So glad I got to join Phil Sullivan and Nick Taylor for a brisk survey in Buchanan Saltpeter Cave. After a prolonged effort to calibrate multiple electronic instruments, I think Sully was glad that I had Suuntos along to provide backsights. Still in the twilight zone, we started surveying  across a wide, decorated room but stopped when the 30-foot-wide pool from wall to wall got 2” deep.

From there we headed back toward the entrance where Sully had identified multiple other leads breaking away from the twilight zone. I felt embarrassed bumping my shoulder as I tried to swing my torso up onto a ledge. Fortunately Sully helped me with the climb (by hauling me) and rigged a bit of webbing to facilitate the climb down.

We found a short passage out of the cold January temps where a tri-colored bat was wintering. That short room felt like a sauna compared to the other entrance areas we surveyed (areas where big brown bats were sleeping). The upper passage seemed to continue beyond a great pit, but the cliff where we stood offered no access. I assessed that I might be able to find the room at the base of the pit from the entrance ( it worked!), and we set a survey station in the middle of a huge decorated room with multiple rimstone and flowstone banks.

From the entrance again we surveyed a walking passage to the huge decorated room with multiple rimstone and flowstone banks. Along the way Sully climbed into another upper passage that brought him to the same place that Nick and I walked to. I noticed a 2”-deep pool at the far end of this room but chose to survey a crawlway that returned us again to the entrance.

We sketched the cave passages that we had measured. I proved that I didn’t need Sully’s help at that torso swing climb, and we closed the loop between the two leads with 2” of water. Nick and I appreciated that we were wearing Wellies. 

We wanted to assess a few leads from the huge room to start the next trip. One climb led up to the continuation of our upper passage. The other one snuck past a flowstone cascade into a passage that may be the prettiest I’ve seen in Smyth County. Ready for the next survey trip.

Rehoboth Church is known for being the oldest existing church building in West Virginia. It surely holds many secrets but one of the coolest ones is definitely the entrance to a beautiful cave nearby. On the 30th of September Ken Walsh, Emily Graham, Taylor Tibbs, Mark Daughtridge, and I headed there for a cave photoshoot.

We got some great photos featuring Mark and Taylor in the Zoo Room and Emily on the way to the Kondasum Room. In Kondasum we saw the beautiful spiral column formation. Then through the Long Room we got to the muddy “sliding board” room. It holds a muddy slope steep enough that with a bit of water poured over it, it turns into a slide which we very much enjoyed multiple times while getting progressively more muddy and wet, to the point where we needed a webbing just to climb a couple of feet on a much less steep slope on the other side of the slide.

On Sunday we went to Links Cave for a quick trip. We saw disk-like formations with stalactites flowing down from them which could be shields although they were not as smooth as one might expect which indicates that they could be flowstones which formed over piles of dirt before that dirt got washed away. Ken also pointed out to me a very beautiful white formation flowing down along the wall in the shape of the tangent function.

The cave ends with a tight curved tunnel after which there is one more small room which Mark and I managed to squeeze into. The room does not have any interesting formations but there is a squeeze leading from it which unfortunately was not large enough for any of us to even hope to fit in. Overall, it was a fun exercise in squeezes and crawls.

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.