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

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. 

Rass field station

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.

Crossroads cave entrance

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.

Cave formations

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.  

Underground tree root

At the end of this passage, we also found an interesting intact top half of a brachiopod fossil with a very distinctive center ridge. 

Brachiopod fossil

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. 

Group of cavers

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.

Carlin standing at cave exit

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.

Rass field station at sunset

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. 

Island Ford cave

Fun was had by all.

Full picture gallery

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.

Photos by Emily Graham

Trip Report for GSS 602, Biscuits and Gravy Cave

    On Saturday, March 7th 2020, while at the Florida Cave Crawl hosted by the Flint River Grotto, I had the privilege of accompanying 8 other cavers into GSS number 602, also known as Biscuits and Gravy Cave.

    Upon arriving at the Cave Crawl campground, my companion, John Graham and I immediately sought out the sign-up sheets for the weekend’s trips, as they tend to fill up quickly. John, at a youthful age of 73, requested I pick a moderate cave for us to enjoy. John was a member of a now defunct Capital Area grotto and had not been underground in 20 or more years. After some discussion with some locals, we decided on Biscuits and Gravy, as the map showed it to be longer than the typical Florida dry cave, but not so lengthy that energy levels would be spent entirely on the one cave.

    On Saturday morning, we rose to a brisk 36 degree Florida morning and joined up with a group of cavers who varied from long time cavers from Indiana to a few new cavers from Tallahassee, 2 of which had never been in a cave before. Our guide was Nathan Dunfee, a caver local to the area and familiar with the cave. As sometimes happens, the quest to get to the cave was just as much as an adventure as being in the cave! The caravan to the cave was set to leave at 10:00 AM (CST), but at 10:05 it was quite apparent that our time frame may have been in need of adjustment. The group of new comers were no where to be found. After some searching, they turned up, and we set out. However, some head lamps needed fresh batteries, and one of the vehicles needed refueling, so the request was made to stop at a gas station that would take both needs into account. The stop was a bit of a mess. Gas was easily obtained, but it seemed the price of batteries was a bit steep, and those who needed the batteries quickly began to work with the local gas attendant on a map to the closest Dollar General, or better yet, Dollar Tree, in order to find batteries that were cheaper than the $7 asking price at the current stop. Just a reminder, we were currently at a Gas Station name “Blondies” in the middle of “nowhere” near the junction of Florida, Alabama and Georgia. There was absolutely 0 enthusiasm on our guide’s face at this point! Luckily, intelligence prevailed and $7 was sacrificed to the attendant at “Blondies” gas station, and we were on our way once more. (I was able to snag a pair of Cow Tales to share, as John had never had one before).

    After about an hour of driving, and countless tiny, trailer filled towns cruised through, we found our way down an ungated dirt road to a limestone quarry in the southwest corner of Georgia. The quarry had seen years of disuse but was currently mining small amounts of “medical grade” lime, so there were a few piles of white gravel and powder near our parking area, as well as some modern equipment scattered amongst the dilapidated piles of mining equipment. Among the piles or rubble were large amounts of shell fossils, which made for an interesting exploration of the parking area. After a quick look around, we geared up. I had recently purchased a new caving suit, a new helmet and a new pair of head lamps (AV 2 piece, Mammut El Cap and 2 Zebralights) and was excited to try them out. The new 2 piece caving suit immediately struck me as an improvement, as I always have trouble getting my shoulders into the one piece suit I have. The jacket portion of the suit was a breeze to get on, and the pants were similar to what I have previously used, except with the addition of a built in belt.

    The quarry proper had not been worked in long enough that trees that were likely 20 years old or more were growing along the floor, and the view was much like the quarry at Santos in Central Florida. Large boulders that resembled fossilized coral lined the narrow path to the Cave’s two entrances. Nathan was kind enough to take us to the larger of the 2 entrances, which was still a pretty tight squeeze. The entrance rock was jagged and sharped, and 4 tight turns downward needed to be wiggled through to enter the first “room”. The choice of “Feet first or headfirst” was mentioned, and in true to myself fashion, I dove in head first. At the second narrow bend, approximately 10 feet into the cave, while head down at an about 70-degree angle, my Banana Pack (around my waist), seemed to get snagged on a jagged rock. There was very little room to turn, and as both hands were stretched out in front of me, I was momentarily trapped hanging upside down. I was eventually able to work an arm back through the hole I was passing through, and immediately worked my hand to a spot to unclasp the belt on the Banana Pack. I’d previously been in similar situations and was unconcerned. However, in previous cases, I’d had on my trusty one-piece cave suit, and no where in my mind did I have the thought that I now had 2 belts and 2 clasps around my waist. Once the clasp that my hand found was unclipped, I found that there was no change to the situation. I gave a little bounce by shifting my body weight, and I was mobile again. However, as fell forward, my pants, now with an unbuckled belt, snagged on another rock and pulled down to my knees. The crotch of the pants bound on another rock, locking me in place yet again. The caver behind me, on seeing that I had moved, stepped down, wisely feet first, and in a position where he could not see his feet, promptly came to rest on the bound up pants between my knees. I was once again stuck, but this time hanging upside down, my upper half dangling in the first room of the cave, pants around my knees and stuck on a rock with a caver holding them in place. Had I been in a tighter place, I may have died from the laughter. Eventually, through tears of laughter, I was able to communicate to the caver above that he’d need to lift his feet so I could free myself, and with some acrobatics, I was able to flip myself around. I flopped onto the soft sand pile at the bottom of the entrance, pants around my ankles, and was successfully inside Biscuits and Gravy Cave.

