck-sized breakdown. Off in one corner we found a dead bat clinging to the ceiling and covered in white nose fungus.  Behind that Piotr squeezed past other fungus on the floor and into a breakdown-choked passage.

Alas, no good leads. Piotr did a great job leading us out of the cave without ever consulting the old map. And I fastened the lock on the cave gate in under thirty seconds.

At the February TriTrogs meeting, we had enough members interested in a survey trip. It’s great when a trip gets mostly planned at a meeting. Matthew Weiss, Maria Droujkova, Emily Graham, and I stayed at Tanya’s house in Marion before the trip Saturday morning. We had no trouble finding our way back to the Perkins Cave survey lead, but Matthew and Maria photo-documented the trail to be sure we’d get back.

The stooping lead in the U Survey section took Emily (and the rest of us) beneath a massive breakdown pile and then turned into a low crawlway. It opened into a pantry-sized room and then into another crawlway. That one ended in a larger room with no human-sized exits.

We spent time trying to find another route past the breakdown pile but had no luck. It was still better luck than Maria’s boot had had, so we exited the cave with less survey footage than I would have liked. Fortunately Matthew was eventually able to re-lock the cave gate when we exited.

At the end of January, with the Museum’s Social in the Shire event fast approaching, Ken and I looked around for some inspiration for the grotto’s Mines of Moria display. We settled on Low Moor Mine and Cave. With surveying continuing, Ken and I rustled up the most recent map we could find, a couple of beginners, and Peter.

Our first obstacle: the locked gate leading onto the property, a precaution during hunting season. Those of us in wellies easily forded the second obstacle. Ashwin braved the frigid waters in bare feet and slipped on the rocks only once. April sprinted across in her canvas boots. I led our intrepid group in through the impressive mine entrance, then up the talus slope to the natural cave.

Once we found our way into the cave proper, I paused to point out the lovely cave pearls and the scary spider near the natural entrance. Shortly after we escaped from the spider, I stopped dead in my tracks. A nest the size and shape of a slightly deflated basketball sat on the floor in the middle of the passage. Peter immediately identified it as a packrat nest. And there, between the bits of rubble at our feet, we caught a glimpse of the cutest balrog I ever saw! Okay, Peter identified it as a packrat, but it was much bigger than I expected, and so cute!

After we emerged from the single-file passages, Ken encouraged the beginners to lead. Needless to say, we got lost. That’s right – as the writer of this trip report, I can blame whomever I like. I can’t tell you where we went, but we had fun exploring. We encountered several bats, pretty formations, really big rooms, too much graffiti, stream passage. And we avoided doing anything awful unless you count crossing the Very Sketchy Ladder. After a few hours, we tried to find our way back to the entrance only to find that the passages had rearranged themselves while we weren’t looking. After several perplexing minutes, April announced, “I found rat poop!” and suddenly we knew exactly where we were.

Will someone write songs about our heroic adventures underground? Maybe next time. I kinda hope not.

It had been a few months since the last TriTrog sport caving trip, so I offered up the traditional Hancock Cave Bat Count trip for New Year’s Eve. I don’t think we had had a bat count since pre-Covid, and a warm chili dinner at Tanya McLaughlin’s house seemed like a good idea in the frigid winter temperatures.
But it wasn’t actually cold New Years weekend. The mountain road was fine despite the icy waterfalls that still decorated the mountainside. We discovered that the stream outside the cave entrance was still frozen that morning around 11 AM when we crossed.
Laura Young and Emily Graham rigged a handline at the entrance. Laura’s exuberance during the trip was outweighed only by her cave pack. We were treated to bats in the Entrance Room and several other locations. Emily seemed best at spotting all six bats we found, and Laura’s experience with the Virginia Natural Heritage Program helped us identify the likely species from a distance. Emily’s Zebra Light made that possible. Laura appreciated that I hold out hope that some year we’ll find many more bats wintering in Hancock Cave. But not yet.
We took a side trip up into the Vertical Maze because Emily hadn’t explored that part of the cave before, but nothing up there looked very familiar to me. We traversed the passage where Tanya had led her first survey trip, but I think we needed to descend about twenty feet just to be near the top of the Breakdown Staircase.
As we spent five hours exploring the cave, the icy waterfalls and streams outside had thawed in the rain, so the Entrance Room greeted us with heavy waterfalls and a very slick trip up the handline and out of the cave. I found myself rolling from side to side to make any progress as I reached up for the handline used to haul out the cave packs. Near the top I tried again rolling my legs from side to side to fit out the entrance from my crouched position, with my knees catching on the ceiling by just an inch.
A great trip overall, but the new trail to the cave entrance is still mighty slick during a winter thaw.

Emily Graham and I accepted Vardell Smyth’s invitation to use his home in Boone, North Carolina as a launching point for a survey trip into Perkins Cave (Washington County, Virginia). Jason Lachniet trusted me to find my way back to the leads I left beyond the Second Discovery area of the cave.

