Circling the Twilight Zone

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.