Nick, Eric, and Bill from Walker Mountain Grotto joined Eric, Emily, Pete, and me for a bat count/graffiti cleanup trip in Hancock Cave on February 19. The cave is owned by the West Virginia Cave Conservancy and a sporting cave for cavers. Emily led us through much of the cave, Bill discovered a tusk/rib bone in the mud, Pete led Eric and Nick up the steep climb to the High Route, the Erics, Emily, and Nick wiggled into the Comic Book Hole, we counted a limited number of bats and found the Funnel Tunnel full of water, and I rubbed out directional arrows from spray paint and other anthropogenic origins.
Category: Trip Reports
[All photos below from Peter T. Hertl]
Winter forecasts for the mountains are traditionally subject to change each hour. Therefore, I tried to plan a trip with multiple possible objectives, ready for the weather to keep us guessing. Bring along the cable ladder, multiple sets of survey gear, lots of webbing, extra books, but leave the raft at home.
Pete Hertl, Emily Graham, Mark Daughtridge, and I started the day in the drier cave at the top of the Smyth County hill, Cassell’s Cave. We began surveying up a muddy climb into the Truffle Passage, where Mark sniffed out the places to set survey stations. We quickly rose to a peak and then descended into the passage beyond. Down a long slope to the edge of a pit. Mark descended the 24-foot deep pit, and then Pete set off to retrieve the cable ladder.
I had left the cable ladder just 100 feet back, but Pete’s voice disappeared. I sent Emily to the top of the slope to contact him. I heard her calling several times. Pete had retraced his steps all the way back to the entrance; they eventually retrieved the cable ladder while I kept Mark company while he sat at the bottom of the pit. Mark announced that the cave seemed to continue in two directions at the bottom of the pit, but both directions looked tight.
After Pete, Emily, and I descended the cable ladder set in a dripping waterfall, we were less impressed by the leads. Mark pushed his body into one lead and kept snorting and shoving, but I don’t think his feet ever left the room where we stood. Emily chose to survey the opposite lead and gleefully wallowed beneath an archway. Pete and I surveyed toward her, and then we sent Mark wallowing after her. The tiny archways (one foot high by one foot wide) petered out, and I could barely peer through the mousehole where Emily had crawled.
After that adventure Emily just slipped right into the lead that had befuddled Mark. That side deadended quickly too, so the Cassell’s Cave survey is complete after we added 190 more feet. We were all muddy messes when we exited the cave.
Pete was feeling lucky with his camera, so we headed down the hill to Stone’s #1 Cave. I was amazed that the insurgence was almost completely dry. Pete photographed the golden Aztec writings and the orange Hot Air Balloon formation, and we headed home that evening after a dinner with Tanya McLaughlin, our gracious host who found these caves for us.
For fairer weather one would dare not ask,
And better company could scarce be found
For spending hours of labor underground—
If barely so—for we had set our task
(And my excitement I could barely mask)
At digging, hauling, sorting pound by pound
A century of rubbish most profound,
So that among our spoils, we might then bask.
A dozen cavers got themselves arranged
Above, below, and sev’ral in between.
As full and empty buckets were exchanged,
A salamander and some bats were seen;
I wonder if they think us all deranged,
At work so hard to make their trash pit clean.
Read a proper trip report on Walker Mountain Grotto’s blog.
Dave, Emily, and I drove up to Smyth County for a fun survey of previously reported caves. Tanya had made a great impression on the new landowner who didn’t even know about the caves located very close to his house. We slept in on Saturday morning, so we weren’t ready to go when Laurel, Karston, and Carlin arrived.
The seven of us parked at the owner’s house on the morning when Hurricane Matthew was making landfall in North Carolina. The rain had already stopped for the day.
We walked directly to Cassell’s Cave, exactly where we expected it to be. Then Emily and I headed downhill and found Stone’s Cave #1 within five minutes, despite the fact that the weeds were over my head. Carlin introduced Karston to his first wild caving, but Karston didn’t seem impressed.
Back at Cassell’s Cave, I was the first to slide down the webbing and was relieved to find a sloping ledge running beside the steep pit inside the entrance. The ledge led me down onto a ridge in a BIG room. The ridge ran the length of the 250-foot-long room, but the ridge dropped off more than twenty feet on the left side. And the cave was well-decorated.
