New Years Weekend 2015

It’s always great to plan a long
weekend of Smyth County caving around New Years. We get to see such a variety
of new caves, and the weather is often good enough to get in some ridgewalking
too. Friday morning started with a long drive to Marion but finished with us
headed for Rail Valley Cave on a
chilly morning.
This insurgence shouldn’t be too
bad to survey (in a drought), but I couldn’t decide if it was worse setting
survey stations in the freezing stream or the animal scat. When the water
started running up my side, I couldn’t figure out how to set a station that
would keep the five of us dry. Carlin Kartchner and Dave Duguid were
disappointed that I called the first survey trip of the weekend, but I wanted
to be sure that Joel Johnson wouldn’t run screaming from us on his first wild
caving trip.
As a drizzle began, Tanya
McLaughlin led us to the northern end of the county to look for some newly
reported caves. The search for the Nebo Fire Station #2 kept us driving around
for a while with our heads craning toward the wet car windows. Eventually we
spotted possible cave entrances across Bear Creek.
A bridge further down allowed us
a dry way to cross the creek but left a steep hillside between the cave
entrances and us. We were treated to some icicle waterfalls, then Carlin, Joel,
and I joined Dave near the cave entrances. 
They thought they found an underwater boardwalk to a creekside entrance,
but I decided it was more likely a washed out bridge.
Martin Groenewegen joined us
late Friday night so that he could cave in Snow
Cone Cave
on Saturday. As we arrived in the Big Room, his cave pack smelled
like tomato juice but that aroma was later replaced (ask Joel for details).
Joel, Dave, Martin, and I descended all the way to the blowing lead at the
bottom of the cave to continue the survey. It took a few stations of readings
to get into a rhythm, and we sent Martin off to dig at a muddy hole where the
air was blowing.
Joel learned how to read survey
instruments very quickly and then we turned to face the mud monster that Martin
had grown into. Martin’s progress through a cubic yard of muddy clay made it
possible for Dave to squeeze further back into passage. It actually opened up
to a size that everyone but me would be able to fit through. Fortunately they
stuck with me.
We headed over to the bolted
climb where Carlin was rigging a pit with Brian Williams and Steph Petri.
Carlin claimed the dry route to the edge of the pit for his survey team and
asked us to survey the stream leads beneath. We surveyed along narrow wet
passages as Carlin’s team dropped down the pit. Then we surveyed their dry
passage while they explored the base of the pit.
It led back to the Dalmation
Formations, a room of mud-colored tites, mites, and flowstone covered in white
popcorn spots. Beyond that we kept surveying until I couldn’t fit. Dave threw a
piece of survey tape forward, and we later found that it had sprung from a
tight lead low in the cave.
Great winter weather greeted us
again on Sunday, so Joel, Tanya, and I hiked up Beaver Creek to find a
promising cave dig, a quarry, and many springs.