Just a few pictures from the May 12 Girl Scout trip. They did an impressive job of removing graffiti and picking up trash and were rewarded with some fun, muddy caving and eye-catching formations. Pictures taken in the “outer” mine area might show people without helmets or gloves.
Category: Trip Reports
After the painfully frigid dampness of Dutton’s, Dave Duguid, Ken Walsh, Jason Lachniet, and I strolled along the sunlit field over to Radon Cave. It didn’t take long to find out that Ken wouldn’t fit through the entrance crawl. We traded him a shovel for a cable ladder and left him behind.
When we reached the junction where the old traverse was, we were shortly joined by the grunting and hissing of a groundhog. He retreated down a side passage, but his stench lingered while Dave ascended 25 feet and rigged the cable ladder. After yet more belly crawling, we reached the pinch and the reason we’d brought along the hammer. Without Ken, extra tools were unnecessary, and we slid out into the Big Room effortlessly.
At first, it just looks like a big room, and I was so grateful to be standing up that I soaked it in. Then Dave told me to climb the small breakdown pile, and from there, it’s clearly a Big Room. Jason set stations, bouncing from one wall to the other until we reached the far end of the room, occasionally noting the faded carbide station markers from a previous survey. We surveyed a total of 300 feet. The ceiling height maxed out at 75 feet. We eyeballed a ledge about 15 feet above the pinch and agreed that someone could free climb most of the way and reach it with a few bolts. The only remaining leads would be high ones that are only visible and accessible from up there.
In the big room, we saw one live bat, one isopod, and the decayed remains of one groundhog-sized critter.
While we were surveying Ken enlarged the entrance crawl, and getting out was a breeze. At least, it was less miserable than it would have been.
Emily Graham, Dave Duguid, and Jason Lachniet seemed intent on exploring Radon Cave, but Dutton Cave would waylay them first because I was driving this weekend. I had estimated that fifteen survey shots would be all that were required to fully characterize this Cave Ridge cave, based on a scouting trip once before.
We entered the upper level, easily surveyed that single room with three different pits, and then dropped a cable ladder to the lower level. Jason and Dave took a westward turn and surveyed speedily down a decorated passage that twisted its way back to some small rimstone dams. Then it got tough.
Emily stood in the coldest spot between the three pits above while Dave and Jason surveyed over, under, and around numerous fins and random tubes. The water level in the pool was at least four feet lower than during my previous trip to the cave, so there was even more to explore (where I didn’t quite fit). The Cowl and The Sombrero were the more interesting blackened formations decorating this area. However, the strangest thing we noticed was a stone platform beside the pool. Someone had used flat rocks to build a four-foot high platform long ago at the water’s edge more than forty feet below the entrance.
It was nice to total 434 feet of survey (32 survey stations) by the halfway point in our cave trip that day and finish the survey of another Smyth County, Virginia cave.
I had a blast on my first real caving adventure. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was just what I was looking to do. I have been in caves before, but this was the first time I had the freedom to go where I wanted and had the potential to go into uncharted territory. The small cave entrances were a bit of a surprise to me. I didn’t really mind, but I was glad to get past them. Once we got into the cave, I couldn’t wait to continue exploring. Our original goal was to take some climbing gear and a scaling pole somewhat far into the cave to get up onto a ledge. We had no idea what was beyond the ledge, but that is the nature of exploring new territory! It’s possible it would dead end right away, or it could have been a whole new cave to discover. We decided to use the pole at another location near the cave’s entrance to climb up a wall. The pole ended up failing when Mark climbed up it about 15 feet. We had to abandon our original plan so David, Brian, and myself just explored the more accessible parts of the cave. Many of the rock formations were absolutely beautiful. Since this cave has only been explored by only a handful of people, the rock formations were in great shape. We also got some amazing pictures that I did not expect to get due to lighting. I decided not to bring a camera so I could just focus on the experience. Brian luckily had a great low light camera and experience with using head lamps and flashlights to get some great shots. One of my favorite parts was going down into the drain at the bottom of a huge room. It wasn’t an extremely tight fit, but it was nothing like I’ve ever done before. Several vertical climbs surrounded by rock that appeared to dead end just a few feet ahead. This eventually lead to a hallway that brought you to a huge room with a big vertical drop known as the pit. This is where we had to turn back because we didn’t have gear. I would definitely consider returning to this cave to go beyond this point.