Laurel sent Carlin back for his camera while Dave, Emily, and I began the survey. This little cave had been reported as containing a long well-decorated room, but we were not expecting the cave to be this fascinating and dripping with formations. We surveyed 748 feet of passage that day, helping Dave map out the whole room. Then we noticed several leads on the left, both high and low.
We also noticed some children’s voices coming from the entrance and thought that Karston and Laurel had returned for us; it was around 8 PM. However, it turned out that the landowner’s four- and five-year-olds were at the entrance with him speculating about all the jewels that might be inside.
I exited to show the landowner and six kids where Stone’s Cave #1 was located. We had a talk about safe cave exploration as he drove me around on the family SUV. We drove back to the Cassell’s Cave entrance to find Dave, Emily, and Carlin exiting. The landowner drove us down to my car, and Dave shared the sketches with him to let him know more about the cave beneath his property.
Ask Carlin to share some photos.
It was great that Carlin signed up last minute for the survey trip. That meant I could send him with Amar and Matthew Lubin to the low, wet part of the cave while Sam Kincade and I sketched profiles and photographed.
Sam and I traveled down to Sculpin Lake and measured the depth at 8 feet. My photos of the fish did not come out well. Then I completed my profile of the cave as we worked our way on the wet level over toward the Candy Room.
Sam quickly learned how to pose for cave photographs (I guess this comes from growing up in the social media age). Eventually Carlin’s team of soaked cavers joined us at the entrance.
It was the best of teams,
it was the worst of tie-ins,
it was the spring of unexplored leads,
it was the cesspool of despair.
On Saturday Carlin Kartchner and I joined Jason Lachniet for my first visit to Perkins Cave in Washington County, Virginia. While we were donning our caving gear, the ACC workday cleanup crew cleared us a path through the weeds and poison ivy. As we entered the cave, Carlin made sure that I avoided a nest of baby birds on a ceiling shelf.
Up and down through the cave we followed Carlin back to a mop up lead he hadn’t quite finished. The up-and-down refers to the changes from standing to lying prone over and over again. We worked our way back to Carlin’s previous survey. He had apparently been surveying through dry walking passages encrusted in gypsum walls.
Our mop-up leads began where the walls got wet and muddy—when we could find walls. We surveyed into breakdown to create a 100-foot loop and sopped up our clothes real well. No time to get cold because we then headed for the opposite side of the cave. Along the walking way, Jason treated us to the Antlers, formations that look like albino lions’ tails.
The next destination was right before the beginning of the 800-Foot Crawl. To get there, we needed to go up the 50-Foot Climb (Jason explained that the original surveyors showed little creativity in naming passages). Carlin found a “simpler” way to navigate the top of the climb by pressing into a fissure and then pushing upward. As I climbed up and looked, I asked, “Will I fit?”
“I don’t see why not,” Carlin replied.
The extra two inches of depth to my chest were the factor that Carlin hadn’t considered. I exhaled and shoved my chest through. Then I spent two minutes sucking in my belly while floundering my arms to move up six more inches. I was comfortably thinking about Pooh Bear and the honey pot when I recognized that I likely wouldn’t go up or down from here. A lack of toe holds meant that I couldn’t push my hips through, and my arm pushing just pushed me sideways into positions that seemed to enlarge my hips. Carlin dropped some webbing from my pack, and the foot loop was exactly what I needed to clamber out of the fissure.
The next survey was just a short distance away, and then we fought over who would do the sketching. Jason lost the draw but found it relatively easy to sketch with the stations we were setting; Carlin and I barely stayed ahead of him. The well-decorated dry passage ended in a formation choke with blowing air coming from a virgin area beneath the hill. Our combined surveys in Perkins that day netted 36 stations and 1046 feet.
For the trip out, Carlin guided us upstream along the Stream Passage, so everything was uphill and wet. Great trip to come out around 11 PM. “It is a far, far longer survey that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
On Sunday I unintentionally drove the cows away from Sheep Cave in Smyth County. After getting past the poison ivy trees, Tanya McLaughlin, Carlin, and I surveyed up into the balcony and through the one side passage we had skipped last winter. We netted about 100 feet in survey, but the best part is that we’ll never have to return to that cave.