    After clearing the entrance to the first room, and replacing my pants, I moved off through the room to explore as the rest of the group entered. The area of the cave we entered was obviously a stream passage, with a smooth floor that had rippled sand from the last rain. The area around the sand area on the floor was dried mud but would obviously make for a sticky mess when wet. The powdery lime of the ceiling trailed down to the mud, and the name of the cave became obvious. Fragments of a box turtle shell were along one wall, with a few scutes lying nearby. The ceiling was the typical white chalk limestone filled with small shells that I’ve seen in most Florida caves. 2 bats were noted in the first room, and a quick jaunt into a side room found a 3rd. I shimmied up a mud crawl to enter another large room. This room was the highlight of the trip. Through out the room were fossils that resembled Sea Urchins. Some were fossilized in a way to see their toothed mouths open, and others had numerous shed spines around them. Spiraled shells, shells with protrusions and tube-like creatures were imbedded all around. A large claw, similar to a crab’s, was found on a ledge.

    After about an our and a half of exploring, the majority of the group moved off along a crawl way to see another area of the cave, but 3 of us decided to exit the cave. I made my way topside, and while John chose to head back to the cars, the other 2 of us decided to check out a small cave perched about 35 feet up along the quarry wall. The climb was slightly exposed, and the rock very fragile, so I alone ended up in this unnamed cave. I explored the twilight area and after about 200 feet of passage came to an obvious dig. The dig looked to proceed about 50 feet through the sand with a ceiling height of about 2 feet, so I made my way back to the sun light and the sketch down climb.

   We met up with the other cavers soon thereafter, got changed into our day clothes, and made the trip back to the campground for the evening festivities. Flint River Grotto is filled with kind, knowledgeable cavers, and they put on a fantastic Crawl. I’d definitely suggest a trip to visit them, but with the foreknowledge that Florida Caves are different than most of the caves we may be used to.

TriTrogs and BCCS cavers got frosty before digging in
Butler Cave on 1-18-20 for Butler Project Weekend #205
Exploring Low Moor Cave on 1-19-20

By Elise Sanderson

Party Members:
Walsh, Lisa Lorenzin, Megan Junod, Axel Ribeille, Elise Sanderson.

Chris Flannagan joined on 1-19 for Low Moor Cave.

The first Tritrog trip of the year almost began bust with plans changing, cavers having to cancel, and injuries aloof. As Mike, Lisa, and myself were going to be at BCCS doing project weekend, and Mike was out with an injury, we melded 2 trips into one successful excursion with 5-6 cavers.

We stayed at The Roost Friday, and with a VERY cold humid start to the Saturday morning, we made our way to the homestead to plan out trips. With ice covering most surfaces, we had to be careful. Changing clothes outside with ice on the ground in open air was quite a blast, and the SOFA entrance to Butler Cave was very reassuring warmth. Looking back, this was my first cold weather caving, and it was a totally new experience. This cold reminded me of the miserable desert mornings before the 130 degree sun came up in Afghanistan, only with ice everywhere, and little sun to warm.

Around 15 people had stayed at the homestead, and a few BCCS members (Max, Mark, Nathan, others) joined us on the tour before the digging commenced. We started into Butler Cave to do the see the Bean Room Overlook with a gnarly 100+ft drop then through to 90 Ugh to Sand Canyon. We went to the natural Bridge upstream, which is where the dry cave portion ended. Before this trip I’d freshly bought and then promptly forgot my Wellies in my car, in a different state (NC). To boot, Max and I had non-waterproof vented combat boots, so on the way to the air dig things got interesting.

Getting to the air dig requires going down an underground stream, which everyone loved Max and I rock hopping along. But, full admittance, at the end with no dry rock in sight.. Lisa wanted to carry me, but I wouldn’t let her since she weighs 30 pounds less than me, so Axel carried me downstream. Then Max got carried by Ken, and we were at the air digsite shortly after. Ken made the comment that the Marine and Naval Academy Midshipman (Student) had to be carried over water, which was a great look back at the traversal.

