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.
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.
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.
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).
Wonderful veggie pizza dinner from VAR that evening (with the cave manager) and a beautiful night for camping.
ByLouis 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.
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!
Carlin, Andrew, Emily, Zeke, Elise, and Mark D. joined me in the drive up from North Carolina to help with the resurvey of Perkins Cave. We met Jason Lachniet, the cartographer, at the cave entrance, and he introduced us to their field house while Mark D. was trying to figure out if we’d have enough gasoline to return to the highway.
The eight of us travelled toward the Second Discovery section of the cave, where Jason is willing to let me survey for several trips (because I actually fit there). It was mostly straightforward in route-finding all the way out to the Pole Room. Then we started climbing a steep scree-like slope, only one person moving at a time. I was nearly at the top when I placed my cave pack on a ledge, and it rolled off the back. Boom, boom, boom all the way down to Andrew. Fortunately the back of the group took pity on me and carried the pack back up to me.
As we descended to the Second Discovery with a good drop to a ledge, we were delighted to see some amazing calcite rafts decorating the room. Jason’s team charged itself with surveying back to the Pole Room, and Emily, Elise, Andrew and I got to survey the big room with several formation-filled side leads. Emily did a great job of carefully navigating and surveying down the dead ends with the laser disto.
We eventually left the Second Discovery Room toward the U-Section. Emily ignored the main passage and led us beneath the Ballstoda Wall through a sandy crawlway that pushed my back against the ceiling. We dropped into a long passage marked by gypsum-flaked walls. But the flakes were four inches thick. Very pretty place to finish a short survey trip (about 400 feet in 17 new stations).
Perched atop the scree slope, we waited a long time for Carlin’s group to finish their connection survey. Then I cautiously and mostly correctly led the cavers out of Perkins while it was still daylight.
On Sunday Mark D. and I went to Big Sink Cave to finish the survey. Instead of knocking off the leads, we seemed to create more in the upstream end. Instead of closing out, the cave seems to keep going past an upstream breakdown pile (eight shots at 100 feet). We left the cave and met the landowner’s son as we changed back to our street clothes.
I still feel rusty, but it’s nice to be surveying again. Also nice to see Tanya McLaughlin again.
For many of us, caving has been on the back burner recently, but for four of us, this past weekend caving was back in the cards. The plan was Crossroads cave with some excellent camping at the RASS field station. I drove up with Peter, and we met Ken and Emily at the field station. It was great to see everyone face to face again.
Saturday we went caving.
We got to Crossroads cave a little before 11am, got dressed, and headed in around 11:30. I explored the entrance area for while everyone got settled in, then Emily led us into the rest of the cave. Our first destination was “The Pit” as that was a part of the cave the others had been to previously, but not gone too far beyond as they had spent most of there time lost in the “Lost and Found” section. Having learned their lesson, Emily was pretty quick to lead us to the pit without much route finding. At critical junctions, I tried getting my bearings, but as our exit journey made clear, I didn’t manage to get a good picture in my mind of every twist and turn. More on that later.
After arriving at the pit we went north to “Campsite” and started into “The Maze”. Of note on the map, we worked our way up toward the “Small Man’s Shortcut” with the hope of going further north, but the 8” squeeze size turned out to be a limiting factor. If nothing else, it was a classic Ken filter. I was the only one who pushed through it. After passing the restriction, avoiding to inhale too deeply, I ran about 200’ beyond the squeeze. After getting oriented to what as immediately beyond the squeeze, I turned around and rejoined the group.
After the squeeze, we explored the maze and found variety of nice formations. Ultimately, our turn around point was at the end of one of the southern arms of the cave. Unlike a lot of what we’d experienced up to that point, this passage there was relatively spacious at about 20’ wide passage with 10’ to 20’ high ceilings. All the walking was over breakdown boulders. In this passage there were also number of roots that were fairly clean and smooth. In other caves, I’ve previously seen both dirty and calcite covered roots, but these were the cleanest larger roots I’d ever seen. They looked like electrical cables. It was similar to poorly hidden wiring in a show cave, only here the only lights we could find were attached to our heads.
At the end of this passage, we also found an interesting intact top half of a brachiopod fossil with a very distinctive center ridge.
At this point it was about 4:30 and time to head out. Navigating the maze back to the pit was pretty straight forward after all the earlier exploring we had done. Getting back to the entrance room was another story. I tried to lead us out, but had a rare experience of not knowing which turn to take. Usually I have a very strong visual memory of every cave passage I’ve been through, but this section was a blank spot in my mind. I deferred to the others, but they didn’t give me great confidence right away that they knew were to go. Ultimately Ken stepped up to the plate, and was able to point us in the right direction at a couple critical junctions. Unfortunately somewhere in our navigating, we missed a turn and found ourselves right back at the point where I originally deferred to the others for navigation help. Hmmmm, time to panic? Getting lost is definitely something that can get your heart rate up. Well, we decided to try the loop again, more cautiously this time and found the missing turn. After making that new turn, it was still a little confusing, but Ken came to the rescue again and clarified yet another critical junction. After that it was a fairly easy trip up and back to the entrance room.
We exited around 6:30 after 7+ hours underground. On the way out we did take a few breaks, so the time wasn’t all spent going in circles. If nothing else, getting lost and then found again really increases the sense of accomplishment after a caving trip. It certainly helps make the trip more memorable.
That night we had dinner back at the field station. We hiked down to the river near the property and skipped a few rocks. After the river we took a stroll around the amazing property before heading back to the pavilion. At dusk I saw a bat flying by, and after dark the fireflies and whippoorwills kept the night alive.
Sunday we went caving.
This time it was a quick trip to Island Ford. Conveniently not too far off of the road home, with easy access, we entered the cave following the dry high route and exited through the river.
Seven members of the Triangle Troglodytes Grotto (Michelle Cavalieri, Michael McBride, Elena Morgan, Elise Sanderson, Emily Graham, Tanya McLaughlin, and Ken Walsh) visited West Virginia Cave Conservancy’s Hancock Cave Preserve on October 3, 2020. They performed several surface tasks to establish a relatively safe trail from the road to the cave entrance up along the steep mountainside. The TriTrogs cleared bottles and cans dropped near the roadside, labeled a walking path with flagging tape to the stream, removed an unsightly manmade object from the property (a mailbox), and used found rocks to construct dozens of steps that now form a safer pathway to and from the cave entrance. The natural look to the pathway camouflages it from the road, but future improvements may be necessary as the elements erode the trail where it crosses some water courses.