Emily had to correct the routes I tried three times on the way in, but Emily, Vardell, and I made good progress toward the survey lead for the day. Our second survey station brought us up into the Gypsum Pancake Room, three-to-four-foot high and roughly thirty feet across. Side passages of varying sizes abound along this passage. The floor is composed of crumbling thin slabs of ceiling, but typical stalagmites and soda straws populate the indeterminate walls.

Surveying crawling and walking passages around the perimeter led to some dead ends and to one huge room (yet to be surveyed). Our original one lead left us with 468 feet of survey and roughly five new leads that all appear somewhat substantial. When finishing the last survey station, Emily was welcomed by nocturnal cave residents in what we’re calling Nibblers Way. Field mice gathered round her while I finished the sketching and even seemed to follow Emily as we exited the cave. With the mice to guide her, we exited with no wrong turns.

In early July, Ken had suggested another relaxing, recreational cave trip and found enough people (including me), undeterred after the recent ‘Hancock’ trip. We car-pooled up to VA on Friday afternoon and evening to camp for one night, before getting to the cave after a hearty breakfast, Saturday morning.

Mark D., Ken W., Emily G., Alex R., Stephan F.,

Once we arrived at the parking lot, we embarked on a gradual uphill hike to the cave entrance. After gearing-up at the entrance, we quickly got out of the humid heat and into the cave; soon arriving at a (the) wooden ladder, which, while sturdy, required some repositioning, before scaling.

Progressing from the ladder, we soon arrived at the “Sand Alley’ and an uncomfortable 6-10 ft overhang, we seemed to have to climb down. While unpacking the webbing and preparing to climb down, we noticed an easier, through tight, crawl to the right, allowing us to bypass this climb (btw this is main route into the cave, which initially escaped our attention).

After further hiking, twisting and crawling, we passed the ‘Nutcracker’ (at that time I wondered by myself what led to the name) and took a (lunch) break before exploring (slightly unintentionally) the ‘Three Parallel Passage’ area.  After poking into many off-shoots in this area, we finally made our way towards the ‘Cathedral Passage’.

We were able to hike all the way to the ‘Natural Bridge’, and further to the ‘Laundry Chute’, a 45° angle very muddy uphill clay slope. A few of us scaled the slippery slope with more or less success, while Ken commented on the ‘fun’ of mapping such a thing. After another break, we turned and worked our way back.

Later, while getting stuck, with one leg on one side and the other on the other side of the ‘Nutcracker’, I painfully became aware about the likely origin of the name. Aside from that experience we had to wiggle our way back up another tight tube on the way back, which had been much easier on the way in. Instructions were given to plant your face into the right side of the tube, as no one would be able to contort their body a couple of feet further in the other direction to get out; and put at least one (or two) arms through the exit hole prior to the head and shoulders. Luckily, I made it, lubricated with a clay layer on my cave suit and a few curse words.

Closing a very nice trip off, we had a small excursion into the ‘Historic Section’ of the cave, where we went to the ‘Big Room’ where we set a few minutes with light off to marvel the darkness in the cave. Exiting the cave was finally much easier than Hancock (as a reference point most should know :-).

I think we stayed around 6h underground before we made it back to the cars and dinner on the way home.

I’ve cleaned up lots of cave graffiti on conservation trips in the past, but the VAR Spring Restoration was my first foray into cleaning lampenflora from the cave walls. Slightly paraphrased (by Meredith Hall Weberg from Hildreth-Werker, Val, and Werker, Jim ed. Cave Conservation and Restoration, C 2006, pp.343-344):

“… Lampenflora is a collection of photosynthetic organisms (blue-green algae or cyanobacteria, algae, mosses, and other plants) that grow near artificial lights in the cool, humid cave environment.  Lampenflora are not ‘natural’ or “native”; they are brought into the cave on visitor’s shoes and clothing.  Lampenflora found along cave tour trails are considered opportunistic in cave ecosystems.”

Twenty-four VAR cavers, including six from the TriTrogs, came out to Endless Caverns to help fight off the lampenflora that hadn’t had serious attention in ten years. It turned out that the staff had likely been doing spot cleanings, but I noticed green formations as I left the Oriental Palace. I was assigned a resupply role and a heavy water sprayer; Dave Socky and I followed the scrubbers into the cave.

Scrubbers were cleaning the Mitten Room, Vista, Hindu Temple, Sky Land, and Grand Canyon as we walked along, but they didn’t need our help. The ceiling got high when we reached the Marine Corridor, so Dave and I tried to devise ways to reach the ceiling lampenflora twelve feet off the floor (with limited success). Emily Graham chose lamps closer to the floor and spent the next hour there with Dave de-greening the walls and formations.

Taylor Orr scrubbing lampenflora (photo courtesy of Dave Socky)

I followed Stephan Francke and Taylor Orr into the Oriental Palace and helped them spot green patches on the formations. They pulled out their toothbrushes and began spraying with hydrogen peroxide. I headed back to the entrance for more supplies and encountered Chris Flannagan and his son on their mission to replace burnt-out light bulbs. We encountered many scrubbers who thought that they were heading out of the cave for lunch, but they were actually headed back in.

