When the request came from James River Grotto for people who were willing to lead trips in Smyth County, I (eventually) stepped up to lead a trip to Hancock Cave. Why Hancock? First, I know my route through the cave. Second, with the help of some other TriTrogs, I’m leading a group of Girl Scouts there in a couple weeks and didn’t mind an opportunity to check on the condition of the entrance.
Due to a communication breakdown, Hancock wasn’t among the signup sheets that were put out at 10pm Friday night. I was kind of bummed, but I knew there were enough TriTrogs interested to make a full trip happen anyway. The apologetic VAR staff made a signup sheet in case anyone rolled in early Saturday looking for a trip. Saturday morning six of us stopped at registration to discover that a big bunch of people had signed up – wheee! We rearranged ourselves into two groups – a group of six (including and) led by Kim and Lisa and a group of eight (including and) led by me and Diana.
Kim’s group arrived first, and they rigged the entrance with both a handline and a cable ladder. The ladder was useful on the way in and necessary on the way out. Water poured into the entrance room through several cracks in the ceiling and along the left wall. A guy in my group declined to use either the webbing or the ladder and slid about 30 feet coming in. Wheee! He wasn’t hurt but busted his pack open and spilled its contents in the process. We spotted two salamanders, one Eurycea lucifuga, one only an inch and a half long, dark (Green? Black?), with a pale stripe down the back and some number of toes. No bats.
We were still in the Grantham Room when we heard the first group above us at the Overlook. Our group was moving slowly and two of them would likely have trouble navigating the Toilet Bowls. When we got from the Overlook back to the Octopus Room it was clear that those two would be challenged by anything deeper in the cave. Diana agreed to escort them out so that the rest of us could continue.
After the Breakdown Staircase, we caught up with Kim and Lisa et al at the Comic Book Hole. They had all gone through! Wheee! I was the only one in my group who made it through despite others’ efforts; I clearly should work on my cheerleading skills! That said, it was good that we didn’t waste too much energy there since we all wanted to make it out of the cave, and preferably in time for dinner.
Back at the entrance, everyone made use of the cable ladder. There was a little trouble once it got tangled up with the handline, and it kept sliding into a crevice on the right. We remedied that by having one person wedge himself in on the left in order to hold the ladder in place. When we all met back at the cars, I learned that Diana had assisted her cavers with some photography on their way out, which (based on the smiles on their faces) helped make their trip worthwhile.
My thanks to the considerable efforts of Diana, Kim, and Lisa for salvaging this into a fun, successful, safe trip! Thank you so much! And, bonus, we made it back in time for showers before dinner!