The digsite is exceptionally well thought out, designed, well abused, and the most fun ive had working underground yet. Phil Lucas’ system is smart and fun to use for sure. The system takes at least 8-10 people to operate, uses a sled on PVC tracks in one section, and an overhead hoist line and pulley system on the other half. We worked the dig with more BCCS members Mark Hodge, Amos Mincin, Sarah Xenophon, Eric Pelkey, Daniel Tucker, Nathan Roser. Amos and Sarah had just popped a big rock, and after clearing that debris we made a few feet of progress on the face. When we collectively stopped digging for the day, the tunnel had visibly changed direction twice, chicaning to the right, then left and continuing straight. This is big news in a tunnel that has been going almost totally straight for 15 years of digging!

Fun fact, trash bag waders don’t work for very long on rocks, as I found out the hard way on the way out. We egressed with some fun crawling on the Blue Ribbon Loop, and upon exiting every grass blade was frozen and the cars were almost fully iced shut. This made stripping wet clothes off exceptionally fun, as everything you could lean against while mostly naked was frozen and ice cold. After we all got back to the roost, Lisa, Megan and myself went back over to the Homestead to hang out with everyone before heading to Low Moor in the Morning.

—Low Moor Mine and Cave—

The five of us met Chris Flannagan, who drove up from Durham, at Penny’s Diner which made our party six. The drive to the mine was short, and driving into a mine to park before caving is pretty wild. Low Moor mine and cave consists of vast hollowed open area 30+ vertical feet of open mine topside, then below ground a miniature “Mines of Moria” with vast open areas 100+ft tall, with even bigger pillars holding it steady. Sadly Durin’s Bridge must have been skipped in this mine, or Gandalf already remodeled here. No signs of a Balrog either thankfully, just some crappy graffiti vandals.

The cave has wide passages with lots of eccentric hurdles to navigate, and small passages linking other similar passages. Occasional calcite features scatter the area, all semi to fully covered in soot from heavy equipment diesel making them black. There is gypsum flowers and other crystalline features in both Low Moor and Butler Caves. After Lisa, Megan, and myself called it good for the day, Ken, Axel, and Chris proceeded to let us know there was plenty more caving to be had, as they learned after we stopped. I’m excited to go back to discover the plank and other features, maybe when I wasn’t exhausted from digging.

This was great first trip of the year, with getting to meet many people and getting away for a bit. HUGE thanks to all involved in making it happen! Sorry about the delay in the report, information and names were being collated!

Elise Sanderson

11/16/19 | Trip Report | Marion, VA | Big Sink Cave

Party Members: Ken Walsh, Michael McBride, Carlin Kartchner, Taylor Tibbs, & Rodney Uriarte

The survey group prepared to enter Big Sink Cave on a pleasantly dry and not-too-cold Saturday morning. They entered the gates of the cow pasture and descended down the side of a hill to the small tunneled entrance. Once everyone had slipped inside, they were greeted with the iconic scene that gives Big Sink its delightful moniker – Big Stink. The local residents had generously left more odorous presents than they had in the previous surveys. Fortunately, the group’s nostrils weren’t offended for too long as they quickly split into two teams. Carlin and Rodney set out to profile the previous D and E surveys. Meanwhile, Ken, Michael, and Taylor began down the short semi-dry crawl to the stream passage to answer the always puzzling question: where does water end? A small cave salamander gave salutations as they passed. As they began the F survey, Ken sketched while Michael and Taylor shouted mostly agreeable numbers. While on their journey, the group met some surprisingly large and friendly crawfish. Good eatin’ Michael claimed. One even so trusting crustacean curled up under Taylor’s shoe while she was reading a station. The stream passage narrowed to a tight 2 feet and the sociable crawfish made the roughly 40 feet of splashing and floundering through the narrow space more enjoyable. The stream continued on, opening up briefly to wrap around a mostly dry room approximately 10×10 foot wide with an overhead message of “1997 S.” Beyond this room, Michael dug out some mud so that Taylor could crawl through a short, but tight squeeze that revealed that the stream made a roughly 25 foot bend before dissipating into a murky, bubbling sump, – much to Ken’s dismay, as the water did not travel back Northwards. The two groups reunited and finished a few more survey stations upstream. On the outward ascent Rodney diligently recovered most of a long line of string that had trailed through the cave. The group’s final trek towards the entrance was temporarily impeded by a rather large and confused raccoon wondering why the sun was rising inside of the cave rather than out.

[Ed: more than 1500 feet of cave to visit, most of which is now string-free]

Sunday, the day you wake up questioning if you really made the best choices the day before. What would your parents think of your decisions? Are you too old for these shenanigans?