On day two we went to Radon cave. I thought Snocone had some tight squeezes, but the entrance to this cave was about as tight as could be. It was about four feet wide, and the height was such that you had to crawl on your belly and couldn’t even take a deep breath at one point. What made this cave fun for me was that none of us had been very far into the cave so we didn’t know what to expect. I also got to learn a little bit about how to survey a cave. This cave clearly had been explored by “many” cavers over the years. I got to explore the cave a little bit by myself while the others were preparing to survey. I climbed down a wall and found a hole that we would eventually explore. The hole was about an eight foot drop so I had to wait for Dave to setup something for us to climb up and down. The anticipation to see where this would lead was very exciting. It didn’t go as far as I had hoped, but it was a good amount of space to survey in one day. I’m really lucky that Dave, Mark, and Carlin were willing to take a chance by bringing me on this trip without knowing my caving ability. Another caving trip is definitely in my future. This trip was just what I was looking for!
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.
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]
Just got back from Perkins cave today. My elbows and knees are a bit sore but having spent 14 hours underground yesterday I’m feeling pretty good. We got a lot accomplished. The trip consisted of three excellent teams who each surveyed over 1000’. In total we logged over 3200’ for the trip. Official numbers will come later after Jason gets the data in the computer.
Participating in the trip were:
Team #1: Jason Lachniet, Steve Ahn
Team #2: Amy Skowronski, Nick Socky
Team #3: Myself, Elliot Edling, Janet Manning
Rough timeline of my trip:
4pm – Sent out a late note to Jason confirming I was joining his trip. Still needed a place to sleep. Also, I had nothing packed and was still at work.
~6pm – Got off the phone with Bill Grose who even though he wasn’t caving, offered me a bed in his house for the night!
10:40pm – After braving the grocery store, and then later I some very heavy rain near Mt. Airy, NC, I landed at Bill’s place.
7am – Woke up for the day. Before I could leave, Bill spoiled me by making sausage and eggs. Much better than the food I had planned. Yum!
8:30am+ – Met up with the team in Meadowview, VA before caravanning to the cave property.
10:40am – I was the last to enter the cave. I think the longer I’ve been doing this, the longer it takes me to get ready.
10:45am – Met everyone else who was already in the register room checking instruments on a survey course Jason had setup to make sure there were no issues with anyone’s equipment.
1:??pm – We arrived on the other side of the 800’ crawl. From here we Jason and Steve went their own way while I led the others to leads Steve and I generated earlier this year. My team started by resurveying a shot I took issue with at the end of our last trip while Amy and Nick went off into passage where the flagging hanging in the walking passage was moving in the breeze.
Our passage was not quite as expected.
Although it began looking great, we quickly seemed to reach the end of our lead. This didn’t make a lot of sense considering the old map seemed to show a very long passage in the direction we were headed. Around this time Elliot dropped his glove down a small hole and couldn’t get it back. This motivated him to downclimb a hole originally perceived as something we’d rather try to bypass. Turns out the drop was not only the way to the glove, but also the best way forward. The bottom of the drop immediately produced three leads. Since we had a DistoX with us I was motivated to do the awkward shots first. After four shots, we decided we didn’t want to push that lead further as we found ourselves chimneying in less than stellar passage. Back to our other leads. Having poked my head in both directions I suggested we take the worse looking lead, saving the nice lead for something we could look forward to later. We never got back to that lead.
Survey where went started off crawly, but eventually opened into nice straight canyon passage. Just before reaching the steam we encountered an area we’ve come to call the “Juice Bar”. At the time Elliot was on point and he started giggling to himself after discovering it. Janet thought he was being weird until she met up with him and discovered what the fun was all about. There is a layer of “rock” in this area that we saturated such that it would ooze out water when pressed. We all agreed it was pretty neat.
We left one lead near the Juice Bar going downstream then continued upstream for some distance. We reached a point where two streams converge and we continued the tradition of starting into the less appealing passage. We stopped where it looked like we would get wet. Elliot checked the lead and reported it opens back into walking passage after 15’. He got his hands and lower legs wet going in, and not wanting to get wet myself I opted for the other stream lead. It started great with a lot of water and a pretty 4’ waterfall below us, but eventually we ended up in passage frequently narrower than my shoulders, but it was at least tall enough to stand. As a sketcher, it was especially annoying because the floor the stream meandered along was typically about 10’ wide but only 1-2’ high.
Finally, things in front of me started sounding better when Elliot reported pretties, but unstable looking breakdown. I ran ahead to join him to see if things were as fragile as he claimed. I climbed though with no issue and suddenly realized I was in known passage. Jason, Amy, and Janet had surveyed down to this level on the last trip. I started yelling with excitement about the loop closure we just managed. To add to it, I knew Jason and Steve were expected to return right over our heads before leaving, and before I could catch up with the sketching, they had descended to our level to fill bottles before leaving.
11pm – Everyone meet at the planned location and time just before the 800’ crawl. We snacked and chatted a bit before heading for the exit.
11:11pm – Entered Crawl.