Emily Graham and her niece Ava enjoyed a short tour of Rehoboth Church while I readied my camera gear. No sign of Anuj. Luckily Emily had cell service and was able to confirm that the trip number had dropped to three.
Inside the cave entrance we ran into another group exiting because of a boot epic fail. We plunged deeper to search for the cave-adapted salamander. I photographed some salamanders losing pigment, but there was no sign of the transparent salamander we found last summer.
As we neared the sump, we discovered 2-foot seedlings growing down from the ceiling in several locations. The gravel bank was built up enough to allow us to crawl into the sump area. We found a big bullfrog and another small frog living there, and Ava and Emily helped
me take photos.
From there, Ava led us up into the Sand Passage for a snack break. We traveled down the passage until we found the low crawlway that extended out of sight.
After a few more photos in the stream passage, Ava led us through the Long Room and back to the sliding board. Gosh it was slippery. And we got very muddy.
Emily and Ava led us through the Zoo Room with no sightings of clay sculptures. We stopped once more for photos before exiting the cave and captured the magnitude of the mud we had picked up.
Pete Hertl, Emily Graham, and I enjoyed a gloriously warm February Sunday in Marion, Virginia. We parked about 90 feet below the Beaver Creek Cave entrance and quickly became envious of Emily’s clean caving gear. Fortunately the warm temps made our damp coveralls cool us off as we climbed the sheer hillside.
After forcing my body sideways into the entrance slot three inches at a time, I pulled out the survey notes to start sketching the cave profile. I was dismayed to realize that I had removed all of my pencils from that pack for the previous day’s bat count. Pete and Emily must’ve thought that I was a lazy bum for not wanting to descend and then climb right back up the hillside, but the truth is that the entrance squeeze is particularly tight for me.
Fortunately Emily the artist had a fat sharpie in her pack, and I was able to sketch like a six-year-old. We were also lucky that the survey objectives were mainly to search out dead leads, draw a profile, and verify the cartographer’s draft plan map. No detailed sketching needed. The problem was that we had to share the sharpie.
I embarked on my quest to build a profile view of the cave while Pete and Emily verified the map. They found the leads off of the first room very confusing even when they were standing there, so I got a head start towards the Beaver Croak Room. The ledges there were what I found confounding and had to correct on the map.
Pete and Emily surveyed down a terminal lead that was easy for me to sketch, and then we descended to Sculpin Lake. Unlike our previous visit, the lake water was many inches deeper. A sculpin swam right up to Pete before the tight spot, and we knew that room and some others at the bottom of the cave were off limits for the day.
Instead of dropping down the pit at the Circus Bear Passage, we chose to wind our way to the Candy Room through the horizontal paths. We were greeted by many pretty formations and cleared up some of the leads that had appeared on the earlier sketches. Now I think I can improve the draft map.
Pete and Emily led the way out of the cave and then watched me struggle my way out of the entrance. On such a gloriously warm day, we surveyed to the heavy spring in the creek to determine the real cave depth and then drove home.
Even though I couldn’t find all my survey gear, Emily, Mark D., and I headed to Tanya’s home for a survey weekend. I didn’t like driving in pouring rain and then pea soup fog. After Mark amazed everyone with his knowledge of hari paste and the origins of the Amazon River, Tanya read a short description of Sheep Cave that guaranteed walking passage on Saturday. Something to look forward to on a cold January day.
As I walked toward the entrance, I noticed that I was following a small stream and wondered if a water-filled entrance would greet me. Strangely enough, it was actually an old metal appliance-filled entrance with the stream dropping below that. Tanya refused to enter the cave via that entrance and walked Mark over the cave to the southern entrance. Emily managed to pitch the tape measure to Mark and find a survey spot roughly four feet from the nearest appliance. We still found the compass swinging by ten degrees for the high-angle shot at the top, and Mark discovered that his magnetic station may have also affected the compass. It was getting windy, but we eventually dropped a tape and negotiated a valid pair of measurements.