These are common thoughts during caving weekend. You go into the weekend stoked about getting in multiple days, but then after you make a hard push on Saturday, you consider scaling back your ambitions. Disney+ just came out, maybe we should go home and try that instead.

But no. We’ve got caves to ‘splore.

This weekend, the trip the day before wasn’t actually too bad, but I’ll leave the details and color for that trip to someone else. Helpfully, we also made a fairly leisurely start to the day, not getting to the vicinity of the cave until after 11am.

The cave of the day was Stones #2. In past years the Tri-trogs surveyed the nearby Stones #1 and Cassell caves, but ended up saving this one for later. During the survey of those caves, Dave and I located the entrance to this cave and did some quick exploring to get an idea for what to expect. One thing we learned from that trip was that our access path was less than ideal. We basically climbed down and up a cliff to get there. Was there a better way?

At a later date, Ken had made a trip to checkout the possibility of non-cliff access, and thought he’d found something very convenient just across the river. When we drove there this time, “what, No Tresspassing”?! So we drove around to find another way. What did the top of the cliff look like? Oh, a brand new fence, thats nice, and annoying. We also didn’t have permission to park where we had been parking previously. Talking to strangers is hard. We did, however, find a way.

There was a nice parking pull out where we could walk along the river to our destination. Before suiting up, we made the short trek through the woods to determine the feasibility of access, and determined this new path would work out great even if we did step over a deer carcass to get there.

So, back to the car, then back to the cave. Cross the river. Don’t slip and fall. Oh, the water went over the top of your boots, too bad. It was cool that day, but not too bad. The sun was shining with almost no clouds in the sky. Once we got inside out of the breeze, the cave was rather pleasant. A little animal scat, but compared to Big Sink it was unremarkable.

As for the survey, it was rippin’ speedy. I was setting stations, Ken was on book, Taylor and Rodney were on instruments. After a bit of struggles with the first shot, we were off to the races. On a couple occasions I got ahead of the team with my station setting, and was able to do a little solo surveying, leaving my red LED at the opposite station, getting foresights and backsights of course, and recording the numbers in my book separately to hand off to Ken.

The cave itself has two entrances, very close to each other that lead into the main room. There is a side passage that seems to parallel the cliff/river, but eventually got too tight for my hips. Through a steep uphill crawl too tight for hands and knees, there is an upper room about 15 feet high. Weirdly enough, in that room there were roots embedded in the climb to the top part of that room, and there was also a slug on the ceiling, something I’ve never witnessed in cave before. The cave also had four bats scattered on the ceiling throughout the cave. Neat, better than Hancock.

The best part of the whole trip was that although I was rushing the pace a bit so I could get back in time for my ultimate Frisbee games, we got the whole thing surveyed. Yeah, all of it! The whole thing. 334 feet in the book! Woo-hoo. It felt super good. We left the cave feeling accomplished and made a quick change back at the car.

On the way home, the real world started to creep back in. Things like grad school, unemployment, and ultimate were the topics of the drive. The highs and lows of the weekend started to fade into the background as we made sure Ken didn’t fall asleep to the freeway lullaby. It was great to get outside, but we couldn’t stay there forever. It was nice to get away for a moment though, however brief it felt. We should go caving more often.

I’m thankful that Smyth County had little rain in September and early October.

I’m thankful I had an umbrella on Sunday morning,

Thankful that Mark Little and Michael McBride agreed to help me survey Big Sink Cave on Saturday,

Thankful that I still had one clean (but wet) glove when exiting Big Sink Cave,

Thankful that Michael prepared a full breakfast buffet for the TriTrogs,

Thankful that Mark and Michael snipped up the old barbed wire fence that has always been a tripping hazard,

Thankful that Michael has experience building trails and was willing to start drawing up plans for a new approach trail to Hancock Cave’s entrance,

Thankful that Tanya McLaughlin let us stay at her house and shared so many naturalist suggestions for the trail,

Thankful that the snoring from downstairs only mildly penetrated the upstairs floor I was sleeping on,

Thankful that Tanya came out to Hancock Cave on Sunday to share stories about Hancock Cave with the van drivers for the National Cave and Karst Management Symposium,

Thankful that Mr. Harrington allowed us to visit the back entrances to the cave,

Thankful that Drunk Dave led Michael and Emily Graham off so that more Sunday lunch food was available for me,

Thankful that Kim Parks prepared an incredible lunch for us on Sunday,

And incredibly indebted to Kim, Emily, Michael, Pete Hertl, Rodney Uriarte, and Elise Sanderson helped lead four good Hancock Cave trips for the Symposium field trip participants.

Thanks to all the people who made this weekend’s trips such a success.