12:40am – Arrived back at the cars. Made pretty good time on the way out having exited through the stream passage
After everyone was situated, we totaled our numbers and excitedly reflected on how productive we all had managed to be. It’s quite rare for every team on a cave survey trip to be so productive.
Steve and Jason left for home that night while the rest of us camped on the property. We exited for home the next day before the morning haze had fully cleared off the mountain.
Perkins cave makes me happy.
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.
by Kim Parks
When someone mentions they will be passing their Saturday by crawling through miles of narrow, underground passageways accompanied by quasi-strangers, the response is clear: me too! Answer as such and you find yourself in a minivan packed with fellow cavers, pouring over maps detailing a large network of below-grade paths with varying ceiling heights. Mark had graciously agreed to lead Alice, Jim, Ester, Andy, and me through Paxton’s cave, teaching a subset of us the basics of caving along the way. At this point I still (rather naively) believed both the map, that claimed that the lowest ceiling height would be a spacious 3 feet, and Mark, who asserted the only crawl would be a 10-foot stretch at the entrance. And here I was hoping to at least get a little muddy.
After catching some sleep in a hotel adorned with a fist-sized hole in the wall and filling up the energy reserves with some solid meals, we were suiting up at Paxton’s ready to venture behind the waterfall and into the cave. Once Paxton’s dog, Boomer, fully ‘christened’ Rob’s pack, and Alice finished the last touches on her impromptu belt made from duct tape, we were ready to go. Watching people disappear under a rock in front of you is not only exhilarating, but you know you are surrounded by like-minded adventurers when their first instinct is to follow suit. True to Mark’s promise, the first low section to reach the larger passage was indeed a fun crawl, and I was instantly hooked on caving.
Entering a few larger rooms, we found the first of many soda straws and helictites. You can’t help but be awed by the sight, especially considering the time needed for such beautiful formations to occur. Each room had many offshoots, and I was glad to be led someone who knew the way. Mark diligently bestowed the caver tenets: don’t trust the arrows or the elephant tracks, watch your head, and touch as little as possible, except for 3 points of contact. How reassuring to know these are no spelunkers, but instead responsible cavers. It was not long before we reached the incredible expanse of the Anthrodite Room, our throne room with Esther and Jim settled in as our king and queen.
After lunch, the adventuring continued. Our first surprise was some traces of cave wildlife. Wild, indeed, despite being inanimate. Some ambitious souls had trucked a few surprising items. Now, the Neanderthals of 50,000 years ago would have expressed their artistic side with cave drawings. Today’s humanity? Barbies, and a well-endowed Ken in compromising positions, watched by a power ranger and some dinosaurs. (….I’ll let you decide whether we have reached the apex of evolution yet.) Not long after we happened upon the elephant rock, (or horse, or ‘rock machine’, depending on who you asked), and we branched out from there to do some exploring, complete with some narrow squeezes. The most notable being one we had encountered earlier, dubbed the superman rock, given that in order to traverse this narrow crack, your body had to contort into flying-superman cave dive, at an awkward angle. This was followed later by a large tombstone rock, also a narrow squeeze.
Mark, with an eye on the time, suggested we travel back through the maze in order to trek in the general direction of the entrance. With three experienced cavers as part of the group, we were fortunate to have three compasses to consult to find north. Only… Mark pointed one way, Rob another, and Andy another. Hmm. It was about this time I thought it prudent to ask if Mark had ever gotten lost in this cave, and his answer was not reassuring (Hint: it wasn’t no). Interestingly, the more times we happened upon the same exact tombstone as before, the more we slowly transitioned to looking for survey tape, arrows, and elephant tracks.
It was about this time that ‘scouting trips’ became the norm, and during one time Mark ventured ahead to see what rooms he could uncover, we all extinguished our headlamps and laid back on the cool rock to let darkness envelope us. Having already covered the deeper icebreaker cave conversations of cow puns, death, God, and jokes about a small medium at large, we could sit back and enjoy the all-encompassing darkness. Mark reappeared with a route in mind, and if we followed enough of these said ways out, eventually one of them might not circle us back to a rock we had seen an hour prior. We started attempting some more challenging climbs, and some even tighter crawls (remember the 3-foot ceiling promise?), and this led us to the promising sign of leaves scattered at the bottom of the break down rooms.
It was with true disappointment that I finally heard the waterfall at the entrance, knowing that meant I wouldn’t get to spend the night in the throne room. Donned in mud from helmet to caving boots, our group emerged as a new round of cavers that had thoroughly enjoyed all the underworld had to offer. Was Paxton’s an excellent introduction to caving and the start to a new realm of adventure? To answer in Troglodyte fashion (per Andy’s suggestion): Good cave!