Emily and I then surveyed into Tanya’s entrance, after determining that Emily could not be forced into a rabbit hole that would lead to a balcony in the cave. I was bothered by the fact that I didn’t have a pair of reading glasses, but my strong light produced just enough light to work with my long arms. We surveyed underground to connect the entrances and then started downstream. It was a very strange game of leapfrog surveying that Tanya, Emily, and Mark played as they kept trading survey positions.
We were definitely in walking passage, reaching over 25 feet high. Unfortunately the twisting passageways took us to a terminus where the water at best sumped. It was an unnecessarily large room with a muddy floor and an escape route on a high ledge. I looked into the escape route and could make out daylight filtering in on the other side.
While Mark and Emily surveyed the escape route, Tanya asked if we could finally go deeper into the cave using the passage lead she had seen from the entrance. I had to tell her that her that the escape route turned out to be her promising lead. I think we found a great cave entrance area minus the cave; that’s where the water eventually drains. Maybe we could see more in a drought.
Overall we surveyed 306 feet of cave passage that day, setting 20 survey stations and closing two loops (with closure rated as Good). However, we were never more than fifty horizontal feet from an entrance (although the sinuous passage made me spiral down to reach the lowest point in the cave). The deepest point is forty feet below the upper entrance. There’s some Sunday mop-up survey to be done, but maybe that can wait for a drier time with the hope that the cave will drain and reveal a new passage. We exited and got into dry clothes just before the snow began.
It was pouring rain as I departed, but I knew from the weather forecast and radar, that there were clear skies ahead. The rest of the group (Ken, Rob, Rachel, & Beth) were not coming up until Friday evening, so I headed off without any specific plan, just knowing it was going to be a great weekend. I was hoping to celebrate New Year’s in a different, special, or unique way.
I was elated with the beauty of the afternoon and the anticipation of an amazing weekend. With the sunset coming soon I drove with haste to try and make it to Blacksburg before sundown. Since I’d never been to Blacksburg and I needed to find a hotel for the weekend, I wanted to get there and have time to look around while it was still light. I made it into town with about an hour to spare. I pretty much drove by every hotel I could find between Christiansburg and Blacksburg, in which there aren’t many choices. I was also consulting online reviews of the hotels on my iPad as well. I was close to staying at the Holiday Inn Express, right across the street from the Texas Roadhouse, which was calling my growling stomach at this point. What killed it for me was the cheesy New Year’s celebration they had setup in the lobby and breakfast buffet area. For $65 I could have dinner and listen to some comedian for the evening, uh .. No thanks! I also realized at this point, I wasn’t going to find a hotel room for under $100 unless I wanted to sleep with the bed bugs at the Comfort Inn. I ended up at the perfect place, the Hampton Inn, which was a
very nice hotel for about $110/night. There is a good side door for bringing in and out gear, with a washer and dryer available if needed. The breakfast buffet was pretty good each morning as well. The staff was extremely friendly and I would highly recommend staying there to anyone, definitely my place of choice for future trips. There are plenty of restaurants and stores nearby and easy access to the highway for venturing out. As luck would have it the Hampton Inn also has a respectable steakhouse, Outback Steakhouse, right across the street. I checked into the hotel and headed over for dinner, hoping to talk to some locals about the haps in Blacksburg on this New Year’s Eve. I sat at the bar and ordered some much needed food. I couldn’t get much information out of the overworked staff at the bar, but after a quick search on my iPad for live music in the area, I hit the jackpot.
You guessed it, this day started at the breakfast buffet! I had no specific plans for the day, just knew I was seeking adventure. With the rest of the group not arriving till later in the evening I had all day to explore. I decided to head north on US 460 towards West Virginia. Since the highway follows the New River for a good stretch, there was promise of some beautiful scenery. I was not disappointed! As I drove north my first stop ended up being in Pembroke, VA. I actually saw a sign for a boat landing, which meant I could get to the water. This was a very picturesque little bend in the river that was just a glimpse of the beautiful day ahead of me.
return on the more direct Upper trail which is all downhill. Legs likey! I declare that that this is one of the most beautiful mountain trails I have ever been on. It was almost as if I had stepped into some type of fantasy movie and I’m walking through the magical forest. The little walkways and stairways beside the creek were so cool! It is a must visit if you are in the area, and I plan to return every time I can for sure.
