Put on your wetsuits. We’re headed for Sea World!

Taylor Tibbs, Emily Graham, Pete Hertl and I squeezed into wet suit pieces to prepare for a winter trip into Big Sink Cave in Smyth County, Virginia. I had viewed the 1965 compass-and-pace map that indicated we’d be climbing down through some stream cascades as the survey progressed toward the back of the cave. Therefore, the wet suits seemed to be a good precaution.

Inside the Entrance Room we found that a pack rat or some other creature had likely visited the cave and walked off with our tie-in point at the back of the room. We shot the survey again and then headed for a short easy climb. Atop the climb Emily discovered an alcove with a hole in the ceiling. Emily pushed up a dirty slope but couldn’t quite find enough footing to ascend. Taylor poked her way up into the virgin Kidney Bean Room, but they told me I’d never be able to fit through the entrance hole.

We returned to the more spacious passage where Pete had started mapping out survey points. We found ourselves in Swiss cheese-style cave with interconnecting holes of different sizes over and under mock breakdown. We discovered that one crawlway had multiple holes leading back down into a larger room, and one led right back into the Entrance Room.

We descended into a big open room with a flowstone octopus up near the ceiling, a massive block shooting up like an orca, and a slab that resembled an alligator from one particular angle (according to Pete). Needless to say, we unofficially dubbed the room Sea World even before we noticed the windows into the stream flowing beneath the room.

Sketching this room turned out to be particularly difficult for me. Because it was so hard to figure out if there were any real walls. Behind every rock there seemed to be more empty space, and maybe a lead or two. We spent the next few hours surveying around this room, in and out some of the seven leads that we identified. Along the way we found pretty rooms that weren’t on the 1965 map at all, but those folks never necessarily crawled either.

I thought that the team was about to quit when I realized that we only needed 16 more feet to accumulate 500 feet of survey that day. Emily found a 31-foot shot but then pulled back to stop it at 16.45 feet, declaring an end to the survey that day.

Taylor kindly washed the survey tape in the flowing stream while I finished the sketch. I never stepped in the stream all day, but I think the crew was thankful for the wet suits in the long run. We all stayed warm despite the chilly February temps outside.