The key to a successful Hancock Cave Bat Count trip is that your team has really accomplished something. The number of cavers had a lot of turnovers since the October TriTrog meeting, but we finished with thirteen cavers choosing a caving trip to Hancock instead of a WVCC banquet the same day.
We began the day with Mike Broome preparing a delicious cocoa quinoa porridge to accompany sausage, eggs, peppers, and mushrooms at Tanya’s home. The sticky dark brown porridge warmed us all up before Pete noticed the frozen birdbath outside. We felt sorry for the people who chose to camp instead of getting started with us.
I was assigned to Emily Graham’s underground team, along with Natalie Wickencamp and Molly Schlichenmayer. I was told that my job was to be the ladder. When we split away from the other teams, Emily navigated effortlessly through the passages to get us out to the Grantham Room Overlook. I realized that we had a very competent team (sans me).
We pulled out the wire brushes to remove graffiti at the south end of the Anastamoses Maze, but we found that creating mud puddles and smearing the mud over the scratched-in names was far more effective. After clearing most of the walls in one junction, we took a break to see the nearby historic 1896 signatures. Then we rubbed more mud on the walls to hide more recent names and arrows that pointed deeper into the cave.
Emily revved up the group as she adeptly led us around the MC Escher Loop, and Natalie led me into the tightest crawl off of Harrington Hall. We found a live bat while heading to the Over-Under and then began more graffiti removal from the Over-Under all the way back to the Long Room. However, we left the 1896 signatures from HB Buchanan. I think that the Spring VAR 2018 visitors will really appreciate the graffiti-free look of the cave.
After sighting another bat, our group headed for the Funnel Tunnel. It wasn’t flooded but was damper than any time I had seen people pass through before (but there was no rain in the forecast that day). As I lay stuck in the Funnel Tunnel’s tight spot, I noticed that the sticky dark brown mud surrounding my lips reminded me of the morning’s porridge. Drowning in porridge would indeed be a slow death, so I exerted enough energy to free myself and join my companions.
We visited Earthworm Gym and Noogah Way in the spare time we had left to explore and then beat a hasty retreat toward the exit. Hasty except for the part where I again crammed my body through the viscous porridge.
When we stopped my vehicle at the North Carolina Welcome Center on the way home, Emily went to the back to look for something. We were excited to find that the rear hatch had managed to catch a corner of a Ziploc bag bouncing along the bumper. That Ziploc bag held my spare ignition key.