I got off the trail and back to town just in time to see the new Star Wars movie! The rest of the group Ken, Rachel, Rob, & Beth arrived in town that evening. I met them at the River Mill Bar & Grill in downtown Blacksburg for dinner, where another caving friend Ava Pope, joined us as well. We soon returned to the hotel room to determine if we would all be able to fit in one room to save cash. Fortunately the room was roomy enough, I was able set up a camping cot I brought for Beth to sleep on. Ken being the gentleman he is grabbed a spot in the floor. It wasn’t long before we were deep into a nail-biting game of Exploding Kittens NSFW version. J
continued the suit up process, it took a while to get Rachel all taped up. Duct tape makes a very nice sash. As we started ascending the side of the hill, we were delighted to find that the local caving club had recently spent a lot of
time improving the trail. It was if they had come out and prepared it for our arrival! As we moved up the trail we couldn’t help but kick a stick off the trail or straighten a rock to show our appreciation. We reached a spot on the side of the hill that had a gorgeous view of the New River. I thought we were close to the entrance, but only about halfway there. I’m thinking I might should have had another waffle! J We finally arrive at one of the nicest cave entrances I have personally seen.
has been on about 15 survey trips in the cave, he had a slight advantage. Ken gave us plenty of opportunity to explore, as each of us had a chance to lead the group off in the wrong direction. It was pretty funny, and sometimes Ken had to bail us out as all the arrows were confusing us. We were about ¼ mile into the cave before we reached the Lunch Room. I kept thinking we were going to be going down further into the cave, but this is when Ken surprised us by directing us up into the Attic Room! From the Attic Room we continued up into the Planetarium, where Beth and I heard water! Where was that coming from!!? We climbed down into a hole to find a nice little trickle of water, lol. There were quite a few little pools of water in the cave, as I kept my eyes peeled for salamanders, but didn’t see any on this trip. It’s amazing how time flies when you’re in a cave, I think we had killed 2-3 hrs by this point. We could have stopped to eat in the Lunch Room, but the view was much nicer in the Planetarium. Challenge time! Ken showed us the way to the Forest Room which required some belly crawling on an angle. Once Ken showed us the way he returned to wait with Beth who decided to rest while we explored. We got to the spot where we could see down into the room and Rachel and I said that’s far enough. It looked very difficult to get back up out of the room once you dropped down into it. Forturnately Rob took the lead and showed me how easy it was. We both dropped down into one of the coolest rooms I’ve seen. This picture on my Iphone barely captures it, but just a glimpse. We would have been there much longer if Rob had his camera, another time for sure. Definitely worth the effort to get to the Forest Room!!
That is, until you start the angled crawl back out of the passage to the Planetarium. By the time we finished huff and puffing, grunting and groaning, slideways crawling back to the rest of the group I was spent. It took a good 10-15 minutes of rest to get my breath back and heart rate down. I know, I’m out of shape! We all crawled back down out of the Planetarium and Attic Rooms. Rachel and I continued to rest after the super crawl as the Rob, Beth & Ken took another scenic route back to the main path. As we regrouped, we disussed what was next. At this point we had been in the cave about 5 hrs and decided we should turn around and head out. We really wanted to go see the waterfall, but after looking at the map, I’m glad we didn’t. It was another ¼ mile of tight wet passages. Next trip will be straight to the falls for sure! Even though we just came through the passages, we were still taking turns leading in the wrong direction. I saw a lot of little rooms no one else did though. J At some point on the way out, Ken did take us on a little detour to another small room with a much more significant and prettier water trickle than the one Beth and I climbed down to earlier. Our last stop on the way out was the Winter Forest Room. This made for a great photo opportunity thanks to Rob’s camera skills. Somebody moved!
This entire New Year’s trip was an absolute delight! Thanks Ken for organizing. It was great to spend time with some awesome friends doing what we love!!!
Originally posted on tritrogs.blogspot.com on 18 January 2016. A more cleanly formatted article can be found there.