After VAR sponsored a free lunch, we expected that everyone would be cleaning graffiti beyond the front maze. Dave and I spotted some lampenflora for a group with weaker headlamps. I noticed it’s even easier to spot the green fuzzies from other people’s lamps. In Alexandra’s Ball Room, we found more high lampenflora, so I started to exit the cave in search of a ladder. After a few turnarounds initiated by the people we encountered, I found myself heading into the cave in search of a ladder stored in a side passage.

Ken Walsh cleaning in Boulder Room under Emily Graham’s direction (photo courtesy of Dave Socky)

I never found that ladder. Chris and his son helped Tommy Carpenter and I look, and we passed Emily and Stephan scrubbing in a lower passage. Eventually we reached the back of the tourist trail and helped the Flannagans replace old light bulbs. I’m afraid we missed the turnoff to Fairyland.

Emily, Dave, Tommy, and I exited the cave very slowly, stopping to scrub many times. Emily spent a good amount of time converting the Snow Drift from green to white while we whitened up the formations in the adjoining hallway. Boulder Canyon had a single lamp at the top lighting lampenflora on the walls, ceiling, and floor. When we completed scrubbing there, we headed out (after sharing the Cathedral’s beauty with Emily). 

Emily Graham and Tommy Carpenter in Cathedral (photo courtesy of Dave Socky)

Wonderful veggie pizza dinner from VAR that evening (with the cave manager) and a beautiful night for camping.

By Louis Le, on the occasion of his first wild cave trip, and first adventure with pun and gear masters Mark and Andy.

The road was quiet and the morning already warm and sunny as Andy, Mark, Susan, and I walked silently to Hancock Cave.

We cautiously snuck by a house supplied with potentially lethal chihuahuas, holding tight to the emergency dog treats generously supplied by Tanya in case things got ruff. Never hurts to be prepared, gotta account for the paw-sibilities.

After a successful stealth mission and a careful trek in the woods, making sure not to take the wrong root, we arrived at our destination: Hancock’s entrance! A last minute bathroom break, a pre-caving pic, and we were ready to make our descent!

Mark fashioned webbing into a hand-line to help with the descent as it had rained the day before. It was a somewhat steep and slick drop from the entrance as we entered one by one. The line definitely helped as it was quite muddy on the way down, but after a bit of careful stepping and controlled sliding, I made it all the way down.

After reaching the bottom, a gorgeous cave salamander greeted Susan and me. It was orange with black spots and quite min-newt!

We journeyed up a small climb before we reached another tricky descent. Mark came to the rescue again with his rope skills as he used a carabiner, two slings, and a few alpine butterflies to create an impromptu ladder. (Both Mark and Andy had forgotten to bring the etrier from the car.) Knot rocket science, but I taut it was quite resourceful!

The second descent led to the “Grand”-tham (Grantham) room. As the name implied, the room was rather massive, big enough to house maybe one or two half-inflated hot-air balloons. (Or a dozen half-funny puns.) I honestly did not expect the room to be so large given how small the entrance was. Further exploration led us to the Octopus Room with eight different possible paths- luckily there was a nicely placed cairn next to route we came from as getting lost would not be tenta-cool.

Continuing on, we passed the Broken (Breakdown) Staircase, which looked like massive pieces of piled up blocks, each roughly the size of a flattened Smart Car. I found them to be quite uplifting.

We came to a point in the cave with a steep climb. Mark climbed up with no issue, but the rest of us found the mud to be quite slick, so after a few attempts, the rest of us decided to go a different route and crawled in a dried-up stream. I was super thankful for my knee-pads as the stream was littered with jagged rocks. After what felt like a few minutes of careful maneuvering to avoid unnecessary deep tissue massages, I was relieved to get to the other side. The overall crawl was only about 30’… but felt like a nice achievement as my first cave crawl!

We eventually made it to the comic book hole! Only problem was that it was around ten feet off the ground! Now it was Andy’s time to shine! Using his height and his trusty left shoulder, I stepped up and wormed my way top half into the hole arms first. From there, I momentarily got stuck, took a much-needed thirty second break, and wriggled my way through the hole.

The Author halfway through the Comic Book Hole, trying to persuade his legs to join him . . .
Photo by Mark Daughtridge

I was glad that there was another way around as coming back out the hole would have been incredibly difficult! Susan then gave it try while Andy, who was also doing great photography work, snapped an incredible shot of her legs sticking out of the hole.

Calling it a fun day of caving, we decided to head back out, retracing our steps. Seeing the Broken Staircase again elevated my mood. Identifying the cairn again in the Octopus Room kept me calm-ari. Finally we were bottom of the entrance and could see the light at the end of the cave!
Susan went first and made the climb look so easy. I went afterwards thinking it would not be too bad as I gripped the sling. I took a few steps, then like losing Jenga tower, I slowly teetered over and splat into the mud. After a few more humbling slips and slides I finally made my way up and out of the entrance.

It was my first time caving and I’d heard about the mud…but man was there a groundbreaking amount of mud! If the camera didn’t add ten pounds to our post-caving picture, the mud definitely did! Our time in the cave was not too long, we entered around 10 AM and left at 4 PM, but I had a blast! Thank you to Mark and Andy for their guidance and their unending puns. They were puntastic!

Photo by Andy Chang